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Eat well, live well

From left, Air Force Capt. Abigail Schutz, 39th Medical Operations Squadron health promotions element chief, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Mancini, 39th MDOS health promotions technician, and Tech. Sgt. Brian Phillips, 39th MDOS health promotions flight NCO in charge, pose for a photo at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Learning about proper nutrition can help service members stay healthy and ensure they’re in optimal warfighting shape. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Wisher) From left, Air Force Capt. Abigail Schutz, 39th Medical Operations Squadron health promotions element chief, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Mancini, 39th MDOS health promotions technician, and Tech. Sgt. Brian Phillips, 39th MDOS health promotions flight NCO in charge, pose for a photo at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Learning about proper nutrition can help service members stay healthy and ensure they’re in optimal warfighting shape. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Wisher)

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Who doesn’t have a friend or family member trying out the latest paleo, keto or other diet that eliminates processed foods including grains and sugar? Perhaps you are the one following a strict eating regimen because you want to improve your health. But have you wondered if it’s your best option?

“Many of the fad diets that we see today are just recycled old ones with new names,” explained Air Force Lt. Col. Saunya Bright, chief, health promotion nutrition, Air Force Medical Support Agency, Falls Church, Virginia. Bright described the Paleolithic or “paleo” diet as one including foods that can be hunted or gathered, such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, vegetables, fruits and berries. The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein and high-fat eating pattern meant to burn fat rather than carbohydrates for fuel.

While some of these diets emphasize eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed food, “some also cut out complete food groups, such as whole grains and dairy,” said Bright. She cautioned that such diets are difficult to sustain over long periods. “Eliminating food groups or types of foods increases the risk of some nutrient deficiency or disordered eating.”

Army 1st Lt. Vladi Ivanova, chief, outpatient and community nutrition at Madigan Army Medical Center, agreed. “Following a keto diet, for example, means eliminating a full food group. When we restrict certain foods, our bodies notice and may not respond in the way we want.”

Options and choices about what to eat, from diets to trendy snacks and drinks, are plentiful. The result is confusion, according to Ivanova: “My patients are asking a lot of questions, whether a diet is good or bad, or if eating certain foods will help them lose weight. They are overwhelmed by all of the information available.”

According to Bright, a return to the basics is what’s needed. “The most important suggestions for good nutrition are captured in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” she said.

These guidelines, developed jointly by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, provide evidence-based tools and resources that enable everyone to follow a healthy eating pattern for life.

Ivanova likes to use “MyPlate,” a tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as a visual aid with her patients. “It shows how to fill a healthy plate of food: one-half should include fruits and vegetables, one quarter whole grains, and one quarter lean protein,” she said.

Using the guidelines, both experts agreed that a healthy eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables; whole fruits; fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt and cheese; and a variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.

Bright said to avoid excess sugar, sodium, and saturated and trans fat as part of establishing a healthy eating pattern. “With all the new and trending foods, it's important to consider how substituting a certain type of food with another can impact your nutritional intake,” she said. “There are instances where foods that are advertised as ‘lower fat’ or ‘no fat’ contain increased sodium or sugar, so being aware of trade-offs is important.”

Ivanova said good nutrition is key to service members’ ability to carry out their mission as well – responding to their needs for quick, healthier meals on-the-go, and also ensuring their families are making good choices. “Often when speaking with my patients, I end up talking to them about their children’s nutrition, too. Any service member who is a parent has to model the diet that they want their kids to eat,” said Ivanova, who advocates a mindful approach to healthy eating.

“My patients have told me that after eating a fast food meal, they feel awful,” she said. “Mindfulness about how and what we eat is critical. You have to make eating healthy a priority in your life. This means taking time to understand healthy options and planning your meals in advance – perhaps for the week – so that you think through what you are putting into your body.”

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