Travel Nurse Nutrition: March Nutrition Awareness
This month isn’t only about green-tinted beer, four-leaf clovers, and rowdy parades for St. Patrick’s Day. Did you know, that since 1980 March has been the designated month for nutrition awareness? What started out as a week-long campaign for healthy eating in 1973 now has 31 days dedicated to this topic of importance: the month of March is National Nutrition Month.
As travel nurses, it is easy to lose sight of our own nutrition when we’re bouncing from one city to another. In fact, one of our favorite ways to explore new cities, neighborhoods, and subcultures within our country is food. As such weight gain for travel nurses is not uncommon, and it can be easy to lose sight of our own nutrition and physical well-being.
Dieting and Nutrition: They Are Not the Same
We all know that various diets rise and fall in popularity in the socially imposed value of losing weight. The Atkins diet, weight watchers, paleo diet, sugar-free, staunch avoidance of carbs, cholesterol, or fats, are all aimed at the cultural pressure of losing weight; so much so in fact, many restaurants offer various alternatives to encourage those of you committed to dieting that you can still enjoy food in restaurants. Nevertheless, weight loss in and of itself does not guarantee proper nutrition. Furthermore, diets are difficult to maintain for long periods of time, even if the neighborhood dining hot spots provide close caveats. Instead dear travel nurses, this month, let us look to finding and balancing proper nutrition as the goal.
Essential Nutrients for Optimal Health
While our bodies are amazing, complex organic machines, there are certain components that we do not produce ourselves and therefore must consume in order to achieve an optimal balance of physical health. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies essential nutrients as either part of the micronutrients category or the macronutrients category. Micro means nutrients in diminutive doses, and macro indicates nutrients that are required in significantly larger amounts.
Two Essential Micronutrients
The essential nutrients for this category are vitamins and minerals. If you focus your food choices to include rich amounts of vegetables and fruits, odds are high that a vitamin supplement is unnecessary. While vitamin C is commonly known to be important, often other vitamins are less known or understood. Vitamins serve to strengthen our immune systems and our bone density, assist in mineral absorption, assist our bodies’ metabolism, and many other support functions. In total, there are 13 vitamins that are an integral part of the micronutrients category. They are:
Minerals boost the body’s ability to maintain proper water levels, strengthen our bones, and preserve healthy skin, hair, and nails (which, while important for our vanity, is also integral to our overall physical health). Additionally, some minerals serve supportive functions for our circulatory systems. These important minerals include:
As previously indicated, our bodies do not typically require large amounts of minerals. Therefore, much as with vitamins, mineral supplements aren’t likely necessary provided you consume certain foods. The following foods are excellent sources for the above-mentioned minerals:
iodized table salt (not to be overdone)
Four Essential Macronutrients
The four essential macronutrients are water, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Two of these four essential macronutrients at first glance may seem counterintuitive. After all, fats have long had a negative reputation, and carbs haven’t fared well in the last two decades either. So, let’s dive a bit deeper into those two.
Fats are actually a wildly diverse category unto themselves. There are saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. Simply stated, not all fats are poor for your nutritional health. Our bodies derive energy from fat consumption, the problem lies with the quantity and type of fats that we consume. Avoiding trans fats and saturated fats may not always be easy, but by identifying foods that contain monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, you can make positive choices skillfully.
Carbohydrates are blamed for a lot of weight gain issues, and yet what we call complex carbohydrates serve a vital role in proper functioning of our immune system, digestive system, and our brains. Moreover, they provide our body with energy stores. This is not free license to binge on your favorite fluffy white bread or pastas. The important distinction is the need for complex carbs (not simple carbs) and some foods that are on this complex carbs list may surprise you:
whole grain products
For those of you who love simple carbs, work to incorporate whole grains into your favorite recipes. Create your favorite pasta dish instead of utilizing whole grain pasta. Trade white rice for quinoa or brown rice in your casseroles. Whole grain products do not have the same flavor profile and yet over time, you can change your tastes with repetition and conscious effort. Research shows that it can take toddlers as many as ten times of tasting bitter foods before they develop an appreciation for them. As adults, we have the advantage of willpower and foresight to understand that repetition is worthwhile for our health.
Nutrition for Travel Nurses
Ultimately, you are in control of your food choices and we agree that food is an integral part of the traveling experience. We encourage you to incorporate some of the foods listed here into your choices, and yet know that moderation often works better than abrupt deprivation in the long term. Look for these foods in recipes and on restaurant menus, and open yourself to trying. Be cognizant of them when stocking up on snacks for your shifts and day trips. Success can be found in small steps and small changes.