Nutrition: Food for thought
Working in the mining industry presents a unique set of challenges for maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Following is Bill’s* story, a true example of the challenges commonly faced:
Bill is a ‘30 something’ operator who has been working rotational shifts away from his family for two weeks at a time for the last few years. He eats from the canteen for meals and crib. He has slipped into some poor habits: fry up breakfasts; hot box pies for lunch; and whatever dish looks the most appetizing at dinner. On night shift, cans of cola and the occasional energy drink will get him through. His weight has been going up and he feels constantly tired with poor energy levels on and off shift. When he is home, his family keep all his favourite foods on hand (often heavy comfort meals) to say ‘welcome home’. And, winding down with more than a couple beers on each trip home has become a routine.
Bill’s story is not uncommon. When NAQ Nutrition’s Dietitians visited a North Queensland mine camp to offer diet consultations for employees, these complex issues affecting food intake were observed for many workers. Work stress, fatigue and having easy access to high fat and high sugar foods when at camp can lead to poor eating habits. Long shifts operating machinery means a day spent mostly sedentary which is linked to poor health outcomes.
There can be real challenges to maintaining a healthy diet when working in the mining industry– but it is possible. This article will feature tips to improve your nutrition and boost energy levels.
Work stress, fatigue and having easy access to high fat and high sugar foods when at camp can lead to poor eating habits.
WHY IS HEALTHY EATING IMPORTANT?
Eating well can have both immediate and long term health effects. In the short term, a healthy diet can improve your energy levels, concentration, digestion and sleep quality. Most of us would agree that getting good quality sleep and having good energy levels throughout a shift makes for a better work day. In the longer term, having an active lifestyle and eating well can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
THINKING ABOUT TRIMMING DOWN?
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and fatty liver. Day to day, carrying too much weight can affect the quality of your sleep, leaving you feeling more fatigued. If getting into shape is something you would like, it is important to consider your diet and level of activity. Do you spend long periods of time sedentary at work or home? If you are unsure, consider purchasing a pedometer to track how many steps you take over the day. At least 10 000 steps is an ideal amount for the average person and at least 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity exercise each day. With food intake, large portion sizes, kilojoule/ calorie dense foods, sugary drinks and alcohol are all big contributors to weight gain and may be areas for change.
EAT RIGHT FOR NIGHT SHIFT
Eating well when your work schedule includes night shifts needs some preplanning to successfully manage the changes in your appetite, being hungry at odd times, indigestion and constipation. These changes occur because your body’s internal ‘body clock’ is being challenged by being awake all evening.
You may find you crave sugary foods or high kilojoule/calorie snacks throughout the shift to supposedly give you a boost, but often these can be the worst food choices for maintaining mental alertness. Your digestion slows in the evening and what you eat may be ‘out of sync’ with what your body is able to process. Fats will not be cleared from the blood stream as efficiently and blood glucose levels are not always regulated appropriately. Foods that you can usually tolerate well during the day may not be suitable if you have them late at night.
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN WORKING IRREGULAR SHIFTS:
- Eat a healthy, but substantial, breakfast before going to work (i.e. baked beans on wholemeal toast and fruit).
- If you are working night shift, have your main meal for the day on rising and before starting your shift.
- Have small meals and healthy snacks while on shift.
- Keep hydrated by drinking water and avoid sugary and caffeinated beverages as these only provide a short term boost.
- Avoid the sugar trap and energy slump after eating high sugar foods like lollies and opt for a balanced snack instead like yoghurt or cheese and crackers.
WHAT IF YOUR MEALS ARE PROVIDED AT CAMP?
If your meals are provided by the camp canteen, it can impact your diet in numerous ways:
- Often there is a wide variety of food on offer. Too much choice and self-serve portions can mean you are likely to eat more than your body needs.
- You have little control over the food provided and the way it is prepared. Dressing and sauces are often already added to items making it difficult to control added fat and salt in meals.
- Over time you may feel bored by the foods and flavours provided which may make you less motivated to make healthier choices.
- Many catering companies do offer ‘healthier’ options but it can be difficult to identify these choices.
HOW TO EAT WELL FROM THE CAMP CANTEEN
Knowing what to choose from the canteen is important for eating well at meals and crib. The decisions you make when packing a crib or when filling your plate in the dining room, may only take a few seconds. Overtime the decisions you make can add up to improve or worsen your health.
GET THE BALANCE RIGHT
A balanced meal is one that contains vegetables for fibre and nutrients, quality slow release carbohydrate foods for sustained energy levels and lean protein to keep you full.
- Aim to fill half your plate or crib container with vegetables or salad items.
- Include some lean protein (skinless chicken, tuna, lean read meat, eggs) and watch that the portion size is no larger than one quarter of the meal.
- Add a slow released carbohydrate food like wholegrain bread, baked potato, brown rice or pasta to form a quarter of your meal.
