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Eating well on the job: 9 nutrition tips

2 Dec 2021

CRANAplus Senior Psychologist Nicole Jeffery-Dawes explains the connection between nutrition, gut health and wellbeing, and identifies nine ways to improve what you’re eating and drinking when working in remote communities with limited fresh food.

Pho­to cred­it: Pix­el-Shot – stock​.adobe​.com

While research­ing this top­ic, I came across many arti­cles that pro­mot­ed the ben­e­fits of healthy eat­ing, includ­ing the 5 + 2 mantra for fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles. This is fine in the­o­ry. How­ev­er, it remind­ed me of a car­rot I picked up in a remote desert com­mu­ni­ty store that had more flex­i­bil­i­ty than a yoga teacher and about as much nutri­tion as an old shoe.

Look­ing after our nutri­tion is one of the three pil­lars of health, well­be­ing and self care (along with sleep and exer­cise). Attend­ing to this when liv­ing and work­ing in rur­al and remote com­mu­ni­ties can be extreme­ly chal­leng­ing when access to fresh foods can be like find­ing a nee­dle in a haystack.

Research has shown that good gut health can affect our moods, and in fact the gut is often called the sec­ond brain’ as the GI tract influ­ences the pro­duc­tion of neu­ro­trans­mit­ters that car­ry mes­sages from our gut to our brain (e.g. Sero­tonin and Dopamine). There­fore, apart from the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits of healthy eat­ing, pro­vid­ing our body with healthy food sets us up for few­er mood fluc­tu­a­tions, improved focus and an over­all bet­ter out­look on life.

Foods high in processed sug­ar, while easy to access and eat, can trick our brains into releas­ing chem­i­cals that we may tem­porar­i­ly need. How­ev­er, over time con­sump­tion can lead to anx­i­ety, exces­sive tired­ness, and wors­en­ing of mood dis­or­der symp­toms, all of which con­tribute to burnout.

A Yir­rgany­d­ji Abo­rig­i­nal woman demon­strat­ing local bush tuck­er. Pho­to cred­it: Rafael Ben-Ari – stock​.adobe​.com

Think about your body like a car. Put pre­mi­um petrol’ in and you will get good mileage and per­for­mance out of it. If you con­sis­tent­ly put low­er pre­mi­um fuel in, it will be dam­aged over time by impu­ri­ties. For those of you liv­ing in remote and iso­lat­ed Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, food secu­ri­ty issues have been on the Government’s radar since 2009.

CRANAplus is aware of the chal­lenges fac­ing these areas and has made a sub­mis­sion to the Inquiry into Food Prices and Food Secu­ri­ty in Remote Indige­nous Com­mu­ni­ties, with rec­om­men­da­tions, as just one way to advo­cate for Gov­ern­ment and Com­mu­ni­ty to address these.

The price of healthy and/​or fresh food is often high­er and sup­ply can pose chal­lenges, but there are still things we can do.

Eat­ing the best we can in rur­al and remote areas requires us to think out­side the box, put in prepa­ra­tion time and make com­pro­mis­es.

Here are nine hints on eat­ing as best as we can in the cir­cum­stances we find our­selves in.

1. Have a big cook up

Some fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles may be hard­er to find, par­tic­u­lar­ly at cer­tain times of the year. When avail­able, buy what­ev­er you can afford. Cook up fruit and veg and freeze to use lat­er. Stew apples or stone fruits; make veg­gie soups and toma­to-based sauces for pas­ta, meat or veg­gie dish­es. This is a fan­tas­tic option when you’re tired and can’t be both­ered cook­ing, and you have whole­some foods pre­pared in the freez­er. Alter­na­tive­ly, you can do a big cook up before you leave, freeze down into small­er con­tain­ers, and take them with you (where pos­si­ble and with­in weight limits).

2. Make health­i­er choices

If fresh fruit and veg aren’t avail­able, buy frozen and canned ones as sub­sti­tutes. Avoid those that con­tain added sug­ar and/​or salt. Read food labels to check.

3. Yum­my home-made snacks

Store bought or ser­vo snacks can be high in processed sug­ar, so choose nuts or make some home-made bliss balls or ener­gy bars. Most ingre­di­ents should be avail­able and these will bal­ance out your sug­ar lev­els over the day, so you shouldn’t expe­ri­ence hang­er attacks’.

