Long-haul truckers are a crucial link in the flow of goods across this country. Almost every product sold in the United States spends at least some time traveling in a truck. A long-distance driver may drive up to 11 hours a day. To maximize driving hours, drivers often skip meals, snack all day, and consume one large meal at the end of their workday. Many long-haul truckers eat poorly and lead sedentary lifestyles.
Obesity continues to increase among Americans in general, and for long-haul truckers the problem is more extreme. Approximately 65 percent of Americans are overweight, with nearly half of those considered obese. In one particular study of 92 truckers, 86 percent were found to be overweight and 66 percent of those were obese, putting them at greater risk for hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Long periods of inactivity, the absence of a regular meal schedule and poor food choices all contribute to the weight problem that many truckers face.
Drivers also are at greater risk of developing medical problems than the general population. The Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health are looking at why the death rate among truckers is 11 times higher than in the general work force. Lower back pain, ulcers, hypertension, cancer and heart attacks are just some of the conditions that plague truckers.
Overall, truckers in one study expressed a positive attitude about healthful foods and eating more fruits and vegetables, but when surveyed about their consumption of foods known to decrease disease risk, their intake was well below the recommended levels. Possible reasons include lack of nutrition knowledge, the unreliable selection of foods offered at truck-stop restaurants, and the high price of fresh produce on the road. Survey respondents also indicated that taste was more important than nutrition. If nutritious foods don’t taste good, people, including truckers, aren’t going to eat them.
Many truckers eat at truck stops because there is ample parking. Stopping at the local grocery store to restock a refrigerator when you are on the road isn’t always easy — parking for rigs can be scarce. So what is a trucker to do if he (or she) is trying to eat a healthier diet?
First, keep breakfast in your day. Skipping meals only leads to eating more later in the day. Breakfast choices such as whole grain cereals, oatmeal, whole grain toast and fruit are reasonable. You could also include some yogurt if it’s available. Watch out for the high fat choices such as biscuits and gravy, ham, bacon and sausage.
For lunch and dinner, avoid fried foods, fatty meats and don’t order anything that has the word ‘double’ in front of it. Good choices for lunch include salads, soups — watch out for the creamy ones — and sandwiches made with grilled chicken. Mayonnaise or high fat salad dressings are okay, but you should limit the portion to about a tablespoon.
Dinner can be baked or grilled meat, chicken or fish. Baked potato with a little butter and lots of vegetables or a salad on the side would make a healthy meal. Watch out for breadsticks, biscuits and other high-calorie items that you may be tempted to munch on while waiting for your meal to arrive.
If your cab is equipped with a refrigerator, stock it at the beginning of your trip. Cheese sticks, yogurt, baby carrots, and single-serving containers of cottage cheese, gelatin or low-fat pudding are good choices.
Fresh fruit, pretzels, popcorn, Triscuits or other whole grain crackers, graham crackers, dried fruit and animal crackers don’t require refrigeration. Portion control is the key with any of these snacks, many of which are good sources of dietary fiber, which is important to help with regular bowel movements. And don’t forget the ever-important water — it can help curb cravings.
Any trucker who would like additional help with making nutritious choices may contact me at the e-mail address listed below. See ya on the road!