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!

Fancy A Banana Bread Breakfast?

banana breadI don’t know about you, but I often get bored eating the same old thing over and over again for breakfast so I decided to spice things up a little and make some banana bread for brekky instead.

Whilst there’s a fair bit of flack in the media at the moment regarding fruit, bananas and sugar I’m not convinced (despite heading into my 2nd year of a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutritional Medicine degree), that we have to give bananas (or any fruit for that matter), the flick!


Because bananas contain a heap of healthy goodness despite all of the “I Quit Sugar” media hype, some of which include: vitamin B6 and vitamin C, folate, antioxidants, fibre, potassium and they make an awesome “fatigue-busting-snack” as they’re quite filling and help to return low blood glucose levels back to normal.

And considering this “bread” contains 3 bananas, a small amount of coconut sugar and maple syrup, by the time you sit down to your one slice (if you can stop at one slice), I still believe it makes a far superior breakfast than any store-bought breakfast cereal on the market which is laden with hidden salt, sugars, additives and preservatives that has next to no nutrition!

This recipe is ideal for making the night before (especially for those on early shift), and can be transported into work very easily – unlike juices and smoothies which can sometimes “surprise us” with a bit of spillage in the bottom of our handbag.


  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 2 organic eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150g plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil, melted


Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a 23cm x 13cm loaf tin with non-stick baking paper and set aside.

Mash the bananas in a large bowl and add the remaining wet ingredients.  Mix until combined.  Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, ensuring there are no clumps of baking soda or flour.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and fold until just combined.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the break comes out clean.  Allow the break to cool in the loaf tin for 30 minutes.

To Serve

This is super tasty toasted and you can top with butter, honey or natural yoghurt and berries.

Note:  Recipe adapted from ‘Life’s too short for diets’ cookbook by Nicole Joy.