A Burning Need for a Healthy Diet

You are in the business of fighting fires, protecting property, saving people from injury and even death. It's what you do and you do it well. But how attentive are you to your own health and your body's needs for optimal performance?

Think outside the package of meat twice a week and substitute vegetable protein for animal protein. Vegetable proteins include beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters, and soy products. Try a bean burrito, hummus sandwich, or veggie burger instead of your usual meat selection and gain the health benefits of protein with cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and less saturated fat.

Snack Smart

Snacking can be a way to add healthy foods to your diet. But most convenient packaged snack foods - think chips, crackers, and cookies - are usually high in fat, sugar, and sodium.

Smart snacks include fruits (fresh or dried), vegetables, nuts, yogurt, nut butters, whole grain cereals and popcorn. Having these foods easily accessible can entice healthy snacking. Store pre-cut vegetables in the station refrigerator. Experiment with dipping sauces - salsa, almond butter, or hummus with your vegetables. Get the word out to your community when bearing thank you gifts that fruit is just as appreciated as ice cream and cupcakes.

Watch The Sweetened Beverages

Recent research has shown consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with increased risk for obesity and diabetes, both risk factors for heart disease.

American adults consume an average of 28 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks (not 100 percent fruit juice) a day. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar-sweetened beverages to 450 calories (about 36 oz) a week.

The best alternative for quenching thirst is water. Diet sodas can be a good alternative to regular sodas, but better yet try sparkling or seltzer water with a splash of 100 percent fruit juice for a low-calorie beverage. Don't forget 1 percent or nonfat milk. The combination of fat, protein, and carbohydrate is an excellent energy booster and the calcium is important for maintaining bone strength.

With almost half of on-duty firefighter deaths due to heart attacks, it's apparent that firefighters need more than the best personal protective equipment for their health and safety. A healthy diet is necessary to minimize heart attack risk and optimize meeting the physical demands of the job.

JEANNIE GAZZANIGA-MOLOO PhD, RD is a registered dietitian, national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, cookbook author, and freelance writer in Sacramento, CA. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is the leading nonprofit membership association representing the interests of the volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services. The NVFC serves as the voice of the volunteer in the national arena and provides invaluable tools, resources, programs, and advocacy for first responders across the nation. Programs include the Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program, a heart attack and heart disease prevention campaign targeted at all firefighters and EMS personnel, both volunteer and career. Learn more at www.nvfc.org and www.healthy-firefighter.org.