Could you be unknowingly poisoning yourself?
It might sound like an odd question to ask as none of us would ever want to intentionally harm ourselves, however, I remember back in my early 20’s when I was new to shift work (and eating crap food) – I went from being quite lean to becoming quite puffy.
By some miracle, I didn’t really gain much weight, but my face and hands became swollen and I was always bloated.
What I didn’t realise at the time, was that I was slowly poisoning myself by eating toxic foods containing refined sugars and inflammatory fats that were leading to systemic inflammation.
Besides sapping our energy, chronic low-level inflammation can damage blood vessels, weaken our muscles and cause absolute havoc on our hormones!
Ouch! As if shift work isn’t hard enough?!
Are you eating food made out a laboratory … AKA lots of ultra-processed, refined and sugar-laden foods, or more whole, real foods designed by Mother Nature?
Because apart from the fact the body struggles to break down and digest these types of “foods”, according to a French study published in JAMA (2019), for every 10% portion of our diet that’s made up of processed foods, our risk of developing diabetes jumps up another 15% right along with it.
Now this might not sound earth-shattering, but if you are a shift worker, this percentage rises even more as sleep deprivation, alone, disrupts the regulation of blood sugar levels.
This is because if you’re awake when you’re not meant to be (AKA the life of EVERY shift worker on the planet!), it leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which raises blood sugar levels.
The body does this because when you’re sleep deprived, it senses that your life is in danger.
Don’t these look amazing!!
Now when we walk into most staff lunchrooms, we often see cakes, cookies and lollies spread across multiple tables (I know they’re there as I’ve been in many a shift working lunchroom over the years …LOL), but wouldn’t it be nice to see something healthy feature on those tables instead?
Imagine if everyone made a delicious plant-based dish and brought it into share for something different (as opposed to those other things we just mentioned), the lunchroom would immediately turn into a tapas-style restaurant… even though you’re actually at work!
Do you tend to eat the same type of meals over and over again? Maybe you’ve got a close relationship going on with your breakfast cereal?!!
Well I’d like to inspire you to live on the edge a little … and add some colour and variety to your plate (or bowl!)
When we eat a more diversified diet, particularly one that is rich in plant-based foods, it helps to feed the trillions of microscopic bugs in the digestive tract.
Now these microscopic bugs (which comprise of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – yes you read that correctly, even viruses), they don’t just hang out in your belly, doing nothing.
They are responsible for producing important neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, for short. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which helps to calm the nervous system, needed to facilitate sleep.
They also produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter which is the pre-cursor to the sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin.
Back in my Uni days of studying to become a nutritionist, I remember overhearing a discussion between a lecturer and student about what would be the ideal meal option for someone who work’s the night shift.
The lecturer’s reply was:
“Just get them to flip their meals around. As in have their big meal around midnight and 1am”.
The thing is, that never really sat right with me.
Given the functionality of our circadian rhythm varies enormously between that of the day versus the night, I instinctively knew that nocturnal food intake, especially in large quantities, was bound to cause havoc on our digestive system. Not ideal, given most shift workers are plagued by gastrointestinal complaints at the best of times!
However, it doesn’t stop at the digestive system.
It can affect our cognition, amongst other things, which if your work involves making complex decisions, operating machinery or performing surgery, can be extremely important.