4. Brush up on your bush tucker

Aus­tralian bush foods can be sea­son­al, plen­ti­ful, read­i­ly acces­si­ble and full of nutri­ents. Speak to Elders in your area to get per­mis­sion, find out where they may be locat­ed and gath­er ideas about what is avail­able, when and how to use them. Many top chefs use bush foods in their recipes now and pub­lish them online. Local health ser­vices may even have recipe books or hand­outs using local bush foods. Incor­po­rat­ing local bush foods is an amaz­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect with the local Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty. Going out to col­lect them as a group can help build rela­tion­ships that can also assist you with your work, get you out into nature and help you feel less isolated.

5. Use reduced fat milks

While fresh’ milk can be hard to come by, some of the UHT milks come in low-fat or skim and taste rel­a­tive­ly okay (it’s an acquired taste that’s easy to get used to when there is no alter­na­tive). Plus, you can stock up on them and they’ll keep in the cup­board. Also, if you can make a trip to a big­ger town, buy fresh milk and freeze if you have freez­er space.

6. Choose grain breads

Multi­grain bread can be hard­er to come by in com­mu­ni­ty stores, but you will gen­er­al­ly find whole­meal avail­able. If pos­si­ble, buy up grain breads in big­ger towns, then freeze them. Often, those big­ger towns will have them avail­able in the freez­er sections.

7. Speak to the local store manager

Some­times they may be hap­py to order cer­tain foods if you ask and they think they can sell any excess of them. Be aware that they can’t con­trol the qual­i­ty of fresh foods that arrive.

8. Put in a sta­tion’ order

Often big retail­ers in larg­er towns of remote areas will do a sig­nif­i­cant order that is deliv­ered by the mail plane. Get togeth­er with your col­leagues and put in an order of fresh food and ingre­di­ents. Depend­ing on where you live, this could arrive once a week or a cou­ple of times a week. Give the super­mar­ket a call and ask how they can help you.

9. Find a reli­able source of drink­ing water

Even though you may get access to good food, often the water source lets you down and gives you the runs. Or, it can taste less fresh’ than in big­ger cen­tres. If you’re unsure about the water sup­ply, boil water to ensure it’s safe to cook with and drink, then keep it in the fridge.

Pho­to cred­it: Ben­ny Mar­ty – stock​.adobe​.com

While eat­ing well is one of the three pil­lars of health and well­be­ing, we don’t always treat it as a pri­or­i­ty when we are work­ing in a remote or iso­lat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. Yet we need to pri­ori­tise it, and in so doing, pri­ori­tise our­selves.

Put some time and effort into think­ing about what food you can take remote (based on trans­port options to get to your des­ti­na­tion), what you can make and store, and how long you are there. Make the time to take all of this into con­sid­er­a­tion, plan and, if pos­si­ble, make and freeze meals.

Remem­ber, it pays to be flex­i­ble with what we can use and access whilst try­ing not to use too many processed goods. This will assist with keep­ing our sug­ars sta­ble and look­ing after our well­be­ing by pro­vid­ing good nourishment.

Although it will take a bit of extra time and plan­ning, you are worth every minute of it.

Dr Nicole Jef­fery-Dawes
Senior Psy­chol­o­gist

Ref­er­ences:

  • Williams, H. Avoid burnout: self-care strate­gies for nurs­es. Health Times. Last Updat­ed: 16-08-2021
  • Sel­hub, E. Nutri­tion­al psy­chi­a­try: Your
    brain on food. Har­vard Healthy pub­lish­ing, Har­vard Med­ical School. March 262020.
  • Depart­ment of Health. Healthy weight guide for peo­ple liv­ing in rur­al and remote areas. Accessed 10 Sep 2021 at https://healthyweight. health​.gov​.au/​w​p​s​/​p​o​r​t​a​l​/​H​o​m​e​/​h​e​l​p​i​n​g​-​h​a​n​d​/​d​i​f​f​e​r​e​n​t​-​n​e​e​d​s​/​f​o​r​-​p​e​o​p​l​e​-​l​i​v​i​n​g​-​i​n​-​r​u​r​a​l​-​a​n​d​-​r​e​m​o​t​e​-​areas

Did you enjoy this con­tent? You may also like our Mind­ful Mon­day e‑newsletter, which pro­vides tai­lored well­be­ing advice to the remote health work­force every week.