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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 18, 2008

Fun With Fiber: The Real Scoop

By Worker Bee
78 Comments

One of our most cherished pleasures in life happens to be challenging conventional wisdom (CW). You never would’ve guessed, right? After all the talk of meat and fat this week, we’ve been feeling, well, rather off. We figured it was the perfect time to take on everyone’s favorite gristly subject: fiber.

CW says Americans need serious fiber in their diets. And by “fiber” CW often means bran buds, whole wheat, psyllium husks – you know, sticks and twigs roughage. We’re talking that 1980’s Saturday Night Live bit about Super Colon Blow cereal. Let’s just say that the more sensitive among us, in particular, want to broach the question: “Is this really the best way?”

So, we thought we’d do some digging. Our ventures into the bowels of fiber research turned up some stimulating information. (O.K., we’ll stop.) First, let’s sit back and enjoy a brief gastronomical lesson. Anyone for some popcorn before we start? (Moving on!)

What is the point of fiber anyway? What does it do? Well, on one hand, soluble fiber (vegetables, fruit, oatmeal, and legumes that partially dissolve in water) enhances the thickness of the stomach’s contents. This slows stomach emptying. While this can give the body more time to absorb nutrients, it can also “trap” minerals like calcium or zinc, binding them up in such a way that they don’t have the opportunity to be absorbed. Insoluble fiber (like whole grains, seeds and fruit skins) increases the mass of the stool, which actually moves the stool more quickly through the intestines. Insoluble fibers pass through the digestive system relatively intact. Continuing on…

Let’s explore the reasons we’re supposed to incorporate fiber into our diets and what some sources have to say.

Fiber helps keep you regular
Some of us can reliably mark off our daily calendars, we’re so consistent. Others, well, not so much. For some of us, things come easily. Others, well, we won’t go there.

Whatever the issue, fiber can help, or so says CW. While our personal experiences don’t directly challenge that claim, our research showed a less than comforting picture of the long-term effects.

Some research shows that the very fiber we turn to with perfectly innocent intentions can become a serious monkey on our backs. It turns out, we may have to continually up the ante over time until we’re in over our heads – or behinds, so to speak.

The key to a healthy gastronomical tract is not roughage but bacteria. The large intestine’s natural bacteria, which help comprise stool bulk, maintain water content and soften the stool. (Sounds like those ads, huh?) Fiber, particularly excessive insoluble fiber, offering a quick jump start to things is not the natural catalyst for a healthy excretory system.

Finally, when it comes to long term “issues,” The American College of Gastroenterology Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Task Force didn’t find fiber to be an effective treatment for chronic constipation.

Fiber lowers cholesterol
We’ve been talking about the cholesterol issue a lot this past week. As you’ve likely read, we believe cholesterol numbers aren’t the secret code to your health or longevity prospects.

Studies, some reliable and some not, have shown relatively minor changes in cholesterol as a result of higher fiber intake. These same changes have not carried over as predictors of heart disease. (I think I hear a broken record.) Furthermore, these “improvements” in cholesterol had a difficult price for some subjects in terms of gastrointestinal troubles.

Fiber lowers your risk of cancer
It’s usually colon cancer that people mean here, and the studies vary much more than you likely hear. The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet include studies that show high fiber diets do not lower the risk of cancer or incidence of polyps, a common precursor to cancer.

But maybe we’re onto something…. Some studies, including a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, break down the fiber sources of their subjects. And guess what? Researchers found that vegetable based fiber (as opposed to that from cereal and fruit) was the most cancer protective. The study focused on those with a risk of prostate cancer, but other researchers and physicians extend this claim to suggest a vegetable based high fiber diet in lieu of carbohydrate fiber sources.

Fiber helps prevent and/or treat diabetes
Here we find ourselves back to the question of what kind of fiber. The standard recommendation for diabetics is soluble fiber. A study in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology found that high vegetable consumption (in this case, raw) was consistent with an 80% lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes. Studies using carbohydrate sources have not shown these kinds of results.

Soluble fiber slows stomach emptying, which prevents the body from being flooded with glucose at the same rate as it would be with a low fiber meal (assuming a high glycemic load in the meal). But therein lies the pertinent question: if you maintain a diet with low glycemic load, do you really need to slow the digestion process with fiber? Hmm. If that fiber were adding a plethora of nutrients, as found in vegetables, then the answer would be yes. But as for a fiber source without all those nutrients? Not so convincing.

We’ll let you take it from here. We hope we’ve given you something interesting to chew on. Send us your perspectives and suggestions on the fiber question.

Peter Guthrie Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Sh*t Happens

Jimmy Moore: Fiber Folly Finally Fizzled

That’s Fit: Coffee – A Good Source of… Fiber?

