To Protect. Serve…and eat healthy?
The statistics are alarming. The average life expectancy of a police officer in the United States is twenty-two years less than their civilian counterparts. The life expectancy of a police officer is only 57 years old, compared to 69 years old as a civilian. Digest that, twenty-two years less!
Clinical studies have suggested 50% of police officers who were screened had the presence of heart disease. Blood vessel blockages were detected as early as 30 years old. These statistics suggest heart disease is the ‘other’ police danger.
It is apparent law enforcement is a dangerous, stressful, and health-threatening occupation. A study published in the Nutrients scientific journal in 2022, found that most officers consumed a high saturated fat, high refined sugar, energy dense diet with a high intake of processed foods and beverages. Findings suggested that the diet was mostly influenced by high stress, busy schedules, long working hours, inconsistent meal breaks, sleep deprivation and shift work. As a wife of a retired police office. I have seen firsthand how high stress, pressure, sleep deprivation, long hours, shift work and spending hours in a patrol car becomes barriers to eating healthy.
So how do police officers incorporate healthy eating with so many real and challenging barriers and live long enough to enjoy retirement?
INCORPORATE HIGH FIBER PLANT FOODS: High fiber plant foods are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains such as quinoa, steel cut oats, brown rice, amaranth or buckwheat groats. Fiber helps to create favorable (good) bacteria in the gut. The gut is the center of the entire body, connected to every system in the body including the brain. Clinical studies have suggested optimizing good bacteria in the gut reduces inflammation, promotes heart health by reducing chemicals responsible for blocking arteries, reduces blood sugar and insulin resistance, reduces weight, and produces chemicals that help prevent depression and anxiety.
MINIMIZE PROCESSED FOODS AND BEVERAGES: Foods and beverages containing artificial ingredients or added refined sugar increase risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity to name a few. Studies have suggested processed food is associated with changing the gut bacteria contributing to chronic inflammation and poor brain health.
CONSUME LEAN, UNPROCESSED PROTEIN: Lean, unprocessed protein includes eggs, fish, chicken, wild game, plant protein including beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Adequate lean protein boosts muscle mass, helps manage weight, helps balance blood sugar, improves mood and energy, and optimizes heart health by preventing diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
INCORPORATE HEALTHY FATS: Healthy fats include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, avocado, nuts, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, pepitas and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring or tuna. Healthy fat is necessary. The right fats can protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia. These healthy fats can improve brain function while minimizing hunger between meals.
HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE. With water: The human body is 55-75% water. It is needed for essential functions such as: transporting nutrients and oxygen, normalization of blood pressure, removal of body waste products, and digestion. Whether your day starts at 5am or 1pm, start your day with water. Hydrate with water throughout the day. Minimize caffeinated beverages to 200mg of caffeine daily, that’s roughly 2 cups of brewed coffee. Energy drinks are not counted as hydration. In fact, energy drinks have been shown to contribute to dehydration, stroke, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, anxiety, and insomnia. Bottom line don’t consume energy drinks.
START SMALL…START WITH ONE THING.
Start with small changes. Start with finding one healthy food change to focus on and decide to do your ‘ONE THING’. When it becomes habit, incorporate one more healthy food decision.
- Increase water intake while reducing caffeine. Discontinue energy drinks or beverages with added sugar.
- Add vegetables to lunch and dinner meals or fruit and vegetables as snacks. Start with vegetables that require minimal preparation, such as baby carrots, mini colorful sweet peppers, or sugar snap peas.
- Change up your Ditch the king size box of Whoppers in the patrol car, instead pack nuts, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, vegetables with hummus, plantain chips with avocado spread, unprocessed jerky, and clean protein bars. Make your own trail mix such as plain nuts, pepitas and no added sugar dried berries.
- Prioritize lean, unprocessed protein with meals. When cooking protein, cook extra and add to salad or power bowl the next day.
- Prioritize healthy fats with meals. Cook with extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. Add avocado to meals when possible. Snack on plain nuts or add to a salad. Include fatty fish twice per week.
- Pack a lunch in place of stopping at the fast-food dollar menu or fast-food Chinese food. Packing lunch is the easiest way to eat healthy while on duty. Prioritize lunch to include lean protein, plant foods and healthy fat.
Many consider law enforcement to be one of the most dangerous professions in the world, but early death on the job isn’t what ends up taking most lives too soon – it’s heart disease. Start with small healthy food changes. It does not need to be a complete overhaul of the diet to get started. Decide to implement one change and move on to the next healthy change when ready. All those small changes WILL result in a significant positive change to overall health and disease prevention.