Fibre – depending on which part of the world you’re from, you might refer to it as ‘fibre’ or ‘fiber’. Either way, however you spell or pronounce it, fibre forms an essential requirement of our diet – every single day.
So what exactly is it, and why do shift workers in particular need it?
Well to begin with, everyone needs fibre whether you work 24/7 or not. However shift workers need it even more so for a number of reasons.
Most notably because shift workers are prone to digestive complaints as a result of circadian rhythm dysregulation, which is a fancy way of describing the continual disruption to the sleep-wake cycle as a result of working 24/7. This also weakens the lining of the gut, impairing the ability to fight off infections, which I chatted about in an earlier blog post titled – Jet Lag, Shift Work and Your Gut.
But back to today’s post.
Not only does regular consumption of dietary fiber help to reduce digestive complaints, but studies have shown it helps to protect against the development of many ‘Western type diseases’ such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and obesity.
Unfortunately shift workers are prone to developing these types of chronic conditions, possibly as a result of a predominantly low fibre diet – i.e; one which is dominated with fast foods, takeaways and highly refined and processed foods. In other words, very little whole foods, or “real food”.
So what exactly is dietary fibre?
Dietary fibre is the indigestible portion of plant foods which includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. In other words, its the part of the plant which cannot be digested or absorbed in the small intestine and passes into the large intestine intact.
When fibre is not digested, it moves into the large intestine where it is partially or completely fermented by bacteria in the gut. During the fermentation process several by-products such as short chain fatty acids and gases are formed which provide beneficial effects on our health.
It comes in two forms, depending on their solubility: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre.
- Soluble Fibre – absorbs water and swells forming a gel which helps to slow down digestion. This helps to keep us full (which is great if you’re trying to lose weight), along with stabilising blood sugar levels for those with diabetes. It’s also known to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, thereby reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Examples include oats, barley, fruit, vegetables and legumes such beans, lentils and chickpeas.
- Insoluble Fibre – adds bulk to the stool to help food pass more quickly into the stomach and intestines. In other words, it helps to keep you more regular! Examples include wholegrain cereals such as linseeds, wheat bran and psysillium husks.
A relatively knew study has also shown that eating less fibre, more saturated fat and more sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep which is not ideal for anyone working 24/7!
According to this study, greater fibre intake led to more time being spent in the slow wave sleep (SWS) phase, which is the deep, restorative stage of sleep. Another reason to add more fibre into your diet if you work irregular hours.
So there you have it, fibre is a shift worker’s friend for a number of reasons whether it’s to improve gastrointestinal health, cardiovascular health or a big one for shift workers – to improve the quality of our sleep. By getting back to the basics, and eating more whole foods which contain loads of gut healing fibre will, in the long term, do wonders in helping to improve your shift work health.
Slavin, J 2013, ‘Fiber and prebiotics: Mechanisms and health benefits’, Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 1417-1435.
St-Onge MP, Roberts A, Shechter A, Choudhury AR 2016, ‘Fiber and saturated fat are associated with sleep arousals and slow wave sleep’, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, no. 12, vol. 1, pp. 19-24.