A Nurse’s Nutrition Guide

Small dietary changes can create large gains in health

The key to reaping the rewards of the nursing profession without getting burned out from its challenges is tied to maintaining personal wellness. As mentioned in my previous post, there are six cornerstones to a well-balanced life. In this column, I will focus on one of them – nutrition.

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Cleveland Clinic promotes a culture of eating well every day. One systemwide initiative is the removal of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods from cafeterias and food vendors on campus. This helps our nurses and other employee caregivers make good choices. Here’s some additional advice to ensure you are eating right.

10 tips to better nutrition

  1. Stay away from pre-packaged food. Where’s the nutritional value in packaged golden sponge cake with creamy filling? Or pre-baked toaster pastries with frosting? Select food that nourishes your body and provides energy throughout the day so you can function at the highest level.
  2. Check out ingredients: An apple is an apple. But what about berry-flavored applesauce? Yes, it’s made from apples, but the third ingredient listed is high fructose corn syrup. Stay away from all added and hidden sugars, which are found in nearly everything sold on the shelves in the middle of your supermarket. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce an ingredient or have no idea what it is, put that item back on the shelf.
  3. Create a meal plan: Make a list, and plan around your work days. If you are off on Tuesday, cook a nutritious meal with plenty of leftovers for your lunch on Wednesday.
  4. Boycott quick-fixes: Avoid fast food and vending machines. As a bonus you will save money by packing your meals and snacks.
  5. Snack often: Our bodies are like a machine. Your car won’t make it very far without gasoline. Similarly, you won’t perform at your best if you neglect to nourish your body. So graze on healthy snacks like nuts, fruit and yogurt to keep your energy levels high.
  6. Drink lots of water: Staying hydrated during a 12-hour shift is vital to your mental attentiveness and job performance. Carbonated beverages just won’t cut it as they contain no nutritional value. Our bodies are made up of approximately 60 percent water. Would you water your plants with a sugary soda beverage?
  7. Use your crockpot: If you are like most nurses, you work long days and nights. When you get home your feet hurt and you probably don’t feel like cooking. Coming home to a prepared meal that has been simmering for hours can be the best reward after a long day.
  8. No partying: How often do you walk into the break room to find leftover cookies, chips, pizza and soda? The break room can sabotage your health and provide you with surges of high and low blood glucose levels throughout your long shifts. I know this is a hard rule to follow! Maybe you’re having a stressful morning and a large piece of chocolate cake brought in by a patient’s family looks like just the thing to brighten your mood. But don’t let stress at work take you off your path to wellness. Stick to your healthy packed lunch.
  9. Avoid the pitfalls of working the night shift: Not only do you face the challenge of sleeping during daylight hours and combating your circadian system, but an unhealthy diet may also sabotage your success at achieving a good day’s sleep. Coffee and energy drinks may be your enemy when it comes to developing a healthy sleep pattern. Moderation in caffeine consumption and small amounts throughout the shift is preferred rather than a large amount all at once.
  10. Be a leader on your unit: Instead of late-night pizza deliveries, start weekly potluck dinners. Bring a crockpot meal or healthy snacks for you and your co-workers to consume. Make healthy eating a culture on your unit.

While these tips sound simple, I know they may seem hard to follow. But eating healthy is easier than you think. Make it a way of life. When you start eating nutritious food, you will feel better and have more energy than you ever thought possible. You will feel so much better every day!

Mallory Hatmaker, MSN, BSN, CNP, is a regular contributor to Consult QD—Nursing. She is an Adult/Gerontology Certified Nurse Practitioner who has been a staff nurse at Cleveland Clinic since 2009. She currently works in the Employee Wellness and Internal Medicine Departments at Cleveland Clinic, where she spearheads an initiative on Nursing Wellness.

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