In Need Of Some Stamina?

Why Beetroots Are A Shift Worker’s Friend!

Fresh beet on wooden background

As someone who works round the clock 24/7, do you have times when you feel as though you’re lacking some stamina? Kind of like you’re running on flat batteries?

Well besides catching up on some long lost sleep (which is extremely difficult to do when you work irregular hours) there is an alternative and it’s called ‘beetroot’.

Sound a bit strange? Well as a nutrition student I’m always fascinated with wholefoods and how they can heal the body.  In particular, how they can specifically help shift workers who are continually prone to a depleted immune system, digestive complaints and nervous system dysregulation.

As Hippocrates once said – ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’.

Beetroot has so many wonderful therapeutic benefits including:

  • It’s high in vitamin C and iron.
  • It’s a great cleanser on the gut, and helps to maintain bowel regularity (excellent for shift workers who are prone to digestive complaints).
  • It helps to regulate blood pressure.
  • It helps to guard against infections, in particular bowel and stomach infections.
  • Studies have shown beetroots can boost endurance and stamina via the efficient use of oxygen (*Murphy et al. 2012) – music to the ears of any energy depleted shift worker!

So if you’re looking for a bit of oomph or get up and go, try including some beetroot into your shift working diet. (more…)

Sleep Deprivation Is Making Us Fat. Why This Statement Ruffles My Feathers!

Dutch traditional oliebollen and clockThe more research I do on some of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, particularly in the area of shift work health, the topic of weight gain keeps popping up over and over again.

However every time I read this statement – “sleep deprivation is making us fat” or something similar, it actually ruffles my feathers!

Of course for those of you who know me, I’m actually a fairly placid and unflappable kind of person so it takes a fair bit to ruffle my feathers.  However when it comes to understanding what’s making us sick and overweight, I don’t believe it’s the sleep deprivation.

If anything, its the chronic fatigue and tiredness which goes hand in hand with sleep deprivation which ultimately affects our choices, our behaviour, our judgment and ultimately our decisions.

In his book, Lights Out, T.S. Wiley mentions how ” obesity … heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are caused by short nights, by working ridiculously long hours, by literally, burning the candle at both ends, and by the electricity that gives us the ability to do it.”

Whilst there are elements to this statement which I agree with (particularly as there’s strong research linking stress with obesity) I’m not entirely convinced it’s all about sleep deprivation.  Quite simply, it doesn’t mean it’s the cause of the weight gain.

Sure, there are certainly different hormones at play (serotonin, dopamine, tryptophan, melatonin, ghrelin, leptin – to name a few), along with other metabolic changes, but there doesn’t appear to be enough research on the behaviour.

By behaviour I’m referring to – why we do what we do (or not do) when we’re sleep deprived.

Because let’s face it, whenever we’re feeling tired, exhausted and overwhelming fatigued (AKA a shift worker) we’re more than likely going to eat highly refined and processed foods, pre-packaged foods, take-away foods, and foods which contain large amounts of sugars and preservatives.

And this is what causes us to gain weight.

Not the lack of sleep, but instead the poor food choices and behaviours that coincide with chronic sleep deprivation.

So please don’t throw in the towel and think as a shift worker you’re resigned to a life of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic health conditions.  I’ve spent 18 years working shift work and I’ve managed to avoid all of these so called “chronic health conditions associated with working 24/7”, although it hasn’t been an easy journey that’s for sure.

It’s about learning to accept that a certain amount of fatigue is always going to be a part of your life for as long as you continue to work 24/7, (sorry, there’s definitely no Magic Pill that’s going to turn you into an Energizer Bunny any time soon!), and recognising those times when you’re feeling overwhelmingly tired and fatigued.

This will help you to make better informed choices and decisions, which will lead to healthier behaviours.

So the next time you reach for a can of coke, McBurger or a cheese-cake, ask yourself this question:

“Is this really what my body needs?  Or am I choosing to eat this because I’m bored and/or too tired to cook?”

At the end of the day, our bodies are all very unique and come in all different shapes and sizes.  However when it comes to weight gain and obesity, in most cases it’s not the sleep-deprivation that’s making us fat, but rather our behaviour as a result of being so fatigued that’s having the biggest influence of all.

Your Shift Work Diet: Does It Include Real Food Or Food-Like Substances?

real food word cloudSo here’s a question for you.  If I was to follow you around for a week and watch what you were eating, would you be eating real food or food-like substances?

