Nutritionist Maria Moyles shares her tips on how farmers can eat better and farm better as a result.
A proper diet is essential for a physically demanding job like farming. It provides the body with the energy and nourishment it needs, but despite producing some of the healthiest food available, many Irish farmers are overweight and struggling with obesity, according to a 2021 study. Out of the farmers that took part in the study, 62% of them were found to be overweight or obese based on BMI classifications. The study, titled ‘Investigating the Dietary Habits of Male Irish Farmers to Prevent Mortality and Morbidity’, discovered that many farmers are consuming small amounts of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products while eating a lot of processed foods. 46% of farmers reported eating red meat most days of the week.
Becoming overweight or obese can significantly increase the risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and some cancers. To combat this, health experts commonly recommend proper nourishment; i.e. consuming the right amount and the right type of food. However, getting that balance right is not always easy. Maria Moyles, nutritionist, and owner of IE Health & Fitness has shared her advice on ways in which farmers can maintain a healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition.
Farm Safely: Due to their busy lifestyles, some farmers simply fall out of the habit of exercising. In your opinion, what exercises can farmers incorporate into their daily routine to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep active?
Maria Moyles: Regular physical activity or exercise has been shown to have a hugely positive influence on both physical and mental health. It reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes and a number of cancers, as well as being a very good way to manage stress and to control your weight.
For some, this could mean going for a brisk walk; for others, it might mean doing something more structured, such as going to the gym or playing 5-a-side football. It doesn’t mean having to run a marathon! And remember, it’s never too late to start – in fact, the more unfit you are, the more you have to gain for your health. Start off by walking instead of driving the tractor when it is not needed, this will increase the number of calories you burn in the day while also improving your health and fitness.
FS: In your opinion, how much physical activity per day is enough?
MM: 30 minutes is more than enough – a quick workout to get your heart rate up! There really is no need to be spending hours in a gym!
FS: What are some of your tips for resisting easy, yet unhealthy fast food cravings during busy farm days, and in turn choosing healthier options for busy farmers?
MM: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail! With farmers’ busy schedules, it is so important to try and be more organised when it comes to their meals.
I’d definitely recommend bulk cooking meals, maybe three days in advance. For example, bulk cook enough food on a Sunday to do you up until Wednesday, repeat again on Wednesday for the following 3 days. Let’s be honest, it’s when we are starving that we grab the first thing in sight or snack while the dinner is cooking! Having your meals pre-prepared and at hands reach when you open the fridge will help prevent you from making poor food choices,
If cooking is not for you, there are some Irish brands who make fresh pre-cooked meals containing brilliant macronutrients daily. Eg. NutriQuick, which is stocked in most local supermarkets nationwide.
FS: What types of foods should they consider eating?
MM: Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health. Foods and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar should be consumed less often and in small amounts. The bulk of foods in a farmers’ lunchbox should come from:
- Grain foods (most wholegrain or high cereal fibre varieties)
- Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives (mostly reduced fat)
A farmers’ lunchbox which provides a range of foods from a variety of food groups is a key ingredient to fueling a successful day’s work. A healthy lunchbox will promote health and wellbeing, reduce the risk of diet-related conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity; and also reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers.
FS: What are the most important changes farmers can make to their diet?
MM: Limit salt and added sugar, switch to eating mainly low GI carbohydrates (oats, barley or bran-based cereals, grainy breads, a variety of fruit and vegetables, a variety of carbohydrate-containing foods) as they provide a more sustained source of energy, try to have a protein source in every meal and lastly as mentioned previously pre cook your meals on the go. Small changes add up to huge results!
FS: How much water should we really be drinking? And why is staying hydrated important for good health?
MM: Hydration is so important and water is a vital nutrient. Farming men and women should always have a water bottle packed and drink plenty of it throughout the day. It may be an idea to have a number of drink bottles filled with water in a convenient location (e.g. shearing shed fridge)—then you can grab them as needed throughout the day. I’d recommend 2 – 3 litres per day.
FS: A study published in 2021 found that a high proportion of male farmers in Ireland are overweight or obese, consuming low amounts of fruits, vegetables, and dairy while also consuming high amounts of meat and processed foods.
What are some of your tips for farmers to make healthier food choices/swaps while also incorporating more fruit and veg into their diet?
MM: I am not surprised by this study at all! Farmers have a busy on-the-go lifestyle, meaning it is always easiest to go for the quickest food option when time isn’t on their side. Bulk cooking well-balanced meals and having healthy snack options at the ready will make a massive difference. As well as the following:
- Reduce the size of your food portions.
- Don’t skip breakfast – a good bowl of porridge will keep you going for the day!
- Choose healthy, low-fat ways of cooking – avoid frying and rich sauces.
- Eat fruit and other healthy snacks between meals if you are hungry.
- Plan your food shopping in advance – decide for yourself on your healthy food choices and don’t shop when you are hungry.
- Reduce alcohol or cut it out altogether if you are trying to lose weight – it is full of empty calories.