Health matters: What do you want your health for?
Whether your goal is to get healthier, lose weight or maintain your health, almost everyone has a reason to be motivated. Being healthy truly is a journey, not a destination. The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Achieving a better state of health and well-being can start with looking at how we are sleeping, moving and eating.
Sleep is critical to our mental, emotional, physical, family and spiritual health. It helps guide our decisions throughout the day, and getting the right amount of sleep helps us make better decisions regarding our own health. People who get seven to eight hours of sleep a night tend to make healthier choices and have the energy to add the recommended 20 to 30 minutes of activity into their daily routines. Getting enough sleep also helps us make better food choices throughout the day.
Think about why your health matters
The challenge is not only taking the time to stop and think about why your health matters to you and why you want to be healthy, but how you will make better choices in the environments where you live, work, play and shop. Certainly, when it comes to eating, many of us want to eat healthier, but sometimes we do not know how to make the best choices, or we find it difficult to be able to make the choices we would like to make.
When it comes to shopping in the grocery store, most items except fruits, vegetables and meats have labels that describe the ingredients and sometimes the benefits of the food. We are fortunate in our commissary benefit to have a wide variety of grocery items to choose from.
Eat as little added sugar as possible
An ingredient we should pay more attention to and limit in our diets is sugar. By doing so, you will likely experience better health, wellness and longevity. This is why the newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends Americans limit their intake of added sugar to make up no more than 10 percent of their daily calories. This means that those who need 2,000 calories should aim to eat less than 50 grams of added sugar per day. The number of grams will be less for those who consume fewer calories. Just remember, though, it never hurts to eat as little added sugar as possible.
There is a big difference, however, in the sugars that occur naturally in our fruits and vegetables and the added sugars in processed foods that are in our diets. The naturally occurring sugars in fruit and vegetables are OK to consume. Spotting foods with added sugar is not easy; added sugar can be listed by many different names on the ingredients list such as, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, molasses and many more.
Drink more water
Today's marketplace makes it nearly impossible to avoid all added sugars. What is important is to choose more of your grocery items in the outer aisles and try to limit the amount of added sugar in your daily nutrition regimen, and limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Some healthy alternatives include unsweetened teas or water with pieces of frozen or fresh fruit added. Remember, the best beverage for our bodies is water. If you want to make some small changes to your nutrition, start with drinking more water.
While all added sugar might be impossible to completely remove from your eating habits, you can try to reduce the amount. Start simply by creating a goal toward your reasons why your health is important to you and stick with it.
Phone, online apps can help monitor sugar intake
Monitor your daily intake of added sugars to reduce your risk of preventable disease like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, all of which have been associated with diets high in sugar. In this, technology can help as there are many "apps" to help you track your sugar intake on your phone and online. Ask your health care team or provider, or search to find the app that works best for you. You can also check out the Performance Triad app for more information on how to get quality sleep, move more and eat better. All of these resources will help you on your road to eating healthier.
On your journey to better health, it's important to focus on why your health is important to you. Focusing on what is important to you can provide the motivation to achieve a better state of health and well-being. Knowing why your health is important to you can also keep disease and other health issues at bay. And as we've pointed out, limiting added sugar is one place to start.
(About the authors: Barbara Agen Ryan is the training, education and communication lead at the Army's Office of the Surgeon General, Systems for Health, Performance Triad; Ashleigh L. Simon is the Performance Triad coordinator at the Army's Office of the Surgeon General, Systems for Health, Performance Triad)