By Joanna Reagan, Public Health Nutritionist, Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The theme for National Nutrition Month® 2023 is “Fuel for the Future”, which can have a number of different meanings, depending on who is doing the fueling. I challenge everyone reading this article to become an advocate and “Fuel for the Future” for the entire month of March and even longer. So how can you “Fuel for the Future”?
A good starting point is to improve diet diversity and focus on performance enhancing food choices rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, varied protein sources, and low-fat dairy. Also, choosing foods and beverages with less added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. The current 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults consume 1.5- to 2-cup equivalents of fruits and 2- to 3-cup equivalents of vegetables daily. This is sometimes easier said than done, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only one in 10 adults gets enough fruits or vegetables a day.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American does not eat the recommended daily servings of fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, or seafood. From the National Institutes for Health, there are some bright spots for Americans are eating more foods with less added sugar, as well as more whole grains (e.g., brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats), plant proteins (e.g., nuts, beans), and sources of healthy fats (e.g., olive oil). However, Americans are still challenged by consuming too much saturated fat from butter, cheese, red and processed meats.
For the March challenge, consider how to improve your diet diversity. It could be eating less red meat, adding more fruits or vegetables to your diet, or focusing on more fiber-rich foods including beans, whole wheat bread, berries, and leafy green vegetables. The American Heart Association highlights plant-forward as a style of cooking and eating emphasizing plant-based foods but is not strictly limited to them. Meat may be included but it’s usually not the main feature of the meal.
The Department of Defense food service leaders recognize service members requesting more plant-based foods offerings.
“The next generation of service members are asking for a more robust selection of plant-based protein food options and more plant-forward options,” said Dr. Starr Seip, a registered dietitian/nutritionist at the Defense Logistics Agency. “Service members are evolving and asking for more plant-based proteins to enhance athletic performance and for a variety of other reasons, such as religious practices, health benefits, or concerns for animal or environmental welfare. A plant-based, whole food diet offers a broad spectrum of health benefits including aiding in the prevention and management of chronic diseases.”
More and more service members are requesting these offerings as our military force is comprised of individuals from all parts of the globe with varied racial and ethnic backgrounds, cultural practices, health concerns, and personal beliefs.
Training, deployments, and day-to-day military life can sometimes make it challenging to follow a plant-forward diet. Fortunately, military dining venues now offer more vegetarian options. These menu items might not always be labeled as vegan or vegetarian, so ask your local military dining venue which options are available. Programs such as Go for Green® can help guide your choices with a plant-forward menu for individuals and for foodservice operators. Vegetarian MREs are also available during training and deployments. Check out the Combat Rations Database (ComRaD) at https://www.hprc-online.org/nutrition/comrad#1 for more information. Education on vegetarian diets is offered with your local registered dietitian and on the Human Performance Resources website at https://www.hprc-online.org/nutritional-fitness/unique-nutrition-needs/what-you-need-know-about-vegetarian-diets.
In the recent update of the Department of Defense Manual (DoDM) 1338.10 DoD Food Service Program released August 26, 2022, there is new language for the DOD menu standards for service members desiring vegetarian options. In the meat and entrée category, appropriated food service operators will offer one or more vegetarian main entrée options containing a plant-based protein source served separately or combined with other plant-based items in a casserole at any or all meals, based on customer demand. Also, the program directs food service operators to offer beans, lentils, soy-based or other plant-based crumbles, or patties along with a completely plant-based starch and one non-starchy vegetable with no chicken broth, beef broth, or bacon. Guidance is also given to offer dishes containing quinoa, tofu, legumes, eggs, and low-fat dairy products with protein. Service members also have the option to have a larger portion size from side dishes for diners choosing starch and non-starchy vegetable combos as their entrée as an alternative choice. Service members can also have a vegetarian choice for box meals.
The March National Nutrition Month® theme of “Fuel for the Future” challenges us to focus our nutrition choices with a diverse diet including plant-forward options for performance. If you are in a military dining venue, look for the Go for Green® labels to help you choose high-performance options. Focus your choices on performance enhancing food choices to help your overall performance to meet your personal goals.
March is a time to focus on trying new food choices to optimize performance. For more information, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers a variety of articles on food, health, fitness and recipes along with promoting the theme of “Fuel for the Future”.
The Defense Centers for Public Health – Aberdeen advances joint force health protection with agile public health enterprise solutions in support of the National Defense Strategy.
NOTE: The mention of any non-federal entity and/or its products is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed or interpreted, in any manner, as federal endorsement of that non-federal entity or its products.