Night shift. It’s such an incredibly ruthless shift in more ways than one as it requires us to be alert and ready to make decisions when all our body instinctively wants to do is sleep!
Working night shift also raises our risks of developing certain chronic health conditions (due to a myriad of reasons) including things like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease – to name a few.
One of the key drivers is that our body digests and metabolises foods inefficiently during the night – even if we’re awake!
In other words, eating food during the night as opposed to during the day, can have a negative impact on the body. In the scientific literature, this is referred to as “chrononutrition” which takes into consideration not only what we’re eating, but also when.
Of course I’m not telling you to not eat during the night, although that does work for some people. It’s more about being selective on the types of food to help minimise blood sugar, digestive and hormonal disruption.
So how can we nourish our bodies in a way that is going to help maximise our alertness, but without adding to digestive discomfort which plagues many who work through the night?
One strategy is with soups.
Soups are a shift worker’s best friend for a number of reasons.
- They are a type of “liquid nutrition” – meaning the body requires minimal effort to digest the food as it’s already liquified.
- It’s generally a light meal which is important because eating less at night has actually shown to improve alertness and productivity. So whilst you may feel hungry, avoiding a heavy hard-to-digest meal is going to be a key strategy in managing night shift fatigue.
- Soups add to your hydration (and dehydration is another leading cause of fatigue), so consuming soups will also help to reduce fatigue and improve mental alertness.
- Vegetable-based soups are high in fibre, therefore, going to increase your feelings of fullness so that you’re less likely to fall victim to the magnetic spell of the sugar-laden vending machine at 3am!
Slow-Cooked Mushroom Soup Recipe
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 leek, sliced
- 6 shallots, chopped
- 600g mushrooms of choice (white, brown, shiitake, oyster)
- 1 tablespoon plain flour
- 4 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock
- 250 ml cream
- 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground oregano
- ground nutmeg to serve
How to make it?
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the garlic, leeks and shallots and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened.
- Transfer the leek and mushroom mixture into a pre-heated slow cooker set on high, then sprinkle with flour and stir well to cover the vegetables.
- Add the stock and stir to combine. Cook for 2 hours.
- Turn the slow-cooker down to low then add the cream, and cook for another 30 minutes. Add half the parsley and the oregano, and season with salt and pepper.
- To serve, ladle into bowls (or a pre-heated thermos to take into work that night) and sprinkle with extra parsley and nutmeg.
Refrigerate or freeze the rest to have later.
The key is to be prepared, and plan ahead before embarking on
your night shifts, because it’s very easy to eat a heavy meal
during the night or be tempted to snack on junk food during the night.
However, the harsh reality is that type of eating behaviour, especially when done regularly, is not going to do your health (or waistline) any favours in the long run!
Grant C, Coates A, Dorrian J, Kennaway D, Wittert G, Heilbronn L, Pajcin M, Della Vedova C, Gupta CC & Banks S 2017, ‘Timing of food intake during simulated night shift impacts glucose metabolism: A controlled study’, Chronobiology International, vol. 34, no. 8, pp. 1003-1013.
Laermans, J & Depoortere I 2016, ‘Chronobesity: role of the circadian system in the obesity epidemic’, Obesity Reviews, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 108-125.