By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow; and Molly Parker, primary editor for the food weblog Delicious Eats and Treats
We’ve been covering a lot of revolutions and international organizations lately, and while that’s interesting and timely, we feel it’s time for a little break from the heavy stuff (we’ll be back with multilateralism and munitions on Thursday). While most of us were reading volumes on Libya during the recent civil war, this article appeared in Slate detailing the effect that poor food decisions are having on U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems that an abundance of “comfort food” from KFC, McDonalds and the like are making thousands of our fighting men and women overweight and unfit for duty. And with the U.S. still “surging” in Afghanistan and beginning bombing runs on Tripoli, we need all the brave men and women we can get.
Here to discuss this issue with me is Molly Parker, a nutrition scholar who runs the organic food blog Delicious Eats and Treats, which seeks to educate urban youth about nutrition issues. From what I understand, she also became a new Aunt yesterday, so she may be a little sleep deprived after discovering how much of a racket those little bundles of joy can produce.
Griffin Huschke: Molly, I’ve worked with the military before, and I can honestly see why overseas bases have options for KFC, McDonalds and other quick serve restaurants. These people are trapped on the moonscape of southern Afghanistan for the better part of a year, and are often pushed to the breaking point with near constant combat patrols and troubles at home. After three days trudging around the desert, a Number 3 value meal with an extra-large coke is probably pretty good for morale.
Molly Parker: We Americans love our meat, sodas [pop], and convenience foods, and the comfort of having them readily available for the men and women overseas must be greatly valued in times of extreme emotional and physical stress. However, the fact of the matter is that these foods provide little to no healthy nourishment for the body. Too much meat raises cholesterol levels, too much soda [pop] raises blood sugar, and increases the risk of diabetes. Fast food and other convenience items are loaded with salt and preservatives, raising blood pressure and contributing to hypertension and metabolic syndrome. Consuming all of these foods on a regular basis can lead to serious health consequences for anybody; for a soldier’s body, it can lead to both health and service consequences.
It would be absurd to compare my sporadic stress eating with the kind of stress eating that goes on overseas, but I often try to have wholesome yet on-the-go types of food available for those occasions. Granola bars. Apples, nuts, yogurt cups. Studies have shown that bananas are the best snack to eat to fill you up and tide you over until the next meal. Having these types of foods available during non-meal hours would be a great source of nutrients, fill bellies, and boost energy levels.
Griffin Huschke: The other thing I was thinking about was the logistics of getting fast food to the front lines. Green things tend to spoil, and they have a pretty byzantine path to make before they get to COP Middleofnowhere, Afghanistan.
Molly Parker: That’s true, and you’re probably not going to see fresh edamame in MRE’s any time soon. It really is a shame that foods packed with preservatives are much easier to send to front line soldiers, as fresh food is much more likely to spoil or rot—that’s just the nature of real food. But frozen fruits and veggies keep very well, as does whole grain bread, and protein like chicken, yogurt, and milk. Most food doesn’t lose much nutritional value while it’s frozen, so if there’s a way to keep things cold on their way to our men and women in uniform, they should have options available to them.
Griffin Huschke: Front-line personnel need over 3,500 calories a day–that’s a lot of salad. What should they be eating that gives them the fat and calories they need without sacrificing overall health?
Molly Parker: 3,500 kcals a days would indeed be a lot of salad–probably too much for a digestive tract to handle at any rate. Complex carbohydrates should make up most of the diet. These include oatmeal, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, potatoes, whole-grain bread and cereals, beans and lentils. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fat are also great ways to pack in extra kcals, as fat contains 9 calories per gram (protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram). Fats should only make up 10-15% of the daily intake. Good sources of unsaturated fat include all types of nuts (especially almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachios), peanut butter, oils that are liquid at room temperature (olive oil, veggie oil, etc), olives, fish (salmon and tuna), and avocado. Like all athletes on an intensive regimen, soldiers must eat for energy as well as for prevention of injury which can be caused by nutritional deficiencies. A variety of different colors of fruits and veggies will help to solidify a good balance of vitamins and minerals.
Griffin Huschke: Thanks for dropping knowledge with me here today, Molls, and congratulations again on your new Aunt-hood.