'Alterior' Motives: Healthy living in a fast food world

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman David Dobrydney
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It's an immutable fact of life that no matter if you're an airman basic working on the flightline or the wing commander, everyone must eat.

But this often runs into another immutable fact: we here at the 48th Fighter Wing are seriously busy. We're supporting fighter operations, combat search and rescue, training for our international allies, as well as the day-to-day personnel actions that keep us paid and our records in order.

On this base alone, Airmen have meal options ranging from fast food restaurants to the enlisted and officer's clubs to the Knight's Table Dining Facility.

But at meal times eateries can become crowded and slow. I like to get fresh sandwiches from the commissary delicatessen, but go there at the wrong time and the line can stretch back to the dog food aisle. For Airmen who may have only 15 minutes between shifts to get something to eat, eating quickly and eating well might seem mutually exclusive.

I spoke with Staff Sgt. Rontarrius Logwood, 48th Aerospace Medicine Squadron nutrition counselor about this problem, and he said when people are on the go, they often don't plan when and what they eat.

"I think a lot of people get complacent or they get to a point where they go for what's convenient for them instead of planning ahead," he said.

In particular, Airmen might skip breakfast if they find themselves running late. Sergeant Logwood suggested that Airmen could keep nonperishable snacks in the car.

Since our office holds early morning PT three days a week, before leaving the house I always grab a banana and granola bar so when I arrive at the office I have my breakfast ready to go.

However, there are times when you don't have anything in the car and the Burger King or Popeye's chicken restaurant smells mighty good to you. Surely using that drive-thru wouldn't hurt.

While Sergeant Logwood said ideally a trip to the drive-thru should be a once-a-week occurrence at most, there are ways to ensure that trip doesn't end up being a diet-buster.

"When you're going through a drive-thru, the best thing to do is order from the value menu ... since they usually have smaller portions," said Sergeant Logwood.

Additionally, it pays to be smart about what you're ordering. Restaurants are required to display the nutritional facts about the items they serve, and most can provide a handy brochure as well.

For example, according to Burger King's nutritional pamphlet, a Whopper sandwich has 670 calories and 40 grams of fat. On the other hand, a Tendergrill chicken salad with no dressing or croutons has only 230 calories and 8 grams of fat.

Perhaps after reading about levels of sodium and saturated fat, you opt for that salad instead of a cheeseburger. Even then, appearances can still be deceiving.

"When we think of salad, we always think of it as being healthy," said Sergeant Logwood, "but people can make them unhealthy with all the additives like croutons, dressings, cheeses and high-fat meats on top."

To spice up a boring salad without ruining its nutritional value, Sergeant Logwood suggested topping it with beans or using non-fat or low-fat dressings.

But what if you don't even have time to get to a drive-thru? Items like canned fruit, frozen entrees or yogurt can fill in the gaps between meals.

"I always have stuff at my desk that I can easily prepare," said Sergeant Logwood.

There is a wealth of additional tips and advice on healthy eating. I asked Sergeant Logwood where he would point people to find out more. He recommended two Web sites. One is www.mypyramid.gov, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's official site, with daily recommended servings for each food group and nutritional information for different age group.

Sergeant Logwood also recommended www.fitday.com.

"People can set up a free account and keep food records online," he said, "it also gives good advice on recipes, exercise logs and things like that."

So treat eating like you would any operation in your workplace, with forethought and perhaps a bit of creativity. Keeping healthy might be easier than you think.

(Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series on healthy habits.)