Mids on a Midriff Mission ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

November 02, 1993

Today's armed services sure are different from yesteryear's -- that's one thought we have on the latest controversy at the U.S. Naval Academy. It seems that a goodly number of midshipmen have gotten sick and tired of the fatty chow at the dining hall. They are not just grumbling but trying to change the unhealthy menu.

Predictably, the middies are finding out that the U.S. Naval Academy as an institution is about as nimble as an aircraft carrier. Even though they have Jan Yoshimoto, the academy's dietitian, on their side, changing long-established culinary offerings is proving to be difficult and time-consuming.

We applaud the middies for their initiative. Food preferences, like so many other things in life, are an acquired habit. A bad and unbalanced diet is difficult to change and may lead to all kinds of weight and health problems, such as high blood pressure (caused by too much salt) and the hardening of arteries caused by high cholesterol in certain foods.

Finding healthier alternatives is not difficult. The four-day Natural Products Expo East, held at the Baltimore Convention Center recently, showed all kinds of inventions that offer the taste of fatty foods without the fat -- a farm beef chili, for instance, that is 96 percent fat-free or a cappuccino chocolate coffee creamer that does not have the usual fats or chemicals. Even multi-grain flours for healthier pizza crusts are available. (Any admiral wanting to get a good look at the cornucopia of health foods can check out the 25,000-square foot Fresh Fields supermarket that opened in Annapolis last summer.)

Our advice to the Academy: Give Ms. Yoshimoto, the dietitian, more clout. Knowing what's good for you, after all, is her business. As long as she does it within budget and the brigade is happy, what's the difference?

The fat content of Naval Academy meals has been decreasing. But it is still considerably higher than at the Air Force Academy, which is at the cutting edge of healthier eating habits among the service academies. A big problem seems to be the Navy's long-time dairy in Gambrills. Because the dairy exists, its products have to be heavily used, regardless of health consequences. It is good to see the Academy seriously re-evaluating whether that sacred cow is still needed.

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