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Nutrition quality key to maximizing immunity

A display of fruits, vegetables, nuts and water, as shown at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Jan. 10, 2020.

A display of fruits, vegetables, nuts and water, as shown at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Jan. 10, 2020. In response to the upcoming closure of the Rheinland Dining Facility, Health Promotions is offering cooking classes and information on healthy eating. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Gonzales) (This image has been altered to avoid perception of endorsement)

Elaine Davis, a registered dietician at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, is preparing for a tele-medical nutrition therapy appointment with a patient at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska on Feb. 6, 2018. Using a video teleconference, patients have access to dieticians anywhere, and can get vital information in disease management and preventative care. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Elaine Davis, a registered dietician at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, is preparing for a tele-medical nutrition therapy appointment with a patient at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska on Feb. 6, 2018. Using a video teleconference, patients have access to dieticians anywhere, and can get vital information in disease management and preventative care. (U.S. Air Force photo)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Proper nutrition is vital to health and wellness, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it is even more important Airmen work to support their immune system through a quality diet.

According to Maj. Denise Campbell, Air Force Health Promotion Nutrition chief, nutrition quality is key to maximizing immunity. This means a diet that includes lean protein, vitamins A, C, D and E, zinc and fiber.

“Healthy foods have a role in maximizing our body’s immune system, so look for lean protein, fruits and vegetables with essential vitamins, whether fresh, frozen or canned,” said Campbell. “[U.S. Department of Agriculture’s] MyPlate is the best visual aid to show these recommendations. Making three-fourths of your plate colorful, plant-based foods, and choosing zinc-rich protein like lean ground beef, pork loin, beans and nuts, will help you meet this goal.”

With COVID-19 changing so many aspects of Airmen’s lives, maintaining proper eating habits can be challenging. For example, teleworking Airmen may be faced with competing responsibilities like childcare in addition to work. Airmen who are supporting essential missions may face longer hours.

These challenges can make it harder to eat healthy. Campbell says it is important to focus on small improvements, and control what you can.

“If you find yourself getting frustrated or wanting to give up, take a step back and look at what you can control as it relates to healthy nutrition, and celebrate those things,” said Campbell. “It is important to be realistic with your goals. This might not be the best time to do a complete overhaul of your diet, but focusing on small wins can help.”

Campbell says it could be as simple as making one choice to eat a little bit healthier each day. This can be choosing a more nutritious snack, replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water, or trying a new fruit or vegetable.

Campbell also suggests focusing on mindfulness to limit overeating, especially unhealthy foods.

“Under normal circumstances, our eating cues are part of our work routine, but COVID-19 has thrown many of our routines out the window,” said Campbell. “That impacts when, where, what and how much we eat. It is important to practice mindful eating. Instead of eating directly out of the food bag or box, put your snack in a bowl and eat at the table. This allows you to dedicate time to eat and pay attention to the type of food you’re eating.”

The Air Force has resources for Airmen to ensure they meet readiness requirements, and ensure they sustain overall health through a nutritious eating plan. The Air Force has been implementing the Health and Readiness Optimization, or HeRO program, which partners with squadrons to improve the Airmen’s health habits, including nutrition.

In response to COVID-19, many base health promotion offices are providing online resources on their social media pages, including virtual cooking demonstrations. Additionally, many dietitians are offering virtual appointments to continue to support Airmen’s goals.

“With COVID-19, Airmen may be thinking about their nutrition differently or taking more time to focus on their health goals,” said Campbell. “To help with that, many of our dietitians are offering virtual appointments, either over the phone or on an approved video platform.”

While COVID-19 has created many changes, including the postponement of fitness testing, it is still important that Airmen are reminded of the value of a nutritious diet, especially when it comes to improving immunity.

“Proper nutrition is not just a check mark in preparation for your fitness test, it is vital for your overall wellbeing,” said Campbell. “Don’t lose sight of that larger goal. Celebrate the small goals you can control today, which will help you attain long-term health and wellness goals once we return to a state closer to normalcy.”

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