Steward Provides Tips for Healthful Shipboard Life


November 2013


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Editor’s note: Recertified Steward Steve Dickson recently wrote this article for fellow Seafarers while sailing aboard the Overseas Long Beach. Dickson has been an SIU member since 1991.


Sea Fit

It is said that people either live to eat or eat to live. It’s also usually easy to tell which is which at first glance.


How many of you out there are struggling to lose weight or fighting diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels or hypertension (high blood pressure)? Being healthy while working and living aboard ships can be challenging. We work seven days a week for months at a time and it can be difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are many temptations at sea which can derail the best of intentions to stay fit and test your willpower. Sweet snacks are usually at close proximity and it’s easy to grab a pastry or a handful of cookies instead of a healthy snack while on breaks.


Sugar is our enemy. It is sweet and seductive and our bodies and brains crave it once we get a taste for it as children, but it can wreak havoc upon us. It has no real nutritional value and turns to fat rapidly.


Refined sugar is a product of the modern age; it was never part of any older cultures. They ate natural sugar in very small quantities, consumed foods that were found locally and traded for foods which they had no access to. The consumption of so much sugar in our culture has led to unprecedented levels of obesity and the associated diseases that come with it. It also costs us all billions in health care services.


Alternatives to refined white sugar are brown sugar, honey or agave nectar and these can be used in baking recipes as well. Cinnamon is very good for you and can be made available for oatmeal or cereals. Soft drinks should be avoided altogether and healthy fruit juices can be ordered instead of sugary sodas. Water is of course the best thing to drink to stay healthy.


There are many fad diets making the rounds which claim amazing results, but individual metabolisms vary and your body will usually return to its former shape after time has passed. The only way to lose and maintain weight loss is a combination of a sensible diet and exercise. The human body is a complicated machine and food is what makes it work, either efficiently through a balanced diet; or it breaks down if the wrong things are ingested such as trans fats, sugars, too much salt and processed flour such as white bread. Many modern food products contain large amounts of sugar and salt, and care should be taken when using these. Cereals are notorious for being too sugary and there are alternatives such as hot cereal or mueslix or even just fruit and nuts.


It was once very common to see crew members eat only meat and potatoes, and that has changed due largely to the prevalence of fresh salad bars. Processed meats such as sausage, hot dogs and lunch meats should be avoided or consumed in moderation. Try to have at least five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. If you want to know how much a portion is, open your hand. One proper portion will fill the palm area. Portions served in America are almost always far more than should be consumed at one sitting. Try cutting down on portions and have nutritious snacks between meals.


Fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before serving, extra care taken especially when purchased in foreign countries. Steam fresh vegetables instead of boiling to help retain their nutritional value. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are the most nutritious.


Olive oil is also very nutritious and can be used extensively in cooking as well as non- GMO canola oil. Sunflower and peanut oils are also healthy alternatives to lard or vegetable shortening. Oils found in nuts and avocados are actually good for you and necessary for a healthy diet. Butter in small quantities is better by far than margarine, which is basically just one molecule away from being plastic.


People usually eat what they grew up with, so it is sometimes hard to get someone to try healthier alternatives. Menus should always include variety and as many heart-healthy options as possible. Making healthy snacks available such as fresh fruits, peanut butter, whole grained crackers and non-buttered popcorn helps as well, instead of cookies, cakes and pastries, although these are loved by most crew members.


During the days of wooden ships and iron men, many seafarers fell sick due to scurvy caused by lack of vitamin C. The British discovered that citrus fruits contained vitamin C and they stowed limes aboard their ships for the crews, thus becoming “limeys”.


Foods are the best source of all the vitamins and minerals that we need but if your diet is lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, supplements are recommended.


After working hard all day it is not an easy task to go to the gym and work out. But, just 20 to 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise helps to maintain fitness. There are things that you can do in your quarters to stay fit such as isometric exercises and doing crunches and push-ups. There are many exercises that can be done with just a chair. Doing sit-ups on your bed is a good way to tighten abdominal muscles and strengthen the back.


Well before there were Stairmasters, there were stairs. For a quick cardio workout if conditions allow, walk rapidly up and down the stairs on the ship. Depending on the type of ship and if weather and safety permit, take a brisk walk on the deck. Car carriers have decks that are excellent places to walk. Exercise also stimulates the whole body and can alter your mood for the better.


Being in good physical condition is vital for seafarers because we all want a long and healthy life and career, and we must at times face hazardous conditions which require the ability to move quickly and come to the aid of others.


Realize that agility tests are being added to annual physical examinations and your ability to work at sea depends on passing these. Discuss fitness during union meetings and see what kinds of ideas and input your shipmates bring forward. Find someone to exercise with and keep each other motivated to succeed.


Do your part to be as healthy as possible in order to see fit to be fit at sea.




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