The challenge of eating well on shift work

If you’re a shift worker then you know that you face special challenges to eat well when your lifestyle is upside down because you're working night shifts or split shifts, several jobs during the week, or attending night classes.

Why diet suffers

Due to the lack of sleep, low energy, and stress that goes along with shift work, many workers make poor food choices and often increase their snacking frequency. It doesn't help that most shift workers have reduced access to wholesome foods at work, and greater access to high- calorie, high-fat food options.

In addition, many find it difficult to make the time to purchase healthy foods and prepare meals to bring to work. As a result, they often don't get the key nutrients needed for optimal health and the prevention of chronic disease.

At work, many shift workers are limited regarding how much water they can consume and can become dehydrated, which can lead to headaches, fatigue, kidney stones, and constipation.

It's also tempting to drink more caffeinated beverages such as coffee, colas and strong tea in order to stay alert. Caffeine can aggravate digestive complaints and disrupt sleep if it is consumed less than six hours before retiring.

Shift-work diet solutions

These negative health concerns can be minimized through good nutrition:

Eat lighter meals and snacks during night shifts. Choose smaller amounts of easily digested foods. Eating less and eating lightly promotes alertness and reduces digestive concerns. Plan for more cooked foods and spread food intake out over the shift. Increase the amount of fluids throughout the shift, and drink more water, herb teas, and milk. Enjoy soups. Limit caffeine intake and sugary drinks.

Choose foods that are not fried, and watch for hidden fats in snack foods. Bring healthy snacks to work. Increase snacks containing fibre, such as nuts, vegetables, and dried and fresh fruits.

Avoid vending machines and fast food by bringing in brown-bag meals. Pack leftovers or sandwiches using whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.

Have a lighter breakfast meal instead of a heavy meal at the end of a shift before a day sleep, to aid in a better sleep. Choose wholegrain cereals, fruits, yogurt or soups.

Afternoon workers should have their main meal before their shift instead of in the middle of their shift when digestion is slower.

Schedule regular meals and meal times based on shift schedule.

By Corina Glennon, Community Nutrition Manager, HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster. For more information contact Maria @ (044 ) 9353220 or email [email protected].

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