May is National Nurses Month: Eating Right for Self Care

In 2021, the American Nurses Association has extended Nurses Week to a month of recognition, in light of their vital contributions and heroic efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to honor our nurse heroes who have courageously and compassionately supported the health of our communities, then and now.

If you are a nurse, don't forget to take care of yourself, so you can continue to care for others.

We know the art of nursing is no easy feat. Taking vitals, managing lines, educating patients, comforting and bathing them, providing medications, preparing them for procedures, communicating with doctors and other practitioners, talking to family members on top of dealing with emergencies are just a few of the things that may get wrapped into those 12-hour long shifts. Add to this the challenging circumstances of the corona virus pandemic and needless to say, it is a high-stress job. Unfortunately, stress can get in the way of quality patient care and most importantly, your own health.

How Proper Nutrition Helps

Eating a balanced and nutrient-dense diet is an important part of self-care and it plays a crucial role in your ability to deal with stress. Make sure to include a variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains in order to provide your body with the nutrients that it requires for optimal functioning. Proper nourishment will help you stay healthy, focused, alert and emotionally stable during those unpredictable work hours. Dietary protein is particularly important to consume as it plays a role in nearly every part of the body. Each person has requires a unique amount of protein based on their age, physical activity level, health status and more. Do you know how much you need each day?

Muscles & Tissue

Not only does protein help to build your body’s organs, skin, hair and nails, but it also creates the structure and flexing ability of muscles. You can lose 3%-8% of muscle mass each decade after the age of 30. This condition is known as “sarcopenia” and it occurs mainly due to reduced physical activity, strength training or not eating enough protein. If muscle loss progresses, it can lead to loss of strength, stability, energy and slowed metabolism, which often results in weight gain.

Antibodies, Hormones and Enzymes

Antibodies are made from the amino acids found in dietary protein. If you're a nurse, you know that antibodies are the foundation of your immune system. Without enough protein, your body can't make enough antibodies to keep you strong and protected when you need it most. The enzymes that help to digest food or convert sunlight into usable vitamin D are created with the help of protein. Hundreds of chemical reactions like these occur in the body every day for normal functioning. Hormones are also made from protein and reduced intake can create hormone imbalances. Hormones help to regulate things like your sleep cycle, menstrual cycle, hunger pangs and stress level. Other protein functions include:
  • Transporting nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout the body
  • Building antibodies that support the immune system

Weight Management and Blood Sugar

Research has indicated that protein consumption also plays a positive role in weight management and blood sugar control. For those long shifts and probably very short food breaks, enough protein in your meal will help to keep you satisfied and full for longer. Not just this, but a good serving of protein will help to offset any spikes in blood sugar which would normally be caused by carbs/sugar alone. By keeping blood sugar regulated, you avoid sudden peaks and drops in energy, which can lead to fatigue or tiredness, which can be confused for hunger and lead to overeating. Sound familiar? Few people lack enough protein in their diet, but many may lack variety. And we don’t just mean chicken breast vs. chicken wings. Varying your protein sources (animal vs. plant-based) is important because they all provide a unique array of nutrients.

Rotate with Plant Proteins

Plant-based proteins are a great way to add versatility to your palate as well as your daily nourishment. One advantage of getting protein from plant sources is the relief from the saturated fat and cholesterol found in animal proteins. In addition, they contain fiber for digestive health and beneficial phytochemicals, compounds which can provide anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial or anti-oxidant properties. Plant proteins can be found in whole foods like beans, peas, whole grains, nuts and seeds. But for those short on time or wanting something easy to prepare, plant protein powders like Growing Naturals’ rice and pea proteins are also an option. They offer a quick and simple way to add protein into a breakfast smoothie, a snack bar or tons of other recipes. Remember, it’s never too late to work on your own health. Check out this protein calculator to find out how much protein you specifically require on a daily basis. Nourish your body properly so you can feel great and reciprocate the care to others.

By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian

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