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Healthy eating while at work

The all-day breakfast, pasty and chips and the cream cake in the afternoon could be a recipe for weight gain, cravings and low energy points during the day. But you can eat healthily even if you are on a shift. Here’s our guide to feelgood food

It’s pretty obvious that it’s difficult to eat healthily as a student, and even harder if you’re a student nurse. You will be on a tight budget, a tighter schedule and be working unsociable hours. But, for your own wellbeing, it’s important to plan your menu and your eating schedule and don’t hide behind those excuses.

“It’s not easy,” says Rick Wilson, director of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. “Shift workers - like nurses and even cooks - have a tough time eating regularly and it’s difficult for them.”

He says that it can help to manage your blood sugar levels throughout the day with what you eat. “It’s important to go off to work with something in your stomach, so don’t go to work hungry,” he says. Of course, that is more likely to make you reach for an unhealthy choice in the canteen later.

Wilson advocates eating slow-release carbohydrates - wholegrains, oats and rye, for example, which have a low glycaemic index. Those foods with a high glycaemic index will make your blood sugar peak and drop. “When it drops, it triggers hunger,” says Mr Wilson. “If you think about our ancestors, they all ate slow-release carbs, such as roots and berries, there are very few high glycaemic index natural foods. It’s only in the last 100 years that we’ve started to eat these types of food.”

He also recommends lean meat or fish, and for vegetarians suggests foods where the protein comes from low-fat sources, such as lentils, rather than dairy products. He also recommends that you opt for products that are low fat and use little oil - so ask the kitchen about how things are cooked.

But he adds that no foods are unhealthy, it is diets that are unhealthy if they are not balanced. “You can have the cooked food in the canteen one day, but try to balance it out with a salad the next day - your body will average it out,” he says.

Mr Wilson advocates that you use the healthy eating self-assessment tracker to check your diet.

The site also offers advice on healthy eating, a widget to check if you are a healthy weight, a supermarket health tracker and five a day meal planner. These will help you plan your shopping and your meals and snacks, and Wilson says that this is fundamental to eating well throughout the day.

“If you can, I’d suggest you take your lunch with you that you’ve prepared - that way you know exactly what you’re eating,” he says. “It is also a lot less expensive of course.”

He also advises nurses not to try faddy diets. “You hear about people cutting out carbs or some other food stuff, but the truth is that you will put on weight if you eat one more calorie than you actually need,” says Mr Wilson. “Your body does not care if you get that calorie from a Mars bar or a carrot. It’s just one extra calorie that you don’t need. People lose weight on those diets because they restrict what they eat, and make them eat fewer calories as a result.”

Mr Wilson recommends that student nurses looking to lose weight or start a healthier diet should not make any changes or go on the fad diet they’ve read about in a magazine, but keep a food diary of their normal week, writing down every glass of water and everything you eat. “But don’t show it to anyone, just keep it to yourself. That way, you can look at it and see where you can make reasonable changes - and also look back on it and see how you are progressing a month or so on.”

Mr Wilson is aware that eating healthily is harder on a student budget, particularly because it’s difficult if you can’t make bulk portions and freeze them if you don’t have a freezer, so he encourages nurses to club together and cook meals for two, three or four people, as it is always cheaper than shopping and cooking for one pro rata.

He also says that hospitals are being encouraged by the Food Standards Agency to offer healthier choices, so do ask if the hospital or your place of work is going for the healthy foodmark. “Ask them about their healthy options,” says Mr Wilson.

You can eat healthily while at work, but it takes planning, careful selection and can be a bit of a judicious balancing act.

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