The Doctor Is In: Make Nutrition Work for You
LCDR Andrew Plummer, MD, MPH
Chief, Population Health Branch, TMA
Most people have heard the consistent drum beat about how to lose weight and be healthy – eat a balanced diet focused on fruits and vegetables but minimize sodium, sugars and fat. However, it can be hard to apply that basic knowledge to gain a better understanding of the food you eat and apply it to your diet and lifestyle.
The first chapter in many weight loss stories is to take stock of your current health and set medically appropriate and achievable goals. Losing weight too quickly is neither healthy nor sustainable. Consult your primary care physician before starting your weight loss program to understand your body mass index and create a plan to achieve your healthy weight. Your doctor can also help you set incremental goals, creating a sense of achievement by meeting interim steps as you progress.
Next, you need to make sure you eat healthy foods. In our marketplace, many foods branded “healthy” include little nutritional value or high levels of unhealthy ingredients, like sodium. It’s hard to go wrong choosing fresh fruits and vegetables. When selecting packaged foods, use the nutrition facts label to find out how healthy it really is. Start with the serving size. This can help you regulate portion size, an important part of a healthy diet. The label also includes things whose intake you should limit, like calories from fat, cholesterol and sodium, and nutrients you need to stay healthy, like fiber and vitamins.
Study the label at the supermarket, and only stock up on healthy foods to make your decisions on what to eat at home much easier. Learn more about interpreting nutrition labels from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website: http://go.usa.gov/b935.
A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is your best bet to lose weight in a healthy way. Many popular fad or designer diets may be successful in shedding pounds, but are hard to maintain and may not provide the complete nutrition your body needs. An example of a balanced diet to consider is the Mediterranean diet. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests it helps prevent heart disease. Read more at: www.tricare.mil/LiveWell/HLArticles/Archives/5_29_13_MedDiet.aspx.
A few simple tips can also make a big difference. Instead of drastically changing your diet, try replacing a few things every day with fruit or vegetables. Instead of a high calorie snack in the afternoon, have an apple or an orange. Replace a baked potato with a sweet potato, or switch to a low sodium version of your favorite treat. Try carrots and hummus instead of chips and salsa. Change your behavior at mealtime, like eating slower or leaving food on your plate. Little changes like this can become habits that contribute to better health.
Another useful tip is to plan your meals in advance. If you have a week’s worth of healthy options for dinner, you’re less likely to resort to unhealthy, last-minute options. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have more tips on their website: http://go.usa.gov/2Unz.
A balanced diet is something you can share with your whole family. Getting your children to love fruits and vegetables at an early age offers a lifetime of benefits, from a reduced risk of high blood pressure and heart disease to improved mood and behavior. Read more about the benefits of a healthy diet for children from the CDC at http://go.usa.gov/2UQR.
Obesity is a dangerous epidemic, and while the military community is healthier than Americans in general, we can all take steps to ensure we have a healthy diet. When healthy you will feel better physically and mentally and pass healthy habits onto your children. Visit www.tricare.mil/livewell for monthly tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.