Fiber: Health or Hype?

Americans are obsessed with their digestive systems (little wonder, since the Standard American Diet—or SAD–gives them so much grief!). Now, entire industries arise fueled by our quests for gastrointestinal health. Many of us believe ourselves vulnerable to colonic autointoxication, from bacterial waste accumulating in a lazy colon. Some are convinced they can offload as much as 20 pounds of accumulated stool with one or more high colonics, while others believe parasites live to ravage the unclean digestive tract. As a result we engage in everything from laxatives to suppositories to high colonics in our efforts to correct real and imagined gastrointestinal shortfalls, without lasting results. Of all the approaches we take to colon health, the best known and most generally accepted is dietary fiber.

Most Americans are unaware that vegetable fiber is not necessary for human health. The traditional carnivorous Arctic-living Inuit never see a plant in winter, yet do not perish from constipation. In contrast to cooked and pasteurized animal foods, raw meats and dairy feed probiotic bacteria that regulate elimination. These raw animal products possess colloidal properties that draw water into digesting foods, aiding their transit through the digestive system. The Masai diet consists primarily of raw blood, some raw meat, and cultured milk. Raw blood, meat and dairy possess the colloidal properties previously mentioned, and raw cultured milk is teeming with probiotic bacteria.

Soluble Fiber

Like anything in life, fiber has its yin and yang. Many types of fiber contribute to short bowel transit times (the time it takes for food to digest and for both food, and eventually, waste products to make the journey through the intestines to the rectum), resulting in the regularity of at least one healthy bowel movement per day. For example, soluble fibers such as pectins and fructooligosaccharides feed beneficial bacteria, which ensure healthy intestines and bolster our immune systems. Colloidal fruit and vegetable pectins and fiber withstand high heats; when cooked they draw water from the body into food to aid digestion, make stools moist, and shorten transit time from stomach to rectum.

Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, can contribute to constipation and malnutrition over time. Studies show that, while such fiber is likely to help a small subgroup of constipated people, it is more likely to aggravate constipation in those most afflicted. Fiber does bind water, but this property is lost when it is split, or absorbed. All too often commercial fiber sold to correct constipation is neither split nor absorbed; in fact, a common side effect of fiber promoted to prevent constipation is worsening constipation. Bran, for example, is an insoluble fiber widely promoted for colon health. Poorly digested by bacteria, bran retains its ability to absorb water and may (or may not!) shorten transit times through the digestive system. This insoluble fiber (and others) can actually worsen constipation.  And, along with other fibers common to seeds, nuts, beans and legumes, bran fiber bears a significant shortcoming: phytates. Phytates bind minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc, preventing them from being absorbed by the body, resulting in deficiencies, particularly when when grains, legumes, beans and nuts are not properly prepared (soaked, sprouted, fermented) before they are consumed.

My advice: eat a healthy diet low in processed foods.  Eat a rich source of probiotics, such as yogurt, or even better, kefir containing live cultures every day.   If you suffer from constipation or other bowel distress do not assume fiber deficiency is the villain. Common medical and physiological conditions, such as dehydration, thyroid disease, magnesium deficiency and gut dysbiosis (a collection of unfriendly bacteria and yeast in the digestive system), may underlie your difficulties. Undergo a medical examination to find the root of the problem, then join with your doctor to take steps to correct it. Learn all you can about maintaining the health of your digestive system. Your body will thank you.


Resources (if you do not see a working hyperlink, copy the address and paste it into your address bar to access the information):

Healthy eating does not have to be expensive.  Below are healthy but inexpensive ways to enrich your diet with probiotics:

How to make your own kefir, and more:  Dom's Kefir-making in-site

How To Make Fresh Healthy Homemade Yogurt - YouTube