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78 Comments on "Fun With Fiber: The Real Scoop"

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surplusj
8 years 8 months ago
One thing soluble fiber can be a huge help with is, as counterintuitive as this may sound, chronic diarrhea as seen with IBS. My understanding is that when soluble fiber dissolves, it creates a sort of gel, adding bulk, but in a smooth way, to what’s going through your intestines. (I’m trying to not gross people out here. Working?) Anyway, this is a case where slowing intestinal transit is *super* helpful. It also gives your intestines something to grip, so to speak, lessening the severity of the spasms that are often a part of IBS. Fun times! Taking a soluble… Read more »
Jo-Anne
Jo-Anne
4 years 5 months ago

Read FIBRE MENACE…

Sasquatch
8 years 8 months ago

Mark, Gary Taubes agrees with you. Also, there are cultures such as the Inuit and Masai who traditionally ate no plant foods whatsoever. These people are very healthy as long as they stick to their traditional diets. Although I have heard reports of constipation among the Masai. Another thing to note is they both eat fermented foods. Maybe those contribute to intestinal health?

Squid Pocket
Squid Pocket
8 years 8 months ago

Because you mentioned it…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9wl3l5_LI0

Ah, I miss Phil Hartman.

Migraineur
8 years 8 months ago

I’m glad to see this post – I am a much happier person with less fiber in my diet.

My doctor in 2002, when I first went low carb: But you’ll be constipated!
Me: Doctor, I **** once a day. Isn’t that enough? Or did you want me to go back to my old 5 times a day habit.

Mike OD
8 years 8 months ago

Very good article!

While we should get healthy fiber from fruits and vegetables, we should avoid “bran” fiber like the plague. Bran fiber causes lots of issues related to the gut health which we have already shown is the real marker for health (and risks of cancer). The grain is not our friend…but just a cheap source of “fiber” that is marketed by any company selling processed foods…they are not selling health, just their product as “healthy”. Huge difference.

Mike OD
8 years 8 months ago
Sorry for the double comment…but just came across this also in relation to the Africans and low incidence of colon cancer research…and how the “Bran” industry jumped on that bandwagon. “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… Read more »
simon fellows
simon fellows
8 years 8 months ago

…Mr..HNY..So do we presume you have read Good Cals Bad Cals.. and what sayeth yee about it pleasum ?

Never teh Bride
8 years 8 months ago

I love fiber in all its many forms. My problem is not getting enough of it but figuring out how much is too much before I overindulge. There’s nothing like congratulating oneself on eating plenty of fiber only to wake up the next morning with a gut full of pain and a pressing need to find the potty.

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[…] Fun with Fiber: The Real Scoop – Jan. 18 […]

personal trainer
8 years 3 months ago

Thank you for this information. It is written in a way where I can print it out and give it to my clients.

trackback

[…] not sole) source of a fruit’s or vegetable’s fiber content. While I’ve said before that our medical culture overplays the fiber issue (convincing us to down large quantities of grain-based fiber products to “clean us out”), I […]

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[…] soluble fibre is that it lowers heart disease by removing cholesterol from the body.  However, Mark’s Daily Apple argues that lower cholesterol does not necessarily mean a lower risk of heart […]

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[…] new evolutionarily-speaking, are frankly hard on the digestive system. (You say fiber, I say unnecessary roughage, but that’s only the half of it.) Enter gluten and lectins, both initiators of digestive mayhem, […]

trackback

[…] about defatted coconut flour. Never used it myself, but it is an effectively low-carb (high in fiber, though). Anyone tried coconut […]

trackback

[…] hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing to […]

Tara
Tara
6 years 7 months ago
What a coincidence that you chose to cover this topic- I just completed research into this matter 2 weeks ago, as my 1 year old twins have been constipated since birth. Doctors told me that screaming and rectally bleeding while having a bowel movement once a week could be “normal” for someone, while going as many as 4 times a day could be “normal” for someone else. I knew this wasn’t true. After trying all their useless recommendations of adding fiber, drinking water and fruit juice, I finally came across a website called http://www.gutsense.org. This guy (a Ukrainian nutritionist named… Read more »
Mark Sisson
6 years 7 months ago

I’ve read Monastyrsky’s book and am a big fan of his work. Thanks for sharing your story!

HillsideGina
HillsideGina
5 years 1 month ago

I just found Gutsense and was glued to the screen for the last hour. Came to MDA and searched for “fiber” to see if Mark had ever talked about it.

My husband and his brother have historically had bad digestive issues. I helped my husband a lot through better eating habits, but he has already had a benign polyp removed during a colonoscopy three years ago.

