Lately I've been afraid of opening the newspaper because I know that the Vancouver Sun runs, on Mondays, a whole section of the paper on Health with sub-sections on nutrition, aging, healthy lifestyles and so forth. Today was another of those awful days where I am exposed to junk information by that dietician-in residence, so it seems, Patricia Chuey. This time her article reads: "Control weight with high-fibre carbs." Neat, eh?
What bothers me is how a newspaper, based in Canada's third largest metropolitan area, allows itself to promote a point of view that is so yesterday - the dietary advice is more than 45 years old; it really took root in the 60s. and became a government policy in the 70s. That advice has been adhered to -the stats say so -and yet we are stuck in the eye of a metabolic storm that we have never seen before. The very advice that people like Patricia Chuey is giving us in 2011 has been responsible for the growth of the diseases of civilization - obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, myopia, sub-cutaneous papilloma, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diverticulitis, gallstones etc.... And prior to 1960 there were no gyms in America; nobody owned a treadmill; running and jogging as a form of exercise/lifestyle had not even captured the imagination of nations -yet, it is only after these were institutionalized that the rise in obesity, diabetes, cancers, heart disease began to rise in an unprecedented manner. So much for healthy living.
Today's newspaper article promotes another aspect of healthy living - eat high fibre carb to uphold weight loss. Here's Chuey's own words: "Since a key weight-loss strategy is to make half the plate vegetables in most meals, eliminating carbs is illogical. Eating an abundance of vegetables boosts fibre intake ....A high-fibre diet of quality carbs assists in long term weight maintenance." She warns us that "wrong carbs are everywhere" - but advises us that we can't go wrong with "whole wheat, barley, oats, rye, quinoa, amaranth, millet, and brown rice." These are quality carbs along with the fruits and vegetables. Why? Because they promote satiety and this results in less over-eating. Let's review the history of why the need for fibre is so ingrained in mainstream thinking -it goes along side by side with fat phobia. Fearing saturated fats ranks right up there with the fear of terrorists; previously it was communism. Fibre is the answer to avoiding being clogged up by fat; as if the plumbing metaphor were true - it is not.
Barry Groves (in his book Trick and Treat) says the idea that fibre is essential for health goes back to 1932 when the "New Health " movement suggested that roughage could increase the passage of stools and this would decrease intestinal disorders but thirty years later, while working in Africa, a doctor by the name of Denis Burkitt took note that rural African people had much less cases of colon cancer than Europeans and Americans. He thought that this was due to their diet, specifically vegetables, on the assumption that food remaining in the gut for a long time would result in cancer, for which there was no evidence. Later when these rural folks migrated to urban areas these incidence of cancer was still very low - they had shifted to a low fibre diet. In any case, Burkitt's thesis was quickly hijacked by the media & was given sensational newsworthy headlines. Gary Taubes, (in Good Calories, Bad Calories) points the finger at Robert Rodale, a nationally syndicated columnist, who wrote a series of articles in the early 1970s in the Washington Post, "touting fiber as the answer to heart disease and obesity." Later, studies showed that Mormons in Utah ate a low -fibre diet yet had very low rates of colon cancer but the media ignored this (Sounds familiar?). Burkitt's hypothesis was also hijacked by those with commercial interests - bran soon became the darling of the healthy crowd since it has a higher fibre content than vegetables; bran had been a useless by-product of the milling process, now it was a "healthy" food; the African folks never ate it. It is ironic that Burkitt died of colon cancer.
Throughout the 1980s up until the 1990s no studies had shown that fibre protects against colon cancer. In 1999 the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed this with a study that included over 88,000 women. What they found though, unexpectedly, was an association between consuming a high vegetable derived fibre and a 35% increase of colorectal cancer. Six years later a cohort study published in JAMA suggested that fibre, indeed increased the chances of getting cancer. But what is important, and this seems to occur more often than not, was that the researchers wrote an opposite point of view in the abstract - they denied what the data suggested. As Groves writes: " "Although the abstract of the study said that people with the highest intakes of fibre had a reduced risk of colon cancer, that was exactly the opposite of what the study data showed." In his book Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes came across many similar studies where researchers, in blatant fashion, denied the very thing that their studies show.
It all comes down to this: poop has to remain in the intestines in order for the nutrients to be absorbed; removing it out too quickly will lead to the body getting less nutrients,, especially the fat soluble ones. The poop has to be large to slide down touching the intestinal wall at a slow rate for proper absorption - it has to be binding; it cannot be mushy. This allows the gut wall to absorb zinc, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and a bunch of other nutrients. This happens on a low-carb diet, not one that is full of fibre.
Fibre has no place in a healthy diet. Constipation is not a by-product of the low carb diet - in fact, in may take place initially when the gut flora is trying to adjust to a new dietary style but in the long run, one will use less toilet paper and be in the loo a lot less. The poop should be quite long in length and be in the shape of the intestines - cylinder shape.
Another reason to avoid fibre is that it contains phytates - phytic acid is found in cereals as well as soya and other legumes and what this does is prevent the absorption of nutrients, especially zinc, iron, and calcium. They take away nutrients from the body. In addition, large amounts of fibre "scratches and tears" cells of the gut wall and when it is constantly being assaulted the cells cannot repair themselves. As Robb Wolf (in The Paleo Solution) points out, "once the gut lining is damaged, we are at exceptionally high risk of autoimmune disease ... and several types of cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma." Fibre does not confer any long term benefits - in fact quite the opposite. Fibre makes nutrients unavailable to us in more than one way - by avoiding animal products we are deprived of seriously needed nutrients.
Until 10, 000 years ago, grains were never part of the human diet; evolution never got the chance, through natural selection, to design our bodies to consume them; it may, but it would take at least hundreds of thousands of years. Mother Nature has designed us to be meat eaters primarily. To think that fibre is healthy is laughable in the light of science (I've barely touched the surface)- the dogma of fibre has no scientific basis; it is grounded in speculative thinking, fueled by commercial interest, absorbed by a fat -phobic gullible public, misunderstood by a medical profession, and promoted by an ignorant and biased media. The low carb community may argue over the pros and cons of dairy, nuts, vegetables with respect to quality and quantity but it seems to be unanimous over the issue of grain - leave it to the birds.