Editorial: Eating strategies support ready, resilient Airmen and Guardians 

  • Published
  • By Tammy Lindberg
  • AFSVC Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Whether a new Airman or Guardian, or further along in your career, it’s important to have a strategy for eating healthy and staying ready and resilient.  

It all starts with eating a healthy breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast have improved energy levels, are able to concentrate in the short term, and have improved weight management with less risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease in the long term. 

Breakfast doesn’t have to be a traditional sit-down eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy meal; it can be a simple grab and go like: 

  • Hard boiled eggs, cheese stick and a piece of fruit 
  • Oatmeal and a packet of nut butter 
  • Apple, piece of cheese or banana and nut butter 
  • Yogurt, nuts and chia seeds 

Navigating dining facility and nonappropriated fund dining selections on installations is made easier with the healthier items labeled as “green.” To earn that label, items or recipes are evaluated for nutrient density and they’re typically healthier, lower in fat (especially saturated fat), lower in added sugar, unprocessed and higher in fiber.   

Lunch and dinner options that are better for you include: 

  • Grilled chicken (or veggie burger) on a whole wheat bun or bread. Add fresh vegetables from the salad bar and whole grain mixed salads to add fiber and nutrients. 
  • Trying new veggies like pickled beets in the salad bar, chickpeas or black beans, roasted or fresh peppers added to your sandwich. Veggies will add fiber and vitamins and fill you up with very few added calories. 
  • Go for the rainbow of colors, adding dark rich colors to your diet such as green leafy spinach, beets, tomatoes, avocado, carrots and canned whole corn.  
  • For dessert or breakfast bars, make sure to add berries (strawberry, blueberry and raspberry varieties are always available frozen if not fresh). 

Stay on the healthier side of meals by also controlling your portions, especially in self-serve dispensers, go for the water and seltzer over soda and juice to stay hydrated (especially in the cold and hot months). Evaluate what’s on the menu and gravitate to the grilled, baked, boiled, steamed and roasted items versus the fried, sauteed, breaded, crispy, creamed, buttered and batter-dipped calorie-dense items. 

Even if you work hard to maintain your physical fitness, no one can outrun a bad diet.  

Although some Airmen and Guardians may be blessed with heredity that is low in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, in the general population 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, 37 percent of children who are not considered overweight have one or more cardiovascular risk factor. Current trends show that one in three people born after 2000 will have type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes. The trends for Hispanic and African Americans are one in two. Cancer is also expected to become the leading cause of death in the United States by 2030.   

Good genes or not, what we eat has a direct effect on cognitive, physical performance and long-term health. Don’t forget that daily healthy food choices also enhance your exercise routine. Similarly, not-so-healthy choices can have the opposite effect. 

For most people, coffee is a main staple of life and one to two cups per day is fine. However, relying on soda, coffee or energy drinks as a substitute to sleep can derail any career. Excessive caffeine can cause insomnia, disruptions to concentration and anxiety. Establish a routine that allows at least eight hours of sleep per night, take mental breaks or walks to refresh yourself during the day, and maintain your exercise or activity routine.   

A great practice is to also have nutrient-dense snacks available throughout the day to help fuel your brain and keep blood sugar from getting too low.  

“Hangry” Airmen and Guardians can get in trouble fast if they lose their cool in the workplace and they don’t have a kindhearted, understanding supervisor or first shirt. If your local dining facility doesn’t have enough healthy grab and go items, take time to stock your dorm room or home with healthy, non-perishable food items. Suggestions include single serve nut butters, protein bars, individual fruit snacks, nuts and seeds, popcorn, single-service quinoa and microwave-friendly rice cups. 

Practicing healthful food, exercise and sleep habits sets and keeps your career on the right path for readiness and resiliency by ensuring your physical and cognitive performance and long-term health are supported no matter where your Air Force or Space Force career takes you. 

(Editor’s Note: Lindberg is with the Air Force Services Center’s Food and Beverage Division. As AFSVC’s only registered dietitian, she provides nutritional expertise, information and education for both appropriated fund and nonappropriated fund operations. As a member of the Department of the Air Force’s Menu Development Team, she helps create menus for dining facilities throughout the DAF. She also participates on Department of Defense working groups to develop recipes, food purchasing guides and the DOD Menu Standard that best support the nutrient needs of today’s military members.)