HSW 81: Is There A Perfect Shift Work Diet?

OK.  So this has to be the million dollar question.  Is there a perfect shift work diet?

After recording a free training recently on this exact topic in my Healthy Shift Workers Facebook Group that generated an enormous amount of interest, I decided to record a condensed version of this discussion on today’s podcast.

What you’re going to learn:

  • Why we need to take a look at some of the chronic health conditions faced by many shift workers today
  • Weaving our way through the minefield of dietary and nutrition advice out there
  • What the Apollo 11 space launch has to do with this conversation
  • Why I’m not recommending that you sign up for another diet (yay!), but to consider a way of eating, that is extremely beneficial for shift workers

To watch the full version of this training (45 minutes) on YouTube – Click Here

To join our Healthy Shift Workers Facebook Group – Click Here

Shift Work Diet:

Is There A Perfect One?

If you’ve ever been on a diet before, then I’m sure the words Fat Free, Sugar Free, Weight Watchers or even the Juicing Diet may be familiar to you?

Either way – the options are endless!

Given many shift workers endure ongoing weight fluctuations as a result of a disruption to our appetite regulating hormones ‘leptin’ and ‘ghrelin’, the temptation to sign up for yet “another diet” can almost be too much to resist, particularly if diet number 14 didn’t work!

So is there another one to add to the list?

One which is perfect for those working 24/7, and appropriately called ‘The Shift Worker Diet?’

Well as a Nutritionist, I have to say first and foremost I’m not a fan of diets in any way shape or form.

My dislike for the term “diet” or any type of label stems largely because of its association with feelings of restriction, deprivation and exclusion of certain types of foods, when we really need to redirecting our focus towards including more things into our diet, rather than excluding them.

Most diets want us to remove some type of macronutrient, whether that’s protein, fat or carbohydrate, but our body needs all three. The term “macro” actually means we need to eat a lot of it, but it needs to incorporate a nice balance of all three (together with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals), in order to maintain optimal health.

Your body is also instinctively designed to ferociously defend weight loss (think survival of the race here), so if you’re not nurturing it with wholesome, nourishing foods you run the risk of becoming deficient in certain nutrients, and your body will hang on to whatever reserves you have.

So let’s forget about the whole weight-loss thing for a minute, and instead focus on nourishing and supporting three key areas of your body which are particularly vulnerable to circadian rhythm dysregulation as a result of working 24/7:

  1. Gastrointestinal system – shift workers are prone to gastrointestinal complaints such as peptic ulcers and leaky gut due to irregular eating habits and circadian misalignment. Foods which provide minimal burden on the digestive system include soups, smoothies, juices, broths and slow-cooked casseroles.
  2. Immune system – sleep deprivation reduces important immunity cells called T-cells, whilst increasing inflammatory cells in our body called cytokines. Protein is an excellent immune boosting nutrient as its needed for our cells to grow and repair. Foods high in protein include eggs, almonds, chicken breast, oats, cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt, lean beef, quinoa and lentils. Low iron status can contribute to anemia and a weakend immune system so foods high in iron such as meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and cruciferous vegetables can be really beneficial; as are probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi and kombucha; citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, capsicums, guavas, broccoli, berries, and papaya; ginger and garlic.
  3. Nervous system – shift workers are in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, otherwise known as sympathetic nervous system dominance making them much more vulnerable to stress and burnout. Foods to calm and support a frazzled nervous system include asparagus, avocados, berries, cashews, chocolate (yay!), garlic and oatmeal.

So let’s forget about all of the fad diets out there. No matter how amazing they may seem, at the end of the day, they’re just another diet.

Instead, lets focus on supporting your gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems with nourishing, whole foods which is what your sleep deprived body needs the most!

Big shift working hugs,

Audra x

 

References:

Gunnars, K 2017, ’20 Delicious high-protein foods to eat’, Authority Nutrition.

Bollinger T, Bollinger A, Oster, H, Solbach, W 2009, ‘Sleep, Immunity and Circadian Clocks: A Mechanistic Model’, Gerontology, vol. 56, no. 6, pp. 574-80.

Petre, A 2017, ‘Foods that can boost your immune system’, Authority Nutrition.

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.

Is Your Shift Working Job Making You Fat?

Lunch. DietIf you have ever worked 24/7 then I’d say there’s a good chance you’ve experienced weight gain and/or erratic weight fluctuations at some point in your career.  It kind of comes with the territory when we work irregular hours.

I for one certainly did.

Within my first 12 months of starting shift work I had gained 10 kilograms which was a lot because I’d always been quite lean and healthy.  In fact growing up my sister used to call me ‘Emu Legs’ because I was fairly skinny – such a beautiful term of affection only a sister could impart on her little sister and be forgiven!

But despite the weight gain and fluctuations, I have to admit I was one of the “lucky” ones.

Why?  Because research has shown shift workers are at higher risk of developing obesity, peptic ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, irregular blood sugar levels, metabolic syndrome – to name a few.

And whilst a lot of these complaints can be linked to the quality of the diet (a higher intake of processed and refined foods) and irregular eating times, according to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health in 2010 there are other factors which affect our metabolism and include:

  • Psychosocial stress
  • Disrupted circadian rhythms
  • Physical inactivity
  • Sleep debt and
  • Insufficient time for rest and revitalization

You see under “normal” conditions, our eating patterns are linked to our circadian rhythms which are regulated in the hypothalamus – an area of the brain which is responsible for the production of hormones.

However laboratory studies have shown that partial sleep deprivation causes changes in two of the hormones involved in the regulation of food intake which include:

  1. Ghrelin – a hormone which increases our appetite but increases even more when we’re sleep deprived.
  2. Leptin – a hormone which decreases our appetite however decreases even more when we’re sleep deprived.

Essentially the changes to the normal functioning of these hormones can actually cause us to overeat and/or eat when we’re not necessarily hungry.

So it’s not your fault you’re putting on weight – it’s your circadian rhythms!

Well partly anyway.

Just have a think about this – when was the last time you really listened to those hunger pangs and only ate when you were hungry?

Because more often than not we eat regardless and this puts a lot of added strain on our digestive system because it’s essentially “not ready” to receive, digest and break down any food.  Unfortunately when we also eat at erratic times, especially during the night, it can disturb intestinal motility which affects the digestion, absorption, and utilization of nutrients.

All of these factors can add to our feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and increased weight gain.

Of course I totally understand there are times when we have no choice but to eat (whether we’re hungry or not) thanks to time allocated meal breaks.

But we’re not at work all of the time – and we’re not sleep deprived all of the time.

These “hunger hormones” can certainly play havoc on our eating habits – especially if you’re a sleep-deprived shift worker.

However if you stick to as normal of an eating pattern as you possibly can (especially when you’re not at work), and make a conscious effort not to overeat and overeat on all of the bad stuff (highly processed, highly sugared foods) you will be able to beat those hunger hormones at their game and prevent yourself from gaining all those extra kilo’s I promise!  If I can do it – I’m sure you can too :-).

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!