Fiber…Overhyped? How much do you Really need?

Everyone tells us we need it….we need more and more fiber, that’s the solution to all our problems. Ok, first thing I always like to ask when hearing something like this is “who” said we need it. The usual answer for most of these general health concepts are to respond doctors or scientists or some other random source. But do you even know why we need it? To have more bowel movements? Nope sorry…false assumption. To lower cholesterol? Nope sorry, never been proven. To lower the risk of colon cancer? Well….yes and no, and you will see that below in more detail. First let’s go over the 2 types of fiber:

  • Soluble – fiber that is “water soluble” (put it in water it expands into a large gel like substance). This is what expands in our guts, gives us a feeling of fullness, slows down digestion.
  • Insoluble – fiber that is NOT “water soluble”, this goes through us like sand through a long winding pipe. Simple enough huh?

Ok….so what are the main sources of fiber? Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and the most popular source nowadays of “bran fiber”. But what is Bran? Does it really improve our health? Why do we even need it? Let the games begin….

The belief that regular bowel movement is important for health is very ancient. But the present theory is based on Dr. Dennis Burkitt’s discovery that relatively few rural black Africans suffer from cancer of the colon. He attributed this to their relatively crude diet.

The theory was that, as fibre made food travel through the gut faster, it allowed less time for cancer-inducing agents to form. This, of course, presupposed that food became carcinogenic in the gut and there was no evidence that it did. Neither was there any evidence that moving food through the intestine at a faster rate decreased the risk of colon cancer. Moreover, the rural Africans’ lifestyle was far from that of the Western city dweller: their diet is different, but also they were not exposed to so many pollutants, toxins or mental stresses. Indeed, there were many factors that could have been responsible for a difference in disease patterns. Other communities – the Mormons of Utah, for example – also enjoyed a low incidence of colon cancer yet they ate a low-fibre diet.

Wait….so more fiber does not lower the rate of colon cancer? Other factors in their lifestyle could of been more important to preventing colon cancer? Hmmmm….go on…..

Commercial interests were quick to see the potential in the recommendation and jump on the bran wagon. Burkitt’s recommendation was based on vegetable fibre, but bran (cereal fibre) has a far higher fibre content and bran was a practically worthless by-product of the milling process that, until then, had been thrown away. Almost overnight, it became a highly priced profit maker. Although totally inedible, backed by Burkitt’s fibre hypothesis, bran could now be promoted as a valuable food. But Dr. Hugh Trowell, Burkitt’s partner and another strong advocate of dietary fibre, stated in 1974 that: “A serious confusion of thought is produced by referring to the dietary fibre hypothesis as the bran hypothesis, for many Africans do not consume cereal or bran”

So basically Fruits and Vegetable based diets are what all the health benefits of fiber are based upon yet Bran jumped on that bandwagon because manufacturers found a cheap way to make their cheap products healthy to the general public? Hmmmmmm……more?

It may be useful at this stage to consider the claims for fibre in curing or preventing other diseases. For example, bran has been a popular way to manage irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for about thirty years, despite the fact that no placebo-controlled study of bran in IBS has yet shown any convincing beneficial effect. A study, published in 1994, found that while fruit fibre was effective, bran only made the situation worse. Far from being a cure for IBS, they found that it was the bran that was causing it! Bran also caused bowel disturbances, abdominal distension and pain.

Again….”Yeah” for Fruits and Vegetables….but Bran? “Booooooo…….”.

Tests into the supposed benefits of dietary fibre soon showed that there could be other harmful side effects. All the nutrients in food are absorbed through the gut wall and this takes time. Fibre, by speeding food through the gut faster so that less nutrients are absorbed, inhibits the absorption of iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, energy, proteins, fats and vitamins A, D, E and K. This happens with all types of fibre although with a normal Western-style, nutrient-rich diet, the loss caused by vegetable fibre intake is unimportant. More importantly, phytate found in cereal fibre (bran) also binds with calcium, iron and zinc making them indigestible, which in turn causes malabsorption. One study, for example, showed that subjects absorbed more iron from white bread than from wholemeal bread even though their intakes of iron were fifty percent higher with the wholemeal bread. Bran has also been shown to cause faecal losses of calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, nitrogen, fats, fatty acids and sterols, thus depleting the body of these materials.

Holy *#&$…..(I mean Wow…). Too much fiber can speed up food through the gut, bind itself to essential vitamins and minerals and cause malabsorption? I didn’t see that on the box of Cheerios…..(all those quotes above were taken from this article)

So honestly what are we to do for maximum health? Here’s the overview:The source of fiber is important, fruits and vegetables should be our primary source. Bran is cheap, worthless and does more harm than good. (also makes crappy foods “healthy”in the public eye)

  • If you are not eating processed foods, then you don’t have to worry about blood sugar control with slower gastric emptying, as you get that automatically with fruits and vegetables.
  • Bowel movements are more based on the BACTERIA environment of the gut. Don’t believe me? Go take some probiotics (healthy bacteria) and let me know what happens….stock up on the TP! If you want more bowel movements, start with treating the source which is the bacteria balance in your gut. Fiber is not the answer.
  • Fiber is not the magic pill to cure or prevent colon caner or any disease/illness. Eating a diet higher in fruits and vegetables will always give you a healthier body….but it is a small portion of what true health is. Our whole environment from external toxins, stress, and overall lifestyle play into those factors as well. Don’t think a fiber pill is going to save you if you life is chaotic and destructive.
  • Too much fiber is not going to be healthy too as it can absorb essential nutrients that your body needs and can cause gut irritation (like scratching your skin with your fingernails…fiber is scraping your intenstinal lining). You want to get really sick? Then mess up your gut! I can’t stress how important a healthy gut is for overall health…it’s the biggest factor that we can control and is usually all messed up! Re-read the post on gut health again….and again….and again.

Once again…..moral of the story….eat your fruits and vegetables, stay away from processed foods and don’t believe the marketing hype of manufacturer’s trying to make their food “healthy”…as it usually has more disadvantages than advantages. If you are eating meats, vegetables, fruits, health fats, avoiding sugars, not taking antibiotics (or taking probiotics), controlling stress, limiting toxin exposure…then you don’t need any more fiber do you? Keep your gut healthy, keep your foods natural, and live an enjoyable low stress lifestyle….chances are that you will live long and happy. If you want more bowel movements….take some probiotics and enjoy!

photo by Walsh

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