Q. “I work night shifts, so I eat brekkie at 1pm and dinner at 6pm before I start work, which finishes at midnight. I’m hungry when I get home, but it’s time for bed, so what do I eat for dinner?”
— Clive, Parkville, VIC
A. Dr Janet Franklin, expert in metabolism and obesity and Senior Clinical Dietitian at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, responds:
The body’s natural rhythms respond to foods differently according to the time of day. For example, you digest food best during daylight hours, so this is when you should eat most of your food. Of course, shift work can make it difficult to juggle meals, because you’re often hungry at times when you don’t normally eat. Try eating slightly larger meals at 1pm and 6pm, and then have only a light meal after work. You may also find it helpful to pack a snack to eat on the run, preferably one with a low glycaemic index (GI), such as a muesli bar or a piece of fruit. To curb late-night hunger pangs at work, have 30 to 40g of nuts or a milky drink at 9:30 or 10pm.
For that post-shift midnight meal, pick foods that have a low GI, and make sure you include a small serve of protein and either fruit or vegetables. Enjoy any one of these options: a small bowl of soup, a slice of multigrain toast and an egg, half a cup of baked beans on toast, a small salad with legumes (such as beans), low-fat cheese on wholegrain crackers, a vegetable frittata, or fruit salad and yoghurt.
After your shift, avoid drinking alcohol or eating a large meal, as doing either makes your body produce heat, which may adversely affect sleep. Unfortunately, poor-quality sleep can alter your appetite hormones, triggering hunger and causing you to make less-than-healthy food choices. You should also avoid eating spicy or fatty foods late at night, as these are more likely to cause heartburn.