Healthy eating

To provide the best care nurses, midwives and nursing and midwifery students require healthy and nutritious food. What you eat at work makes up a substantial part of your diet. Paying attention to a healthy diet and drinking enough water every day are essential ways for you to maintain optimal physical, emotional and psychological health.

If you would like to chat to someone you can call our confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877.
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Challenges to healthy eating
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Long hours, missed breaks and shiftwork can result in nurses, midwives and students not having time to prepare and eat healthy, nutritious food.

Rotating and night shifts and/or 12-hour shifts can result in you drinking more caffeine and eating high sugar foods to keep awake and functioning throughout your shift.

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Why healthy eating matters
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By deciding to eat healthily you are helping to:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • reduce major health risks such as heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer
  • improve bone health by ensuring adequate calcium
  • improve the immune system
  • increase energy levels
  • improve concentration and mood, think more clearly and handle stress better, and
  • promote better quality sleep.

The link between good nutrition and healthy weight, reduced chronic disease risk, and overall health is too important to ignore. By taking steps to eat healthily, you'll be on your way to getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, active, and strong. Making small changes in your diet can go a long way - it's easier than you think.

Check the Nutrition Australia food pyramid - an excellent guide to understand how to achieve balance in your diet.

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Achieving a healthier diet
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Australian healthy eating guidelines recommend adults choose from five food groups:

  1. Vegetables and legumes as a source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. The recommended daily intake is 5 serves (1 serve = 1 cup raw or ½ cup of cooked vegetables or legumes)
  2. Fresh fruit as a source of vitamins and dietary fibre. Adults should have 2 pieces of fruit per day
  3. Grains and cereal foods (preferably wholegrain) are high in protein, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins. The recommended amount is 6 or 7 serves per day. One serve is equivalent to:
    • 1 slice of bread
    • ½ cup of cooked rice, oats, pasta or other grain
    • 3 rye crispbreads, or
    • 30 grams of breakfast cereal (2/3 cup of flakes or ¼ cup of muesli).
  4. Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds provide a good source of protein, minerals and vitamins. Legumes, nuts and seeds are also a source of dietary fibre. The recommended number of serves for adult women is 2 ½ serves per day and adult men 3 serves per day. Adults are recommended to not eat more than 500 grams of red meat per week. The serves may include:
    • 65 grams of cooked red meat
    • 80 grams of poultry
    • 100 grams of fish
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 cup of legumes
    • 170 grams of tofu, or
    • 30 grams of nuts, seeds or pastes (peanut butter or tahini).
  5. Milk, cheeses and yoghurts provide protein, vitamins and calcium. The recommended daily intake for all adults, is 2 ½ serves per day. A serve may include:
    • 1 cup of milk
    • 2 slices of cheese
    • 200 grams of yoghurt, or
    • 100 ml of soy milk.
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Other food choices
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Foods that are not included in the 5 food groups are called ‘discretionary choices’ or ‘extras’, and should be dropped for a healthy diet.

These foods are energy 'rich' but nutrient 'poor’, and often replace healthier food choices. They are high in energy, saturated fats, sugar and salt. Examples include:

  • biscuits and cakes
  • soft drinks
  • fried foods
  • hot chips
  • processed meats
  • savoury snack foods
  • cordials, sports, fruit and high energy drinks
  • ice cream
  • lollies and chocolates, and
  • alcohol.

The Australian guide to healthy eating provides the balance of dietary requirements on a daily basis for all Australians.

A balanced diet provides simple guidelines from qualified experts to make it easy to have nutritious and healthy food.

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Staying hydrated
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Water makes up approximately 50-60% of an adult’s body weight and every system in our body depends on water. Water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to cells, and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues. Most mature adults lose about 2.5 to 3 litres of water per day. Water loss may increase in hot weather and with prolonged exercise.

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Why drinking water is important
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  • maintains the health and integrity of every cell in the body
  • keeps the blood flowing through blood vessels
  • helps eliminate the by-products of the body’s metabolism, excess electrolytes (for example, sodium and potassium), and urea, which is a waste product formed through the processing of dietary protein
  • regulates body temperature through sweating
  • moistens mucous membranes such as those of the lungs and mouth
  • lubricates and cushions joints
  • reduces the risk of cystitis by keeping the bladder clear of bacteria
  • aids digestion and prevents constipation
  • moisturises the skin to maintain its texture and appearance, and
  • carries nutrients and oxygen to cells.

Lack of water can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don't have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired.

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How much water?
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You should drink the recommended 2-3 litres water per day to ensure adequate hydration (of an average healthy adult). The amount required may vary if you are exercising, if your environment or the weather changes, and for other diagnosed health conditions.

For more information about water intake go to Water — a vital nutrient on the Victorian Government's Better Health Channel.

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What can I do next?
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Why not read some of our other articles on staying healthy:

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7, to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

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