You just walked in after a stressful night shift and you head straight to the refrigerator. You’ve been eating alternately salty and sugary snacks for 12 hours, not to mention drinking an entire pot of coffee, and now your stomach doesn’t know if it wants to boycott food or devour a double bacon cheeseburger. What you do know is that you’d like to get some rest. So what should you grab to eat?
Staying awake for 24+ hours while working in a stressful environment and having limited access to healthy food and water will disrupt homeostasis within the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This, in turn, has a negative effect on digestion, mood and energy levels. In other words, that meal you’re about to eat isn’t just about filling your stomach, it’s about physical recovery. So make it a meal that includes protein, and the kinds of vitamins and minerals that will promote energy and start you on the road to healthy homeostasis.
Two eggs or egg substitute with one slice of whole grain toast, pita or tortilla. Include salsa and/or vegetables to make a breakfast burrito
What makes it great: Eggs are high in protein and Vitamin A, which has been associated with boosting immunity, improvement of vision and cellular protection (especially skin and mucous membrane cells). Whole grain is a great source of magnesium and B vitamins, both of which promote energy. Tomatoes are a source of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants may stop cellular damage caused by free radicals, thereby protecting against certain diseases. The protein found in egg whites is among the most bioavailable forms one can eat. And don’t forget, protein and fiber are helpful in slowing digestion, which prolongs satiety between meals.
Plain or vanilla yogurt with fruit, nuts, and/or granola
What makes it great: You can’t go wrong with this choice for breakfast, lunch or a snack. Yogurt (Low fat or Fat free) is a great source of calcium, vitamin D and protein. Both calcium and vitamin D are crucial to bone and teeth formation, and maintenance of bone density. In addition, calcium plays a role in muscle contraction, vasodilation, healthy nerve transmission and it acts as an aid in bloodclotting. Yogurt has active cultures, which help to promote healthy bacterial growth in the digestive tract. Nuts, such as almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and walnuts have many health benefits. They are good sources of fiber, powerful antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium, Omega-3 fatty acids – which are thought to lower risk of heart attack and which lower triglycerides in the blood. Cashews are significant sources of iron, essential for red blood cell function, magnesium and phosphorus, which also play a role in bone health; and zinc, which aids in digestion and metabolism.
Cereal with low fat milk. (A good rule of thumb to follow is ≥ 3 gm of fiber/serving, and no added sweeteners among the first 5 ingredients)
What makes it great: Low fat or skim milk boasts the same benefits as yogurt, minus the active cultures. A high fiber, whole grain cereal is packed with antioxidants, iron, zinc and magnesium. In addition, they provide a good source of B vitamins, vitamin E and small amounts of unsaturated fats. As mentioned previously, B vitamins and magnesium promote energy. Cereal and milk together create a well-balanced meal of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.
Oatmeal with low fat milk, fresh fruit, dried fruit and/or nuts
What makes it great: Oatmeal is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, antioxidants, and, combined with lowfat milk and/or nuts, it is a good source of protein as well. A high fiber diet has been thought to help lower cholesterol, and promote a healthy intestinal lining. In addition, fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels, which will help overcome that out of fuel feeling which you are most likely experiencing after your long shift. Oatmeal is a filling, satisfying and low fat meal choice.
To sum up, you can’t go wrong with a balanced meal. The rule of thumb here is: high fiber, low fat, protein, complex carbs and calcium.