December 19, 2023

Combating NHS Absenteeism Through Nutrition | Mike Murphy - Nutrable

Mike Murphy, Chief Nutritionist at Nutrable joined us at the NHS Staff Wellbeing Collective 2023 to talk about the links between nutrition and absenteeism

Toby Cannon
25 minutes


  1. Diet-Immunity Connection: Over half of sickness absence in the UK workforce is linked to the immune system, showing a direct connection between diet and overall health.
  2. Sugar and Immune Health: Excessive sugar and ultra-processed foods compromise immunity by causing inflammation, blood sugar spikes, and disruptions in the body's defenses.
  3. Blood Sugar Stability: Maintaining stable blood sugar through a low glycemic load diet, rich in proteins and high-fibre whole foods, is vital for supporting immune function.
  4. Nutrient-Rich Choices: Prioritising nutrient-dense, colourful vegetables and whole foods equips the immune system with essential phytochemicals, aiding disease prevention.
  5. Nourishment on a Budget: Accessible and affordable nutrition options exist, proving that simple, nutrient-packed meals can support overall health and bolster the immune system effectively.


I started to lose my voice last night. Wouldn't you know because I just talk too much, so bear with me here. Anyway, great to be here with you. As Myles said, my name is Mike Murphy. I'm a registered nutritional therapist and health educator, and I'm the Chief Nutritionist for a company called Nutrable. We provide nutrition support for employees to improve the health of the British workforce. Sickness absence is at a record high. Last year alone, the UK lost more than 185 million work days, up 34% from figures just three years ago. Those in the care profession are amongst the highest cohorts contributing to these numbers.

There are many factors to consider when we talk about health. Zooming out a bit, the World Health Organisation estimated that two-thirds of all disease worldwide can be directly linked to diet and lifestyle choices. Essentially, two-thirds of all disease worldwide is preventable with better choices. Obviously, that's easier said than done. Chronic disease is on the rise, especially in hospitals. Looking at sickness absence, the number one reason for people not showing up for work is minor illnesses - coughs, colds, a bit of migraine, and stomach upsets.

Over half of sickness absence is related in some way to the immune system. The immune system is incredibly complex, a network of organs, glands, proteins, white blood cells, and chemicals working together to heal and protect us. However, modern life interferes with this coordination. Factors like chronic inflammation, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, stress, and poor gut health weaken our immune system.

A significant contributor to this is a poor diet - high in sugar and ultra-processed food. Too much sugar affects inflammation, white blood cell function, and alters our gut bacteria composition. Just 75 grams of sugar can deplete our immune function for up to 5 hours. It's not hard to consume that much - it adds up quickly, even in seemingly healthy options like vitamin-infused water or fruit juice. These natural sugars can dramatically spike our blood sugar levels.

Understanding how blood sugar works is crucial. When we eat, our blood sugar rises. Insulin helps move glucose out of the blood and into cells for energy. However, dramatic surges in blood sugar, caused by sugary or refined foods, lead to insulin spikes. Prolonged high insulin levels can crash blood sugar, triggering stress hormones and hunger, leading to a blood sugar rollercoaster. This weakens the immune system and contributes to various symptoms.

To maintain balanced blood sugar, a low glycemic load (GL) diet is recommended. Protein-rich foods and high-fibre carbohydrates help stabilise blood sugar. Minimising processed foods, opting for nutrient-dense whole foods like vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, is essential.

Supporting our immune system also means consuming fewer ultra-processed foods. These foods lack essential nutrients critical for optimal immune function. Focusing on nutrient-dense, whole foods, especially a variety of colourful vegetables, provides the vital phytochemicals that fuel our immune system and prevent diseases.

Good nutrition doesn't have to break the bank. Simple, nutrient-packed meals can be budget-friendly. For example, a family-friendly slow cooker veggie curry provides essential nutrients and costs under £1 per serving.

A case study of a nurse, Janet, illustrates the impact of nutritional support. Janet struggled with low immunity, poor sleep, anxiety, and digestive issues. Through nutritional guidance, she improved her diet, addressed deficiencies like vitamin D, and saw significant improvements in just three months.

This success story is just one among many in our community. Our platform offers various ways to engage with nutritionists, from expert advice to meal assessments, helping individuals make better dietary choices.

My colleague Al and I are available for further discussions on how partnering with Nutrable can enhance your workforce's wellbeing. Thank you for your attention, and now we welcome any questions.

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