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Healthy eating ... it's your choice

U.S. Army Staff Sgt Justin Grady, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery 1-7 Maintenance Company, 108th Air Defense Artillery PATRIOT system evaluator, chooses between healthy and unhealthy food options in order to stay fit and healthy at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Feb 24, 2013. The key to healthy eating is to include a variety of foods in your diet such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and low-fat dairy products. Grady is deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christina M. Styer/Released)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt Justin Grady, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery 1-7 Maintenance Company, 108th Air Defense Artillery PATRIOT system evaluator, chooses between healthy and unhealthy food options in order to stay fit and healthy at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Feb 24, 2013. The key to healthy eating is to include a variety of foods in your diet such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and low-fat dairy products. Grady is deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christina M. Styer/Released)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Editor's note: Capt. Tracy Brannock earned her Master of Public Health degree in 2003 from New Mexico State University. A primary area of study for her degree was nutrition, and she continues to promote healthy habits as the chief of public health here.

Are you trying to get in shape while deployed, thinking of hitting the gym or increasing your cardio workouts? An important thing to think about in your quest for a healthier body is your food intake. Eating the wrong foods will make your goals more challenging. Nutrition plays a huge role in body transformation and healthy sustainment. 

It isn't always easy to sort through all the information on the internet or in magazines when searching for the perfect balance or diet plan that will get you the best results for your body type. The good news is that learning to eat nutritiously is not difficult. The dining facility has a wide range of food choices, though not all of them healthy.

The key to healthy eating is to include a variety of foods in your diet such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and low-fat dairy products. Avoid most of the foods that are offered on the short-order line such as fried items and those marked with red placards and high-sugar items such as ice cream, soda and candy. Pay particular attention to the sugar content in sports drinks and fruit juices as many claim to be healthier alternatives to soda but can contain just as much sugar. Yes, these are often the more tasty food choices, but they are not good for your body.

For breakfast, switch between hard-boiled or scrambled eggs, oatmeal, whole grain toast and low-sugar cereals with low-fat milk. Steer clear of waffles, french toast sticks, biscuits and gravy and high-sugar cereals.

For lunch and dinner, stick with salads, grilled and chopped chicken breast, tuna, fish and non-fried foods. Limit pasta and casserole intake. Carbohydrates are important but not all are created equal. Many are packed with empty calories and contribute few, if any, nutrients.

Snacking between meals is not always unhealthy and is often encouraged if you are trying to lose weight. Choosing small snacks like fruit, vegetables, mixed nuts and microwave popcorn with light butter is the key to healthy snacking. Again, stay away from foods with high sugar, saturated fat and high sodium. Do not skip meals.

Limiting your food choices is a great start but portioning appropriately is also important. It is often a challenge to get smaller portions at the dining facility because you are often given larger-than-recommended amounts. This is where self-control comes into play. Eat slower and once your hunger subsides, stop eating. Put your tray away.

People often eat just to eat because they are waiting for their friends or are just hanging out. This eating habit is unhealthy and contributes to overeating. You don't need to measure and count everything you eat to be healthy, but knowing approximate portions is helpful.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, serving sizes are: Fruits = half a cup; Vegetables = half a cup; Meats = 5.5 ounces; Grains = 1 ounce; Milk products = 1 cup or 8 ounces; and oils = 1 teaspoon.

Healthy eating takes discipline and careful planning but is not difficult. Following these guidelines can help you achieve the look you are trying to get while deployed. Choose the right foods, practice good discipline and have fun. That's the way to a healthier you.