Healthy eating and shift work - CALIFORNIA HEALTH

Healthy eating and shift work


Healthy eating and shift work

shift work and diet

Shift working confers additional challenges to healthy eating. This challenge is compounded by disturbances to our body’s natural day-to-day rhythm, which may add extra stress.

For example, our digestive system is believed to be slower during the night.

We also know that eating late at night, which experts define as within 2 hours of going to bed, seems to increase risk to heart diseases. If you work during midnight and eat during times when most people are asleep, you are at an increased risk of high blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Shift workers should therefore pay more attention to their diet and eating habits.

It is believed that disruption of circadian rhythms appears to be at least partially responsible for the increased cardiovascular risk of eating late in the evening.

Difficulties with Shift working

Dietary challenges associated with shift working may include

  • Irregular meal patterns leading to regular snacks
  • Eating in a rush
  • Over-eating at night
  • Drinking sugary/ high calorie drinks overnight
  • Limited options for healthy foods during the night therefore relying on vending machines

The key to dealing with those challenges is to plan your meals.


Changing your diet for shift work

If you work a night shift, it may be prudent to have your main meal before the start of your shift. For afternoon shift workers, have your main meal in the middle of the day rather than in the middle of the shift.

Be careful with your portions sizes and ensure that the main meal contains at least a good source of protein e.g. lean meat, fish, skinless chicken, beans, Dahl because protein-rich foods are good to keep you alert through your shift.

As large meals reduce alertness, it is important to reduce portions of meals just before the shift. And you can snack during your shift if hungry. You can take healthy snacks (e.g. a piece of fruit,

a pot of yoghurt, a bowl of salad, a handful of nuts or seeds) with you so you aren’t tempted to grab anything from the vending machine.

It may also be a good idea to have a wholegrain such as cereal like oats or wholegrain snack bar before bed as these could help with sleeping.

Coffees and caffeine drinks may be useful in keeping you awake through a night shift, but excessive consumption may affect your sleep after the shift. Have these drinks before or early in your shift rather than towards the end. You can also opt for other drinks like water, ‘no added sugar’ squashes or sugar free sparkling water.

You may also have to reduce or eliminate sugar from your teas and coffees especially if you are trying to lose weight. You can trial with artificial sweeteners. It is also a good idea to look for opportunities to be active during your shift e.g. walking up and down the stairs. This may help distract your attention from using food to deal with boredom.