It’s pretty crazy to think that as recently as the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s we were led to believe that fat was bad for us. But this whole fat-is-bad-for-us theory was actually based on very biased research by the now discredited-researcher, Ancel Keys, as he handpicked data to prove his hypothesis that diets rich in fat raised cholesterol and caused heart disease.
The thing is, our body needs fat and cholesterol to help facilitate a number of important physiological processes in the body such as in the manufacture of sex hormones which are critical not only for fertility, but for energy as well.
Ahh energy. Something that seems to vanish soon after commencing shift work as I’m sure you can relate!
There are also fats that are referred to as “essential” fats, meaning they are essential that we consume every day because the human body cannot create these fats from other substances inside ourselves, or other substances that we might consume. So we must consume these essential fats every day.
However, in addition to improvements in energy and fertility, there are other reasons why a diet comprising of plenty of healthy fats, especially for those experiencing sleep disruption is recommended:
- Fat leaves you feeling satiated – so you’re less likely to over eat. Given shift workers are prone to weight gain as a result of a lack of sleep messing with our appetite regulating hormones, feeling full or satiated is incredibly important when trying to keep the waistline in check.
Healthy fats also help to reduce sugar cravings which is a HUGE BONUS for sleep deprived shift workers!! So if you’re prone to craving sweet foods in between meals or say after dinner, make sure you’re including some healthy fats into your main meals such as oily fish, eggs, cheese, grass-fed butter and organic meats. When it comes to snacks, always make sure that any snacks that you’re having contain healthy fats too. For example Bliss Balls made from nuts and seeds, along with dates for a natural hint of sweetness.
- Fatty acids help to boost the immune system – as they help the body to increase the number of T-cells, which are white blood cells responsible for fighting off pathogens. Given tired people tend to have higher rates of overall infection, and studies have shown that sleep deprivation can reduce the number of these T-cells, this is super important.
So aim to include plenty of whole foods that contain these healthy fats such as avocados, macadamias, olives, coconuts, nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters made from these ingredients. Coconuts in particular make great snack foods as they contain anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antimicrobial properties that are going to support your immune system.
Of course, just like with anything, it’s not about going out and eating bucket loads of fats. Our body also needs plenty of protein and unrefined carbohydrates that contain fibre to keep us well. It’s having a common sense approach and understanding that including fats into our diet, or more specifically, fats from whole real foods play an instrumental role in our health.
At the same time, we need to ensure we’re minimising consumption of damaging fats, those found in biscuits, processed cakes, donuts, muesli bars and deep fried foods, otherwise known as trans fats. These fats create inflammation in the body which is one of the leading causes of many chronic health conditions that we see today.
Eating fat from whole, real foods also does not make you fat. It’s the highly refined and processed carbohydrates that are adding to our ever growing waistlines, but I’ll save that for another post.
It’s also not about counting calories – it’s about focussing on nutrients. Focussing on nourishing the body with healthy fats that not only provide a source of fuel that our body can burn and use for energy, but help create enzymes inside of us that allow us to use the fat that we have stored as fuel. In other words, eating fat will help you to lose weight as it supports your body to utilise fat as fuel.
So please don’t be scared of dietary fats. Healthy fats from whole food sources are absolutely essential for our health, and even more so for those who are running on disrupted sleep.
De Jong, A, Kloppenburg, M, Toes, R & Ioan-Facsinay A 2014, ‘Fatty Acids, Lipid Mediators, and T-Cell Function’, Frontiers in Immunology, vol. 5, no. 483, pp. 1-7.
Irwin, M, McClintick, J, Costlow, C, Fortner, M, White, J & Gillin, J 1996, ‘Partial night sleep deprivation reduces natural killer and cellular immune responses in humans’, The FASEB Journal, vol. 10, no.5, pp. 643-653.
Oliveira de Almedia, C & Malheiro, A 2016, ‘Sleep, immunity and shift workers: A review’, Sleep Science, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 164-168.
Scott, P 2011, ‘Ancel Keys was wrong about heart disease and cholesterol’, Health Impact News, https://healthimpactnews.com/2011/ancel-keys-was-wrong-about-heart-disease-and-cholesterol/