Chronic inflammation may be tied to your work schedule, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests. Night-shift workers or those who work non-regular hours are more likely to have diets that promote chronic inflammation.

Researchers analyzed the relationship between shift work and pro-inflammatory diet using data from a nationwide sample of employed adults. Each individual was giving a “dietary inflammatory index” (DII) score — the greater the score the more pro-inflammatory the diet.

Results showed that women had higher DII values than men, and the women’s values were higher in night-shift workers: 1.48 versus 1.17. Accounting for adjustments to other factors, shift workers had a higher DII value overall in both men and women.

Stress, fatigue, sleep loss and familial disruption occur among shift workers and likely contribute to the poor dietary choices and habits. Shift workers may eat a meal with their family before work, then another meal at work, leading to overeating. Then there is also the lack of nutritious food options available at nighttime.

Previous research has shown that night-shift workers have more gastrointestinal symptoms and antacid use than day workers. They are also at a higher risk for developing ulcers, hypertension and coronary heart disease. “Nighttime consumption of food may disrupt the circadian processes, which could affect appetite and metabolism,” the study says.

Dietary habits of shift workers are poorly understood and this study hopes to promote more research on the subject in the future. “Shift work may contribute to the growing obesity and diabetes epidemics in the United States, with poor diet being one of the primary culprits,” the study says.

Healthy tips for night-shift workers

-Think small.** Large meals will make you feel tired. Eating small meals and snacks with fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods will help you stay awake and give you energy.

-Steer clear of the vending machines.** Most vending machines offer nothing more than sugar- and fat-packed snacks that will leave you feeling hungry. If possible, try asking for healthy substitutes in the machines such as granola bars or trail mix.

-Pack your lunch.** There aren’t many options for late-night dining besides fast food, which can quickly add an overabundance of calories, fat and sugar. Stay ahead of the game and pack your lunch during the day. That way you can avoid the temptation of fast food.

-Stay hydrated.** It’s easy to confuse thirst with hunger. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids throughout your shift.

To learn more on this topic:
Working Nights Can Impact Blood Sugar Control
7 Low-carb Lunch Ideas
Book Healthy Bento Box Lunch Ideas