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The most common challenges faced by nurses and midwives regarding nutrition are related to their working environment, according to Melanie McGrice, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Spokesperson for Dietitians Australia.

“Healthcare workers in particular, often seem to be in an environment where there is lots of ‘treat foods’ and high energy snack foods around, which is a temptation, and there tends to be a bit of a culture of ‘work hard, play hard’ as well,” Ms McGrice says, who counts several nurses and midwives among her client base.

“Obviously both of those [factors] … are going to impact upon your focus and productivity at work.”

However, while several nutritional salves can counter cake, chocolate and biscuits influence your blood glucose levels, Ms McGrice says that allocating time for planning (around 15-20 minutes) and the subsequent weekly shop can also help make focus-friendly and productive eating a lot easier to achieve.

“Once they know what times they’re going to be eating in that coming week, based upon their roster, then they can figure out what foods they can actually pre-prepare, then they know what ingredients they’re going to need, and so then they can go and do that weekly shop,” Ms McGrice says.

“That just takes so much additional stress out of the rest of the week because everything’s done and dusted.”

Melanie McGrice

Ms McGrice says planning is also helpful because there are a whole variety of foods to choose from that optimise energy levels and bolster mental sharpness, helping to facilitate productive and focused work.

Ms McGrice says they include the following:

  • Healthy Wholegrains – “That have a low glycemic index to help provide that long lasting energy.”
  • Lean Proteins (Fish, Chicken, Eggs, Nuts and Legumes) – “To help optimise that glycemic load and to be able to provide the protein for creating new hormones and enzymes.”
  • Healthy Fats (Nuts and Fish) – Fish, which contains Omega 3, is beneficial with “memory and cognition.”
  • Dairy Products (Yoghurts and Cheese) – “A really low glycemic index food.”
  • Fruit and Vegetables – Particularly with an emphasis on “antioxidants, which can help in optimal health and wellbeing.”

If people meet their dietary needs in these ways, Ms McGrice says that most people will only require hydration with water, noting that juices can be particularly counter-productive in the workplace due to often featuring a high glycemic index.

Other pitfalls that Ms McGrice says should be avoided are an over-reliance on caffeine to get through nightshifts. She also says convenient choices found in nursing stations and cafeterias can be hazardous and that purchasing snacks to bring to work like nuts, yoghurt, spicy chickpeas, or fresh and preserved fruit during the weekly shop can help avoid those temptations.

Other suggestions to ensure healthy choices are baking items such as muffins (even pre-baking a month in advance and freezing them for when needed) and frittatas containing the nutrients mentioned above.

Ms McGrice says it is crucial that nurses, midwives, and carers fuel themselves with nutritious food because of the demand associated with their work. She says the best way to achieve this is through prior planning.

“If meals aren’t planned in advance, then it’s taking additional brainpower to try and work out what you’re going to eat… that’s when people can often resort to less healthy, last minute decisions,” she says.