MSC fights obesity with Healthy Heart menus

The following blog is by LaShawn Sykes, Military Sealift Command Atlantic Public Affairs. MSC is committed to fighting obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle for the civil service mariners who crew nearly 50 ships. The health problems associated with fat in the diet go beyond diabetes and heart disease; fat also affects a person’s joints, breathing, sleep and energy levels. The following blog highlights the command’s Healthy Heart Cycle menu initiative, which is introducing shipboard menus with less fat.

NORFOLK, Va. (April 17) Executive Chefs Randy Green and Fred Parmenter critique seven “healthy heart” meals prepared by students of the Culinary Arts Academy. As part of Military Sealift Command’s Healthy Heart initiative, CAA students are learning how to prepare flavorful food that is low in fat. (U.S. Navy photo by LaShawn Sykes)

NORFOLK, Va. (April 17) Executive Chefs Randy Green and Fred Parmenter critique seven “healthy heart” meals prepared by students of the Culinary Arts Academy. As part of Military Sealift Command’s Healthy Heart initiative, CAA students are learning how to prepare flavorful food that is low in fat. (U.S. Navy photo by LaShawn Sykes)

Recognizing how debilitating fat can be to a civil service mariner’s quality of life and to mission readiness, MSC initiated a Healthy Heart Cycle (HHC) menu initiative in June 2013. The initiative, a 35-day reduced-fat diet, contains all of the nutritional components bodies need to achieve optimal health, according to Registered Dietician Jayne Knox, one of two registered dieticians working with MSC.

The command’s goal is to implement the Healthy Heart Cycle menu initiative on all 50 of its CIVMAR-crewed ships, with the help of a certified executive chef and a registered dietitian. Depending on the size of the crew and or size of the ship, the healthy heart team will be aboard between four to 10 days. The two person team (a four person team on larger ships) will integrate with the ship’s food service team and provide hands on training that will introduce the 35-day menu. The training also includes recipes for how to cook leaner meats, prepare reduced fat and sodium side dishes, healthier desserts, an expanded salad bar, and most importantly how to create colorful menus.

A diet that is rich in color is one filled with fruits and vegetables, said Knox. “Orange-red colored foods, carrots and sweet potatoes, are high in beta-carotene, which is a good source of vitamin A. Blue and black colored-fruit, blueberries and blackberries, are filled with antioxidants that help ward off cancer. Green leafy vegetables, like kale and spinach, are packed with vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients that provide health benefits to all parts of the human body.” 

A significant component of the Healthy Heart Cycle menu initiative is to offer healthier options that reduce harmful saturated fats and incorporates more unsaturated fats. Saturated fats come from animal sources like red meats, poultry and dairy – all of which can increase our risk of diabetes and heart disease. “Research shows that unsaturated fats, the omega 3-fatty acids, found in certain types of fish like salmon and sardines, appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease and lowers blood pressure.”

The development and implementation of the Healthy Heart Cycle menu is a great initiative, said Knox. “Providing healthier food choices for our civilian mariners will have a positive impact on their quality of life – now and well into their retirement years. Being healthier will help to increase morale and work production, which enhances mission readiness – A win-win for MSC and our CIVMARS.”  

To-date, the HHC menu plan has been executed on 22 ships, starting with USNS John Lenthall (T-AO 189) last July. The remaining 28 ships are tentatively scheduled for implementation by late fall of 2014.

About jmarconi