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Healthy Eating for Your Lifestyle

Healthy eating is one of the most effective ways to improve your health, but what does eating healthy mean for you? Different lifestyles mean varying nutritional needs, and understanding how to best fuel your body is an important first step to good nutrition. March is National Nutrition Month™ and Navy Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.” Take a moment to think about how your lifestyle impacts your diet.

Nutrition for Active Living

Athletes and active individuals have different nutrient and caloric needs than people who are moderately active or sedentary. Active individuals are those who participate in more than 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiorespiratory exercise plus at least two days of strength training per week. Eating nutrient- and calorie-dense foods help active individuals:

  • Maintain energy – Active individuals have higher caloric needs than their sedentary counterparts. Not consuming enough calories to match the calories burned can lead to fatigue, irritability, injury and illness, longer recovery times and decreased performance.
  • Repair and build tissue – After a strenuous workout, it is important to replace the carbohydrates, sodium and potassium that are lost during exercise. Additionally, protein is necessary for repairing and building muscle. A nutrient-rich snack or meal should be consumed within 15 minutes to an hour following a hard workout.
  • Prevent illness – Antioxidants such as Vitamin C play a crucial role in preventing illness and injury, while also aiding in the recovery process if illness or injury occurs.

Consider the nutrient and caloric value of the foods in your diet. Foods with high nutrient and caloric value include peanut or almond butter, whole grains, olive oil, nuts such as almonds and walnuts, seeds and avocados. Foods that are high in calories but have little nutritional value include fried foods, processed meats such as hot dogs or sausages, cookies and ice cream. Selecting foods that have high nutrient value can fuel your active lifestyle; learn more about sports nutrition and how it can enhance your performance from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the sponsoring organization for National Nutrition Month™. The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) also offers an operational fueling guide and virtual meal builder.

Nutrition for Weight Management

A healthy, balanced diet is important regardless of your weight. Whether you are looking to lose weight or maintain your current weight, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Eat a variety of foods – This will help ensure you get a range of nutrients and also prevent boredom or feeling deprived. Incorporate different fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains to your diet and experiment with recipes and ingredients you have never tried before.
  • Limit your intake of processed foods - Processed foods are often high in calories, fat, sugar and sodium, which can negatively impact your weight management goals.
  • Beware of products labeled low-fat or fat-free – These products often contain additional sugar or sodium to replace the flavor lost by removing the fat.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber – These include fruits and vegetables with the skin on, whole grains, and legumes such as lentils or black beans. High fiber foods are great for your digestive system and help you feel full.
  • Understand your caloric balance – The key to losing weight is to burn more calories than you consume. Similarly, the key to maintaining your current weight is to balance calories consumed and calories burned. Try an online calorie tracking tool such as the USDA SuperTracker to determine your individual caloric needs and find out how many calories you consume each day. The results may surprise you!

Nutrition for Families and People with Busy Lifestyles

Busy lifestyles and picky eaters can make it tempting to grab what is easy and convenient instead of what is healthy. The key is to make the healthy option, the easy option. To help you maintain a healthy diet on the go, try:

  • Stocking up on healthy snacks - Keep healthy, easily accessible snacks on hand such as pre-cut fruits and vegetables (you can reduce cost by slicing them yourself and putting them in small containers for a quick on-the-go snack), packages of dried fruit, granola bars (look for bars high in fiber and low in sugar), cereal or whole grain chips and salsa.
  • Mixing in your fruits and vegetables – Try adding fruits and vegetables to your favorite recipes, such as frozen vegetables in spaghetti sauce, fresh veggies on homemade pizza (try whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese!), smoothies made with low-fat yogurt, bananas, peanut butter and mixed berries, or lettuce, tomato and cucumber slices on your sandwich.
  • Planning ahead- make double batches of healthy meals to freeze for dinner later in the week or a quick and easy lunch. Also consider making extra servings of foods that can be reused in other recipes, such as grilled chicken, brown rice, or steamed vegetables.
  • Looking for kid-friendly recipes – Many websites offer creative ways to increase the nutritional value of the foods your kids enjoy.

Everyday Nutrition

Regardless of your goals or circumstances, there are basic tips everyone can follow to eat well and still enjoy meals:

  • Do not eliminate your favorite foods. Depriving yourself can lead to binging, not to mention you will not stick to a nutrition plan if you do not enjoy your meals.
    • Eat less healthy foods in moderation.
      • Use a smaller plate at dinner, or if you know you are going to be indulging have water, fruits and vegetables beforehand so you will not be as hungry. o
    • Find simple modifications to make your favorite recipes healthier.
      • Swap full-fat sour cream for reduced-fat sour cream or low-fat yogurt, replace half of the butter or oil with applesauce when you bake, or use black beans instead of refried beans.
      • If you and your family prefer certain ethnic foods that are traditionally higher in fat and calories, consider making simple substitutions to decrease calories and increase the nutritional value.
  • Understand your individual needs.
    • Are you a vegetarian? Are you predisposed to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol? It is important to understand how various factors impact your dietary requirements.
      • Talk to your healthcare provider about the potential health implications of your diet.
      • Work with a registered dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan designed for you and your needs.
      • Visit the USDA SuperTracker for personalized nutrition and physical activity plan.
      • Visit EatRight.org, the official website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for helpful tips, the latest nutrition news and reliable information.
  • Make a list of nutrient-rich foods and brainstorm how to work them into your diet. o Look up new recipes. Many sites, such as the recipe finder from the USDA, allow you to search recipes by ingredients - so type in your favorite healthy food and start cooking!

For more information on weight management, performance nutrition, dietary supplements and more, visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s Healthy Eating website.