Dietary Fiber – Fact Vs Fiction

Picture of Marko Papuckosvki
Marko Papuckosvki

Clinical Nutritionist

Let’s get straight to the point; fiber is not an essential nutrient. 

An essential nutrient is something that we cannot synthesize in the body, and since fiber is a form of carbohydrate and carbohydrates can be synthesized through gluconeogenesis, provided that there is enough protein and fat available, it is not essential. 

The lower limit of dietary carbohydrates compatible with life is zero, provided that adequate amounts of protein and fat are consumed.

So how did the high fiber diet become popular? Well, it was the vegans, Seventh-day Adventist, and dietetics associations that are sponsored by cereal companies — that includes Kellogg’s, founded by John Harvey Kellogg who believed that a  “non-stimulating diet which included corn flakes would cure impure thoughts and masturbation. Since then the “loose science” has been regurgitated and has become part of the common consensus amongst traditional dieticians and medical doctors.

What is fiber? 

Fiber is defined as the carbohydrate portion of plant foods that we as humans cannot digest. Fiber is exclusively found in plant foods. There are 2 types of fiber:

Soluble fiber: which is readily able to be fermented by the bacteria in our colon and produces gas and short-chain fatty acids. Soluble fiber draws water in and creates a gel-like substance. 

Insoluble fiber: which is much more resistant to fermentation and creates the bulk in our stool. Insoluble does not draw water in and therefore it does not expand. 

It is now conventional wisdom that fiber is a necessary component of a healthy diet — so, many people continue eating high-carb cereal, bread, and other foods in order to reach their fiber quota. However, in order to reach this “fiber” goal, many people end up consuming far too many carbohydrates in the process – driving insulin resistance, blood sugar swings, and chronic weight gain. 

But what about constipation you ask? 

What does the research say? 

The research for fiber treating constipation simply isn’t there. In a group of 62 patients who were split into a group of high fiber intake, moderate fiber intake, and zero fiber intake — symptoms of constipation, strain opening, bloating, anal bleeding, and pain were compared.

The group that ate high fiber experienced high severity of symptoms. 

The group that ate moderate fiber experienced moderate symptoms. 

The group that ate zero fiber experienced zero symptoms. 

Not one patient on the zero fiber diet had any symptoms. Every person in the zero fiber group had 1 bowel movement per day, every day. 

What about bloating? 

Bloating is related to an intake of too much fiber, remember, fiber is not able to be digested so it passes to the large bowel where it is fermented and produces short-chain fatty acids — in that process, it produces gasses such as hydrogen and it only takes a small amount of gas production before you start feeling bloated and feeling pain 

The evidence shows that:

  1. Fibre worsens constipation
  2. Fiber produces bloating 

In conclusion

If you have been struggling with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), just give a low-fiber diet a shot — try it for 30-days and see if you have a reduction of symptoms. The worst that could happen in that time frame is that nothing happens, meaning that your symptoms don’t improve or become worse. However, more often than not, I have seen a significant reduction in IBS symptoms by prescribing a low-zero fiber diet. 

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