Clean eating achievable regardless of budget

During a healthy eating presentation for employees, Maj. Nicole Charbonneau, chief, Nutrition Care Division, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, Fort Hood, Texas, offers suggestions and tips to develop healthy eating habits. By planning menus, along with creating menu-specific shopping lists, healthy eating is both achievable and affordable. Photo by Gloria Montgomery, Army Medicine.

During a healthy eating presentation for employees, Maj. Nicole Charbonneau, chief, Nutrition Care Division, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, Fort Hood, Texas, offers suggestions and tips to develop healthy eating habits. By planning menus, along with creating menu-specific shopping lists, healthy eating is both achievable and affordable. Photo by Gloria Montgomery, Army Medicine.

By Gloria Montgomery, Army Medicine:

(El Paso, Texas. Jan. 18, 2018)

FORT HOOD, Texas – More and more grocery shoppers in America are being held hostage not only by our taste buds, but also convenience and price. The result: nutritional chaos affecting the health of Army families.

To combat bad eating habits and promote a healthier lifestyle for Soldiers on the go, several years ago, Army Medicine introduced the Performance Triad, an educational campaign promoting the values of exercise, nutrition and sleep to build resiliency and increase troop readiness.

“You just feel better when you eat right, as well as have more energy and stamina,” said Maj. Nicole Charbonneau, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s chief, Nutrition Care Division. “Clean eating can be a motivator because it can lead to adopting healthier habits in other areas in the Performance Triad.”

To promote healthier eating within the hospital, Charbonneau, who also is a registered and licensed dietitian, shared a nutrition reality check with employees during CRDAMC’s monthly lunch and learn session.

“Cutting out the flavored coffees and processed foods and eating at least eight or nine servings of vegetables and fruits each day is a good start to a healthier you,” she said, acknowledging the challenges of today’s average lifestyle built around fast and convenient. “Let’s face it, salt, sugar and fat are the enemies we all love to taste.”

That flavored coffee, for example, can sometimes contain up to a whopping 25 teaspoons of sugar.

“You’ve now just blown the recommended daily amount of sugar intake,” she said, adding that dietary guidelines limit sugar to nine teaspoons a day for men and six for women.

Sodium is another evil that promotes overindulging.

“Adding salt to foods brings out the flavor,” she said. “That’s one of the problems in eating processed foods.”

According to 2015 Department of Health statistics, males between the ages of 19 and 30 consume more than 4,500 milligrams of sodium per day, which is nearly double the recommended daily intake of one level teaspoon.

One of the main barriers to healthy eating, she said, is misinformation and food myths.

“Sometimes people realize they are addicted to junk food only after a nutritional counseling session,” she said, attributing part of the problem to misinformation, along with not knowing how to shop for and cook nutritious meals. “People believe that eating healthy costs more and takes more time, but healthy meal planning can be accomplished on any type of budget.”

To start, she said, make a grocery list and stick to that list. She also suggested using online applications that can create a personal menu, as well a shopping list for that meal.

“How often do you go to the grocery store for a few items and end up with a full shopping cart?” she asked, stressing that it’s cost and convenience rather than what’s best that dictate grocery habits. “Pop Tarts cost a lot less than a box of cereal, and a frozen dinner is a lot easier to prepare than a nutritious meal.”

A timesaving tip to ease the preparation barrier to good health is to buy frozen or cut up everything at once if buying fresh.

“Frozen is really better because the fruit or vegetable is plucked at their optimal time and then quickly frozen,” she said, adding that when food is trucked in miles away from the farm, it has lost some of its nutritional value by the time it reaches supermarket shelves. “When you are shooting for nine fruits and vegetable servings a day, frozen just makes more sense. Plus, the veggies already are diced, sliced and ready to eat or cook. This saves preparation time.”

Some people, she said, read far too much into packaging labels and will misinterpret the health value on frozen fruits and vegetables, believing the products are bad because the label lists chemicals.

“That’s a huge myth,” she said, because fruit and vegetables in their natural state have chemicals and have to be listed,” adding that she had one client who refused to eat carrots believing the package contained too much sugar.

She also stressed a common sense approach to buying organic.

“The organic voices are growing louder and louder,” she said, stressing organic isn’t always best when it comes to economic feasibility.

“An organic nectarine is $3.98 a pound compared to $.77 for the conventional fruit,” she said. “Just peel it because but there is no difference in nutritional value.”

Clean eating is both achievable and economical,” Charbonneau said, but you need to be smart about it by limiting sugar, sodium and saturated fats and eating more fruits and vegetables.

“It’s a hard transition going from junk food to eating healthy, but this is your body,” Charbonneau said. “Take it one step at a time, one day at a time and one meal at a time.”