Eating a balanced diet is really important for both our physical health and mental health. However, it can often be difficult to schedule in or to find the motivation to do it - especially at times for staff working in health and social care settings.
A balanced diet is one that includes healthy amounts of proteins, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. The food we eat can influence the development, management and prevention of numerous mental health conditions including depression and low mood.
What we eat doesn’t just affect our physical health: it can also affect our mental health and wellbeing. Following a healthy diet can help you to:
- maintain a healthy weight
- keep your energy levels up
- reduce your risk of health conditions such as stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer
- look after your heart health
- keep your bones and joints strong
- look after your mental wellbeing
- keep your immune system healthy
- may help you to sleep better
Healthy eating involves eating a variety of foods to ensure that your body is getting all of the energy and nutrients that it needs.
The Eatwell Guide is the UK's healthy eating model and aims to help you understand how much food from each food group you should be having in order to maintain a healthy and balanced diet (you do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a day or even a week).
- Try the free NHS food scanner app - with a speedy scan of your family's favourite foods, you can find healthier swaps for next time you shop.
- Get into the habit of eating a morning meal with these simple breakfasts, designed to whet the appetite of even the most habitual breakfast-skipper, find healthy breakfast ideas and full recipes here.
- These eight practical tips cover the basics of healthy eating and can help you make healthier choices.
- With these surprising 100-calorie snacks you can enjoy some of the nation's favourite treats without derailing your diet.
The Royal College of Nursing have developed a Healthy workplace, healthy you campaign which can be applied to all health and social care staff.
They highlight the importance of staff taking at-work breaks, keeping hydrated and having access to nutritional food (Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs identifies these as being our basic human physiological needs:
If these needs are not being met at your workplace, you may find yourself becoming unwell, feeling burnt out, or wanting to leave your job. Fatigue and dehydration have also been shown to impact cognitive functioning, making errors more likely to occur.
The Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 state that employers should ensure:
- Readily accessible supply of drinking water and a supply of vessels/cups to use to drink the water
- Suitable and sufficient facilities, that there readily accessible to allow workers to rest and eat meals where their working environment could contaminate food
- Eating facilities that include a facility for preparing or obtaining a hot drink, such as an electric kettle, a vending machine or a canteen.
Working night shifts can disrupt meal times and your diet.
- Stick to similar times that you normally eat at during the day
- Frequently eating light meals or healthy snacks during your shift can avoid drowsiness
- Planning meals can help with levels of alertness during your shift, and be more relaxed when resting
- Eat foods that are easily digestable such as salad, fruit, and vegetables, and avoid fried, spicy, sugary, and processed foods (i.e., high calorie, high fat, high carbohydrate foods)
- Drink water regularly.
- Going food shopping can be difficult when on night shifts. Prepare for this in advance and take food with you to work
- Monitor your caffeine intake. Although a coffee or a cup of tea can help you keep alert during a shift, don't consume too much as it could disrupt your sleep when you get home (caffeine shouldn't be consumed 6 hours before sleep).
Where possible, aim to minimise eating between midnight and 6am.
The British Nutrition Foundation has developed the following guide to support those who work shifts: