There are jobs with shift working hours that not only affect workers’ nutritional state but also their health in general and their life outside of work, especially in the case of predisposed subjects. This problem worsens when workers work at night. Workers with night-time working hours exhibit signs of a poor diet, irritability, mood changes, insomnia, fatigue, changes in bowel movements and anorexia. We should also remember that workers who have this kind of shift work are obliged to consume products that are not always healthy. Among the factors that can cause malnutrition in shift-working employees, we find the following:
Energy requirements not met
A miscalculation of the necessary daily calories could have repercussions at work, as can over-eating. It has also been found that lack of hydration at work causes a loss of attention and poor concentration in individuals.
Poor meal planning
Many digestive disorders are caused by a mismatch between working hours and mealtimes. When there is poor adaptation of the diet to the pace of working life, it can cause general harm and have repercussions on efficiency at work or cause absenteeism due to medical reasons or sick leave. This means that the replacement of breakfast or of dinner with foods that are hard to digest, and easy-to-prepare meals that usually contain high amounts of calories, such as meals high in sugar, with a high percentage of saturated fats, preserved foods or fast food like hamburgers, pizzas, etc. can cause various disorders such as: high blood pressure, hot flushes, a lack of attention with a tendency towards drowsiness, pains in the abdomen, bloating and aerophagy, among other symptoms.
An insufficient number of meals a day
The relationship between the number of meals and performance at work has been demonstrated many times. The custom of eating three meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is probably based more on considerations of convenience than on physiological needs. The general opinion is that the consumption of small amounts of food improves performance at work and reduces tiredness. Lots of short breaks for a set number of working hours would lead to better recoveries than one single long break.
Those who work night shifts have few dietary options during their working hours. Recent studies suggest that these workers could have major irregularities in their hormonal responses and postprandial metabolisms after a sudden change in shifts. These irregularities include greater insulin resistance and alternative responses of lipids when eating meals at night at the beginning of a shift, and that once these have adapted to the night shift the same thing happens when the dietary timetable is changed when returning to a day shift.
The Mediterranean diet (MD) is considered to be a model of healthy eating, proven scientifically to be the best diet to follow in order to prevent chronic illnesses.
Despite the fact that shift workers cannot adapt to the classic distribution of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), they should distribute their meals during their waking hours so that they adapt as far as possible to the recommendations of the MD pyramid, compensating some meals with others.
The MD pyramid includes all of the food groups. Whether a diet is healthy or unhealthy depends on the proportion of each of these groups and how often they are consumed. The pattern is a guideline for the healthy eating of the adult population and should be adapted to the specific needs of children, pregnant women and those with other health conditions.
At the base of the pyramid is food from plant sources, which provide key nutrients and other protective substances that contribute to general wellbeing and help to achieve a balanced diet. For these reasons, they should be consumed in greater proportion and more frequently than those food groups located on the central levels or at the top. The latter foods should be consumed in moderate amounts or occasionally, saving them for festive and exceptional occasions.
The pyramid sets dietary guidelines that should be followed on a daily, weekly and occasional basis in order to have a healthy, balanced diet.
Main meals cannot be without the three basic elements:
Cereals. One or two portions per meal, in the form of bread, pasta, rice, couscous or others. Preferably they should be wholemeal or brown, because some nutrients (magnesium, phosphorous, etc.) and fibre can be lost in processed cereals.
Vegetables. These should be present in both lunch and dinner, approximately two portions with each meal. At least one of them should be raw. The variety of colours and textures provides a range of antioxidants and protective substances.
Fruit. One or two portions per meal. Fruit should be the usual dessert.
There should be a guaranteed daily intake of between 1.5 and 2 litres of water. Correct hydration is essential to maintaining a good balance of body water, although needs vary according to people’s ages, the level of physical activity they do, their personal situation and climatic conditions. As well as drinking water directly, the supply of fluids can be completed with herbal infusions with moderate amounts of sugar and soups that are low in fat and salt.
Dairy products. Preferably in the form of low-fat yoghurt and cheese. They should be consumed in moderation (approximately two portions a day): they help to strengthen bones, but can also be a major source of saturated fats.
Olive oil, located in the centre of the pyramid, this should be the main source of fat, due to its nutritional quality. It should be used as a dressing and to cook (one spoonful), because its unique composition gives it a high resistance to cooking temperatures.
Herbs, spices, onions and garlic are a good way of adding a range of aromas and flavours to dishes and a good strategy to reduce the use of salt. Olives, nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibre. A handful of olives, nuts and/or seeds can be an excellent appetiser.
Provided that religious beliefs and social customs allow, the moderate consumption of wine or other fermented drinks is recommended (as a guide, one glass per day for women and two for men).
Consuming proteins from animal and plant sources. Mediterranean dishes do not usually contain proteins from animal sources as the main ingredient, but instead are added to other dishes to make them tastier.
Fish (two or more portions), lean meat (two portions) and eggs (2-4 portions) are sources of high-quality animal protein. Fish and seafood are also sources of healthy fats.
The consumption of red meat (fewer than two portions, preferably lean cuts) and of processed meat (less than one portion) should be reduced both in terms of quantity and frequency.
Pulses combined with cereals are a good source of plant proteins. Potatoes are included in this group and frequency of consumption because of their presence in traditional meat and fish recipes (around three portions a week, preferably fresh).
At the top of the pyramid we find sweet foods. Sugar, sweets, cakes, pastries, sugary fruit juices and sugary drinks should be consumed in small quantities and only occasionally.
Together with the recommendations regarding proportions and frequency for each of the food groups, the addition of some cultural and lifestyle elements is one of the most notable points of the new pyramid.
Their adoption is considered necessary in order to obtain all the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. These elements are defined based on several key concepts:
Moderation. The size of portions should be based on frugality. The sedentary lifestyle that characterises modern urban societies imposes low energy needs.
Cooking. Time should be spent on the preparation of food in order to make it a relaxing, fun activity that can be done as a family, with friends or with your partner.
Socialisation. Beyond the nutritional aspect, shared living improves the social and cultural value of food. The act of cooking and sitting down around a table in the company of family and friends provides a feeling of community.
Seasonality. Seasonal, fresh and minimally processed foods contain more nutrients and protective substances. As far as possible, priority should be given to using traditional, local produce that is environmentally and biodiversity friendly. This helps to protect the environment and the Mediterranean countryside.
Activity. Regular, moderate physical exercise (at least 30 minutes during the day) provides great health benefits, as it regulates energy expenditure and helps people maintain a healthy weight. Walking, walking up and down stairs and doing housework are a simple and accessible way of doing physical exercise. As far as possible, activities are recommended in the open air and in company, in order to increase the appeal of physical exercise and reinforce ties with the community.
Rest. Resting properly forms part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
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