Lt. Col. Saunya N. Bright has been in the Air Force 18 years. During that time, she said, the food in military dining facilities has improved dramatically in terms of nutritional value and healthy eating choices.
Bright, a dietitian with the Air Force Medical Support Agency in Falls Church, Virginia, spoke at a Pentagon health fair yesterday and offered some tips to good eating.
Eating healthy, balanced meals, along with adequate sleep and physical fitness, are key to improving physical stamina, injury reduction and good health, Bright said. These are key to producing elite athletes as well as elite soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, she added, noting that the benefit to the military is higher combat readiness.
Vitamins: Take or Not Take?
Not everyone needs to take a multivitamin supplement, Bright said. For most people, nutritional requirements should be obtained through food sources. However, when a person’s diet is lacking in certain nutrients, a vitamin or mineral supplement may be required.
There are also higher requirements in some cases, such as during pregnancy or with a diagnosed deficiency, she added. She urged checking with a health care provider before taking a dietary supplement.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation available when it comes to nutrition, especially on the internet, Bright said. She recommends looking for sources of credible information from health care organizations and government agencies and consulting the nutrition experts: registered dietitians and nutritionists.
Healthy Food Choices
A lot of people don’t know this but ideally, about half of the foods people eat should consist of fruits and vegetables, Bright said.
The other half could be grains, legumes, nuts and lean protein foods, she said. Fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt is good as well, she added.
Lastly, limit portion size and eat slowly to enjoy the taste and textures of foods, she said.
Do Your Homework
Eating right takes a little detective work, Bright said. It takes some work, but be sure to read the nutritional facts panel on the food you purchase, and learn what it means.
Also, follow food safety guidelines to reduce getting sick, she said. This includes regular hand washing, separating raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, cooking foods to the appropriate temperature and refrigerating food promptly.
About Military Dietitians
Bright said most people think of military dietitians as planning healthy meals for troops in dining facilities. But they also are important on the combat front lines. For example, service members who are ill, injured or wounded may require a banana bag, which is intravenous fluids containing vitamins and minerals. Dietitians are trained to know the types and quantities required in each particular case, Bright said.
Bright said she wanted to become a military dietitian at a young age. It all came about because her mother was a dietitian at what was then known as the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a child, she said, she volunteered to help deliver meals to the personnel at the VA hospital. She said she fell in love with the military and dietitians and knew her calling.