Updated: Sep 30, 2021
A whole food plant-based pattern is becoming more and more popular within the military. It is comprised of foods that are minimally processed and may limit foods that are not of animal origin. This means avoiding or reducing highly refined white grains, foods that contain added sugars and added oils, and animal products, such as meat, fish, and dairy. This nutrition pattern looks different for each Soldier. Some choose to include small servings of meats and others choose to include some dairy. Any version of a plant predominant eating pattern can be healthful and support good performance.
Soldiers have found that eating this way has helped to reduce inflammation, helped maintain healthy body weight with the military standards, and improve longevity in their tactical career. Here are five food groups to stick to first:
Whole Grains, like oats, whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa
Beans, such as black beans, chick peas (like hummus!), great northern beans, pinto beans
Vegetables, like squash, cucumber, spinach, sweet potato, peas, beets, peppers, kale, carrots
Fruit, such as berries, pineapple, clementines, plums, bananas, grapes, mango, watermelon, apples
Nuts & Seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds
If you are thinking of including more plant-based foods in your nutrition pattern, consider the following:
1. It can prevent or reverse chronic disease.
The famous China Study is the most comprehensive example of this. Diets high in fiber and phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables have been shown to reverse conditions like High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, and Diabetes. Diets high in animal products, like meat and dairy, have been proven to lead to Cancers and Heart Disease.
2. It is cheap.
The cost of animal products and highly processed foods add up quickly. Buying grains in bulk and fresh or frozen produce tends to be a smaller grocery bill each week. Canned or frozen produce last longer than fresh, which will also save money. Plus, shopping at your local farmer's market can be even better than at the grocery store.
3. Many people find healthy weight management.
This is different for everyone. However, what often happens is people find they can eat much more food on a more plant-based nutrition pattern because you can eat unlimited produce all day long without gaining weight. Typically diets higher in fiber and water content keeping you fuller longer, better hydrated, and your plumbing regular (if you know what I mean!). All of which can lead to maintaining a healthy weight.
4. It can be as simple or as adventurous as you'd like.
If you like variety and cooking and experimenting, there is a great number of combinations of grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts that you can explore. If you like to keep it simple, then you can stick to your rice and beans and seasonal veggies. You don't have to give up any of your favorite foods either. There are more and more meat replacements on the market each day because there is a demand for it. You are also welcome to include meat and dairy in your nutrition pattern while increasing your whole grains and produce servings.
5. It boosts athletic performance.
I have seen Soldiers waste money on stacks of supplements before they evaluate their diet. Big mistake. Start with the basics. Simplifying your diet to more plant-focused snacks and meals can reduce inflammation and improve recovery. More and more top athletes are seeing great benefits from reducing their intake of animals products.
Always remember that your nutrition pattern should be specific to you and the work that you are doing. There is no one diet that is appropriate for everyone. Reach out to your Dietitian if you have any questions about what may be best for you.
Field Manual 7-22 Chapter 8 Nutritional Readiness. https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN30714-FM_7-22-000-WEB-1.pdf
Anti-Inflammatory Diet in Clinical Practice: A Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28350517
Vegetarian And Vegan Diets For Athletic Training And Performance. https://www.gssiweb.org/en/sports-science-exchange/Article/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-for-athletic-training-and-performance
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