DOD dietitians: Mission readiness and resilience
As we begin the new year, many will start out with great goals of losing weight, becoming more active, quitting smoking and getting adequate rest or sleep to maintain optimal health. The internet and multimedia venues provide more than adequate information on what we need to do to get and stay healthy. Recommendations are forthcoming for improving our overall nutrition and this topic deserves greater discussion. Some are willing to eat just about anything and others will eliminate specific foods or nutrients if it gets them to weight goals as quickly as possible.
Despite our best efforts, balancing all the demands of family, work and play can be difficult. Even best intentions with careful planning can be undermined in today’s fast pace. If you seek advice from a nutrition expert, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), they will help educate you on what to eat, how much to eat and other behavior tips you can try to keep on track to optimal health. Registered dietitians, unlike others that claim to be experts, must work within a code of ethics and only make statements and provide guidance that has been tested by science to be true and has undergone substantial research scrutiny. Dietitians are medical professionals that hold a license to practice and as such, can be trusted to provide unbiased, sound information.
The Defense Department has a large force of scientifically credible experts, registered dietitians, deployed throughout the branches to ensure the military community is guided with evidence-based information to promote optimal health and readiness. These experts are influencing DOD policy and providing care at the installations. For example, at larger clinics within the Air Force, RDNs work within Nutritional Medicine and others have an environmental approach to health and nutrition and work within the community as health promotion dietitians. At smaller, remote installations, the Air Force strives to provide access to a nutrition expert by supporting a tele-medical nutrition therapy program.
No matter where you go within DOD, there are usually foods or beverages close by and available. If you go into the exchange or commissary there is no lack of choices. Industry has marketed and made some selections more appealing by designing food items that appear healthy when in fact they are processed and full of unwanted calories. Many times, the added sugar, fat and sodium is what hooks us on the taste and, therefore, we continue to make absent-minded, unhealthy selections.
To help consumers make mindful, healthier choices, the Defense Commissary Agency has implemented a Nutrition Guide Program that marks “Dietitian Approved” items, which focus on organic, whole grain, low fat, and good source of fiber. The DOD Nutrition Committee has approved the Go for Green 2.0 program, which labels menus within dining facilities on land and at sea ("Green," "Yellow" and "Red"): Green signifying "eat often"; Yellow, “eat now and then”; and Red, “eat infrequently." The labeling is intended help military members make choices that support a healthy lifestyle.
In addition, the services have approved the military Nutrition Environment Assessment Tool (mNEAT) to measure the availability of healthy food selections at each military installation. The mNEAT 2.0 is being tested to look at things such as placement architecture, where healthier food products are strategically positioned, so absent-minded selections will more likely be a healthy food vs. one with excessive calories from fat and sugar (much like the tactics used at a buffet, placing more expensive items at the end when people have already filled their plate with foods that are cheaper to produce).
Despite these and other nutrition education programs implemented throughout our military environment, overweight, obesity and inactivity remain a great concern for commanders, active duty members and families. It is important to use the programs available to help make mindful selections, plan ahead and remain active. In general, replacing processed foods with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein and eliminating added fat, sugar and salt will enhance performance and resiliency and decrease overall health risks of chronic disease.
If you have questions, seek advice from a nutrition expert or registered dietitian nutritionist. Through their education, knowledge and experience, registered dietitians (or RDNs) specialize in translating nutrition science into practical advice.