Starting the day with breakfast is important whether you are working a day or night shift for improved energy levels. A balanced breakfast contains protein, carbohydrate and fruit or vegetables. An example of some good breakfast combinations might be poached eggs on wholegrain toast with grilled tomatoes, or porridge with natural yogurt and fruit.
TIPS FOR MAKING HEALTHIER CRIB CHOICES
- Use multigrain or wholemeal bread, rolls or wraps and add lots of salads to sandwiches for added fibre.
- Choose lean protein choices for sandwiches like egg, tuna, roast beef, skinless chicken.
- Avoid salami, luncheon, sausages and other processed meats. These are high in salt and saturated fat.
- Pack healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, crackers and cheese, vegie sticks, boiled eggs and yoghurt.
- Only pack bakery items like slices and muffins occasionally.
- Pies, sausage rolls and pizza are not good choices. If you do choose these for crib, pack a side salad and fresh fruit to improve the nutrition content of your crib meal.
TIPS FOR MAKING HEALTHIER CHOICES AT DINNER
- Take a look at the menu before approaching the meal line and determine what the better choices are. Add these to your plate to avoid having lots of everything.
- Dinner is the perfect time to increase your vegetable intake so fill your plate with boiled, steamed and baked vegetables and salads.
- Look out for and try to avoid creamy sauces added to pasta and meat dishes as these are high in fat. Choose tomato based dressings instead.
- Deep fried and crumbed food are often high in fat and should only be chosen occasionally.
- If you are unsure how something is cooked, don’t be afraid to ask the foodservice who are often happy to explain.
- If you are having dessert, keep portions small. The best option would be a naturally sweet choice like fruit salad with yoghurt or low fat custard.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU HAVE TO PREPARE ALL YOUR OWN FOOD?
Preparation is the key to eating well when you are busy. Work out when you can buy groceries and when there is time to prepare meals. Cook larger batches of recipes and freeze individual portions to be reheated as needed. Keep frozen vegetables on hand to add to meals as a side dish. Stock up on healthy snack options like tinned fish, nuts, fruit and crackers to bring to work.
STAYING WELL HYDRATED
The amount of fluid your body requires depends on many factors including how physically demanding your role is, your individual body type and the environmental conditions that the work is being carried out in. Waiting until you are thirsty as an indication to drink is not a good strategy to replace fluid deficits. Drinking small amounts frequently, over short intervals is the best way to replace lost fluids and maintain optimal hydration levels throughout your shift.
Water is the best choice and should be the primary drink of choice for hydration. Cordial, juice and soft drink are high in sugar and ‘empty’ kilojoules because they provide little nutritional benefit. Drinks like coffee, tea and energy drinks often provide a short term energy boost as the caffeine stimulates the brain and the central nervous system. In small doses, caffeine can make you feel refreshed and focused. In large doses, you are likely to feel anxious and have difficulty sleeping. Like any other drug, it is possible to become dependent on caffeine and require more of it to get the same benefit.
SPOTLIGHT ON ENERGY DRINKS
What do energy drinks contain that could pose a health hazard? Energy drinks contain caffeine and the amount added during manufacturing is regulated. What is not regulated are other compounds that can be added to these drinks like taurine, ginseng and guarana. Guarana has a very similar chemical makeup to caffeine and acts in a similar way in our bodies. This heightens the effect of caffeine and impacts our mental state, heart rate and blood pressure (sometimes to the point of palpitations). Heightened anxiety, mood swings, dependence and poor quality sleep are all possible outcomes from regular intake and reasons why they are best avoided.
HOW CAN EMPLOYERS SUPPORT GOOD NUTRITION IN THE MINES?
Good nutrition is the foundation for healthy and safe workers. Early intervention and health promotion initiatives are vital. A worksite that shows a genuine interest in its employee’s wellbeing will develop their trust, commitment and boost morale. Investing in workplace wellbeing has been shown to reap high returns for companies through increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism and decreased incidence of injuries. There are many opportunities for employers to promote good nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits in the mining industry:
- Prioritise nutrition education for staff in ways that are engaging and relevant. Review current nutrition promotion material onsite. Is there any? When was it last updated? Where is it positioned – in high traffic areas like the lunch room or canteen? Would employees prefer face to face contact with a nutrition professional?
- Involve employees in the decisionmaking process when developing a health program. High attendance rates can be achieved if employees have their interests heard.
- Bring health care to the worksite. Mining is a largely male dominated industry and we know that men are less likely than women to seek out health care. Offering staff opportunities to visit health professionals at times of the day that are convenient for them can be very beneficial.
- Consider the foodservice and whether changes to the food supplied are required to support healthy eating.
NAQ Nutrition’s Dieticians specialise in workforce nutrition with a detailed understanding of the mining and resources industry. We provide onsite group education and individual diet consultations for employees allowing them to discuss their own diet and health questions in a friendly and confidential environment. NAQ Nutrition can also undertake a comprehensive review of a camp foodservice and menu to identify opportunities for change to support healthy eating.