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Julie Pichler,

Registered Nutritional Therapist, BANT, CNHC, Vagus Wellbeing

We intuitively know that food and mood are connected. If we have a big night out, fill up on junk food or don’t eat regularly enough, we can feel hangry, fuzzy headed and bloated.

Working long and irregular shift patterns can also impact our 24 hour body clock, which in turn impacts our whole body functioning, including digestion, energy and mood.

When we’re tired or wired, moving our self-care up to the ‘to do’ list can feel like yet another chore, but we can nourish our body and mind through times of intense work or stress, through food.

Chefs are excellent at preparing delicious meals for others, but do you take time to sustain yourself through food too?

Here are my top tips for looking after yourself during a busy service:

1. Simple snacks

Keeping our blood sugar stable with complex carbohydrates, protein and fats are essential to keep you going through a busy shift. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice, baked goods, and empty calories from sugar and syrups added to your coffee, fizzy drinks, energy drinks can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels.

Whilst sugar gives us a temporary boost to our energy, it can lead to afternoon slumps, and that never ending cycle of needing more sugar and coffee to keep going. Combining fat and protein when eating carbohydrates slows down absorption of sugar, and keeps up fuller for longer, such as:

● Nuts and seeds

● Hard boiled eggs / omelettes

● Flapjacks/trail mix

● Hummus and oatcakes

● Overnight oats or porridge

● Stir Fry veg and protein of your choice

● Falafel balls and tzatziki

● Peanut butter and slice apple

● Beans on toast

● Roasted chickpeas in spices

2. Extra Virgin olive oil

Our brain is made 60% fat, and whilst it’s preferred energy source is glucose, it needs healthy fats for brain cells to replenish, grow and communicate. EVOO is packed full of antioxidants and is considered anti-inflammatory, an antidote to the busy service. It can be used to cook at moderate temperatures safely as well as dressings and dipping.

3. Focus on plants

It's beyond doubt that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables supports both body and mind. They contain fibre to feed out gut bacteria, polyphenols (over 7000 naturally occurring compounds) beneficial to human health as well as vitamins and minerals. Plants also include nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, cocoa and coffee. Aiming for 30 plants a week and adding ‘just one more’ plant to each meal, will support your energy, mood and focus.

4. Cut back on the caffeine

It can be tempting to reach for caffeine to replace food when time is short, but it can heighten anxiety and significantly impact your sleep routine. Half of your caffeine intake can remain in your body eight hours later, so if you can get your caffeine fix in the morning and switch to decaf in the afternoon, this alone could support a good night’s rest. Green tea has fantastic health benefits including carbohydrate metabolism as well as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory effects, which comes naturally caffeinated or decaffeinated.

5. Keep Hydrated

Focusing on a million different tasks, battling the heat of the kitchen or restaurant floor can mean staying hydrated often gets put on the back burner yet it’s one of the most important things we can do for our health.

Proper hydration helps boost metabolism and reduce daytime fatigue. Dehydration can lead to headaches, decreased memory and can even reduce job productivity. By the time we feel thirsty, it’s already too late. Eating smaller meals of hydrating fruits and vegetables can help you stay hydrated and energised. with 20 percent of daily water intake coming from the foods we eat, high-water foods such as watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, berries and leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses with a hydrating impact. Healthy snacks like nuts can boost sodium and potassium loss that can be a side effect of dehydration.

And after service? Cut down on screen time!

The world is geared up for multi-tasking, where scrolling through social media, watching TV and sending messages is the norm. Not only is this tiring for the brain, the blue light emitted from screens can interrupt melatonin production, the hormone needed to induce a sleep state. If you can, avoid screens at least an hour before bed, and create a winding down routine your body will appreciate, such as bathing, reading, dim lights, candles and soothing smells. Porridge is a good choice for a snack if you need one 90-120 minutes before bedtime.

The mind and body are one and the same. Nourishing our body will help us feel better physically and mentally, and small changes can make a big difference over time.

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