Shift Work and Sugar – Reducing Our Susceptibility To Impaired Glucose Tolerance

a sugar word with backgroundThere has been so much hype in the media recently about sugar and how we need to eliminate it from our diet, but as a Nutrition student I have to say it’s driving me crazy!

Why?  Because not all sugars are created equal.

There is a vast difference between highly processed, refined sugars to those which are found naturally in nature – for example, in fruits and vegetables.

What has sparked my interest even more was when I was reading a research article which examined the risk of shift workers developing impaired glucose tolerance (IGT).  Impaired glucose tolerance is when our blood glucose levels are higher than normal but less than the level required for a diagnosis of diabetes.

The results of this study, which was published in 2012 in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health revealed shift workers were at much higher risk of developing impaired glucose tolerance than day workers.

What does this mean?

Well given the hormone insulin controls our glucose levels, it you have insulin resistance it means that the body is producing insulin but is not using it effectively.  Blood glucose levels normally rise after eating a meal then gradually fall as the meal is digested. However in people with impaired glucose tolerance, these levels remain elevated.

What increases our risk of developing IGT?

A poor diet, being overweight, having a family history of diabetes and not being active enough are all risk factors of impaired glucose intolerance.  Sleep disturbances have also been known to be a contributory factor to the onset of diabetes however as a shift worker, this is something that we cannot necessarily change.

So as a shift worker, what can we do to lower our susceptibility to developing IGT?

1.  Improving our diet – eating a diet which incorporates clean eating (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats), unprocessed foods and low sugar – not no sugar!  Our body’s need natural sugars to function (particularly our brain) as they are contain fibre, valuable phytonutrients and are packed with nutrients.

2.  Losing weight – keep your BMI (body mass index) in a healthy range.  For adults this is somewhere between 18.5-24.9.  Watching portion sizes and not overeating can be a great first step towards achieving this.

3.  Being more active – whilst this can be challenging to do when working 24/7, physical movement is absolutely essential in order to acquire a healthy body.  And remember – you cannot exercise your way out of an unhealthy diet!

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