If I was to come inside your house (by invitation of course!) and open your fridge door and take a look inside, what would I see?  Is it over-flowing with colourful fresh produce, abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables?

How about your freezer?  Would I find a plethora of different types of home-cooked meals frozen in time, ready to be taken into work for your next late shift?

Or would I see something completely different?

Perhaps I’m starting to make you feel a little nervous right now …!!

Well coming from someone who spent over 13 years eating food-like substances (I was definitely in denial about my diet), I believe they’re really important questions to ask because there’s a huge difference between eating real food, and food-like substances.

Real foods include anything which doesn’t come with an ingredients label, eg; fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oats, rice etc.

Food-like substances on the other hand are those “foods” which are often hidden in the inside lanes of the supermarket (which happen to be colourfully packaged and strategically placed in order to catch your eye), as you swing past with your grocery trolley.

In fact you may recognize these products as those which come with an impossible-to-pronounce ingredients list!  That is of course, if you happen to read the ingredients list.

Have you ever heard someone say – “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” because the truth of the matter is – it’s anything but food.

We’ve become so disconnected from our food sources that we’re pretty much eating dead stuff.  Yes that’s right, food that’s pretty much void of nutrition which poses a huge problem for those of us working 24/7.

Why?  Well as shift workers we desperately need food to provide us with energy (even more so than our 9-5 cousins) because we’re lacking energy big time thanks to our fatigue-draining, sleep-deprived lifestyle.

And here’s the KEY difference between the two types of “food”:

  • Real foods – nourish our bodies and provide us with energy
  • Food-like substances – increase our toxic load and drain us of energy as the body has to work hard to break down, digest and eliminate the concoction of additives, preservatives, flavour enhancers, artificial sweeteners, colours, emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers … you get my drift!

So the next time you’re out doing your grocery shopping, think long and hard before putting those frozen pre-packaged meals into your trolley.  Ask yourself this question?  Is it going to nourish and energize my shift working body, or is it going to make me feel even more tired and lethargic?

Just some food for thought.

Shift Work Nutrition: One Of My Favourite Foods

Healthy Homemade Avocado Toast

I hope you’re having a great week, whether you’re working or happen to be one of the lucky ones on days off or perhaps even on holidays!

It was back to Uni for me this week so I’m super-excited but a little nervous at the same time.  It’s been quite a few years since I’ve studied full-time so no doubt it will come with a few challenges however my passion for nutrition specific to shift work health, is my motivating force so I’m sure I’ll find a way to get through it and come out alive!

So this week I’m going to talk about one of my favourite shift work foods and that’s the Avocado.

Whilst I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all diet for shift workers (because we are all very different), I certainly believe that some foods are much better for those of us subjected to constant sleep-deprivation than others.

Human beings are unique creatures.  Each and every one of us has different nutritional requirements which is why no two diets should ever be the same.

However I do believe the majority of shift workers would benefit from consuming avocados on a regular basis.

And yes, I am referring to that weird oval shaped thing which is actually full of saturated fat, but it’s the fat found in avocados which provide us with so many health benefits.

Its unfortunate (thanks to a lot of clever marketing over the years), that we’ve been led to believe that a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet is actually the way to go.  We’ve been brain-washed to believe this kind of diet will help to keep us healthy and slim.

But is “low fat” really a healthy option?

No – because our bodies need fat.  Good fats that is.  I’m not talking about the highly refined trans and polyunsaturated fats but the good fats and oils which include omega 3 fatty acids.

Here’s 3 great reasons to include avocados in your diet:

1.  They help support cognitive function as our brain receptors need fat! Continual sleep deprivation contributes to cognitive decline and memory loss so having an avocado every day is going to help slow down this degenerative process.

2.  They help to reduce inflammation in the body, as they contain phytosterols and polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFAs).

3.  They support our digestive tract as they contain a high amount of oleic acid, a fatty acid which assists in the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids. Considering shift workers are notorious for suffering from gut and digestive complaints, including avocados in our diet is definitely a step in the right direction towards reducing some of the effects of this sometimes embarrassing and painful complaint.

So please don’t be scared of eating fat!

Our bodies need fat so get stuck into the good stuff like avocados as well as olive oil, organic butter, free range eggs, walnuts and Brazil nuts.  These natural whole foods are going to support your body and help you to function as best as it possibly can – despite working some pretty ruthless hours 24/7.

P.S:  Avocados are also great at stabilizing blood sugar levels which help to keep those sugar cravings at bay so no more visits to the vending machines!