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Healthy Eating for Shift Workers and Busy Lifestyles

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Shift workers (especially those who change schedules often or work through the night) may be at risk for poor nutrition and possible health-related consequences. The International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health concluded that individuals who work on shift rotation have a higher incidence of elevated cholesterol and triglyceride (fat in your blood) levels. In an effort to help combat these symptoms read labels and choose foods lower in sugar and fats, especially saturated (animal-derived fats) and trans fat.

Also, Dietitians of Canada cautions that those who work irregular shifts may eat less nutritious foods because of a poorly regulated appetite, the absence of regular meal times, and the action of eating alone instead of with family. Many people despite their work schedule can relate to juggling busy lives and finding it difficult to sit down to home-cooked meals.

With Fall approaching, try cooking a large batch of minestrone or turkey chilli and freeze portions for quick and easy dinners instead of fast food or processed foods. Shift work or just a stressful work environment can cause damage to the body that healthy balanced eating can help to repair. Nutrients that are important to combat stress include magnesium, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Good sources of these include: almonds, edamame (soybeans), quinoa, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, fish, spinach, fruits and vegetables. See below for the recipe “Quinoa Stuffed Peppers” which is low in fat, and contains spinach and tomatoes (tomatoes are a source of the antioxidant lycopene).

Here are five tips to help you stay on track with healthy eating at work or during other busy times: Here are five tips to help you stay on track with healthy eating at work or during other busy times:

  1. Eat every 3-4 hours. Do not skip meals. Your body will interpret this as starving and slow down your metabolism accordingly. You may also feel ravenous at the next meal which can lead to poor nutrition choices and eating more than you would have planned.

  2. Balance meals with protein and carbohydrates. This will ensure the energy from the food is released evenly and prevents drops in blood sugar and in turn energy levels. Good sources of protein include cottage cheese, Greek-style yogurt, tofu, fish, eggs, and meat.

  3. Pack your meals and snacks from home to prevent relying on less nutritious choices from vending machines or cafeterias. Some options for easy, non-perishable snacks on the go are; nuts and seeds, canned fish with whole-grain crackers, fruit, and homemade high fibre muffins.

  4. Be aware of caffeine consumption. Not only can this inhibit sleep (which elevates a hormone in our body called cortisol and causes fat to be stored more easily) but caffeinated beverages may also be high in health-promoting sugar and/or fat depending on the drink. Opt for lower caffeine and health-promoting options such as green tea, or try half caffeinated (half-caff) coffee with low-fat milk.

  5. Even if you work night shifts, schedule your meals around sleep as you would on a day shift. Eat a sizeable meal upon waking when your body has been fasting and will need the energy. Do not eat a large meal before you go to bed as you may interrupt your sleep and digestion. Follow these tips to create a healthier lifestyle no matter your work or life schedule.

Samantha Gionotti, Registered Dietitian


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