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Health workers need health food

After a punishing nursing shift, resist the call of junk food and sweet snacks. By Amie Larter

Research for many years has suggested that shiftwork can have negative effects on your relationship, your children and in particular your health.

Patients' needs know no time, so nurses are expected to work throughout the night providing the highest level of care - even when their energy levels are decreasing.

Sonya Stanley, an accredited dietitian and South Australian spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, knows the important role diet can play in ensuring you stay ahead of the game.

"Not eating a healthy diet could mean you lack the energy to get through a shift," she said. "Not eating well consistently can also leave you more susceptible to illness and lifestyle diseases in the long term."

To avoid jeopardising your health, Sonya believes it is imperative to make good food choices a top priority.

"Sometimes, unhealthy fast-food outlets can be appealing on the way home if workers are tired and hungry.

"Rather than go to bed overfull or on an empty stomach, try something simple and healthy like a poached egg - which only takes a minute to microwave - or baked beans topped with low-fat cheese on grainy toast."

In what can be a high-pressure environment, the wrong choices when it comes to snacks can also have consequences.

"Choose snacks that are packed with healthy nutrients and will provide long-lasting energy," Stanley said. "Foods that contain wholegrains - such as grainy bread with low-fat cheese or soy-and-linseed crackers topped with tuna - are good choices which help to keep you going after a short break."

To help you make the right food choices, Stanley gave Nursing Review her top five tips for balancing shift work and diet:

1. Keep a well-stocked fridge, freezer and pantry so you have a range of healthy options that are easy to cook up. Quick meals can be made from wholegrain pasta and tomato-based sauces, couscous and a tin of three-bean mix, or tinned tuna and long-grain rice. Add some mixed steamed veg from the fridge or freezer to create a nutritious and delicious meal from these ingredients in less than 10 minutes.
2. Fill up the fruit bowl at the beginning of the week so you have a piece of fresh fruit to grab each day for a snack. Choose fruit that's in season and travels well, such as bananas.
3. Don't be tempted to substitute unhealthy snack foods like crisps, biscuits and lollies for a balanced meal. Limit foods high in added sugars and saturated fats to occasional treats.
4. After a long shift, eat something simple and healthy before you go to bed. Try an omelette with chopped tomato, diced mushroom and a handful of spinach leaves served on grainy toast or a wholegrain English muffin.
5. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself well hydrated.

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