More and more grocery shoppers in America are being held hostage not only by their 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, Fort Hood, Texas. “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 CRDAMC’s hospital, Charbonneau, who also is a registered and licensed dietitian, recently shared a nutrition reality check with employees during a 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,” Charbonneau said.
She attributes 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?” asked Charbonneau. She said cost and convenience usually 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 time-saving 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.”
She said some people 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.”
Charbonneau also stressed a common sense approach to buying organic.
“The organic voices are growing louder and louder.” Yet, she said organic isn’t always best when it comes to economic feasibility.
“An organic nectarine is $3.98 a pound compared to 77 cents for the conventional fruit,” she said.“Just peel it because but there is no difference in nutritional value.”
She also warned about developing an orthorexia disorder, which is defined as an obsession with healthy food. 
“It’s dangerous because they want to eat food only in its purest form,” she said. This obsession could impact healthy eating habits in their children. “We have children who come in for nutrition counseling who are actually healthy eaters, but then one of the parents will start locking cabinet doors. Then we start seeing children hiding food and finding the wrappers under the bed. The children want it, so they go to extremes to get it and then will overindulge.”
Capt. Meagan Sykes, who attended the clean-eating session, said some of her friends worry too much about healthy eating when kids are involved. 
“I see kids at birthday parties wanting to binge on everything they see because they never get to enjoy this stuff at home,” she said. “It really stresses the parents.”
For CRDAMC’s patient-experience coordinator, Tracie Duckett-Stephens, the nutrition lesson reinforced how important it is for adults to set the example to reinforce healthy eating.
“Obesity in our children is so high right now, it’s important that adults form healthy eating habits to pass on to our children,” she said. 
“Clean eating is both achievable and economical,” said Charbonneau. “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. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time and one meal at a time.”