His brother has not fixed his issues yet. I’m going to send him a link to Gutsense and have a talk with him.

The deeper you delve into the havoc CW has created, the scarier.

Christina Meade
Christina Meade
3 years 1 month ago
The book Fiber Menace was a real eye opener. Not only is the science right on, but also, one gets an intuitive sense that, finally, the truth! It’s healthy gut flora we’re looking for, not fiber–and certainly not added fiber or water, which just exacerbate gastrointestinal issues. This book should be shared with doctors, including gastroenterologists who essentially try to fix what could have been avoided in the first place and who do not provide the preventive information that could have avoided our problems in the first place. To think that I could have avoided gallbladder removal had I known… Read more »
beeface
beeface
6 years 5 months ago

so it is all about the probiotics yes?

beeface
beeface
6 years 5 months ago

i do those. and NO they dont help in the slightest.
not one bit, neither do enzymes. only fiber, and milk of mag.
and often chewable fibers w/ the veggie fibers. annoying. i dont care, as long as i get the job done each morning.

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[…] Ah fiber, is it a mineral, vegetable, animal, or other?  Most of us really have no clue what fiber is other than it keeps our umm….plumbing, in order.  Fiber is actually, and I quote, “a nearly indigestible substance that is found in the outer layer of plants.”  Doesn’t sound to appealing to me, but it is a necessary evil to keep everything working in proper order.  However, there are some camps that advocate fiber is a bit overrated.  Mark’s Daily Apple has a great post on fiber if you’d like a little more info:  Fun With Fiber. […]

GonePrimal
GonePrimal
6 years 3 months ago

I have been diagnosed with IBS. I went primal six weeks ago. The issues I had prior to going primal are almost completely gone. The key fruits and veggies. I could not believe it. The fiber powers have not left the can since I went primal. Thanks Mark for the good work and thanks gang for all the great comments. Another Observation my GI doc likes his diet coke, makes me think how CW is soooo wrong.

Keep it going.
GonePrimal

tbird
tbird
6 years 2 months ago

I’m only a few weeks in, but I’m seeing improvements. I’ve been hypothyroid and I’ve had trouble with constipation. I’m eating a lot of vegetables and some fruit, along with meat, cheese and yogurt. But I feel like a lot more is coming out than is going in. Sorry, I know that’s sort of icky. But I’m thinking that I’d been holding on to a lot and eating Primally is not just helping me not simply with being more regular, but letting go of old stuff that was (ew,ew,double eeeew) stuck.

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[…] grains/flour is far outweighed by the other issues grains bring with them. Have a look at this: Fun With Fiber: The Real Scoop | Mark's Daily Apple […]

Shelly
Shelly
5 years 11 months ago

But don’t you notice that when you eat bran or oatmeal or other grains, you have regular bowel movements more frequently whereas with veggies and fruit only it’s slower and less?
Is that a problem? It just seems like everything is just sitting in your gut for an awfully long time without the bran/oatmeal/grain. It seems like the grain is necessary to “push” everything out. Gross, but just an honest question.

Tara
Tara
5 years 11 months ago
I agree in part. I recently added some sprouted grain bread into my diet and noticed that my BMs come out with minimal effort. They’re also much bigger. I have also found that when I’m not eating grains and am having problems, it means I’m not eating enough vegetables. But even if I increase the amount of veggies, it’s still not the same. However, what I found out from GutSense is that we don’t WANT big poos. Apparently the increased size can damage our intestines over time, since they’re not meant to handle that kind of bulk. But you’re right,… Read more »
James
James
5 years 4 months ago

I have had the exact same experience. I’m kind of waffeling on primal, I like most aspects of it, my energy is much higher despite naturally eating fewer calories on the primal diet. The only problem is constipation. I’m kind of hoping it’s just a temporary thing while my intestines adapt. I’d be interested to hear your or anyone elses opinion on this.

Primal Palate
Primal Palate
5 years 4 months ago
When you’ve been on a high fiber diet (which is everyone consuming grains) then your gut is stretched out, not as firm and has damaged nerve endings. The primal diet forms small, soft blobs that are easy to pass….but if you have nerve damage and a stretched colon you might not get the triggers to move things. And this is normal. K. Monastyrsky explains all of this in details. I read his book and ordered 3 months worth of his supplements to heal my colon. It worked. I may not have bowel movements like a child but for having (or… Read more »
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[…] but . . . fiber?” Not nearly as important as we used to think. See this humorous post by […]

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[…] Fonte! dieta, fibra, Nutrição […]

trackback

[…] hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing […]

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[…] For a great post on Fiber and poop then check out the post on MDA: Fun With Fiber: The Real Scoop […]

trackback
5 years 7 months ago
trackback

[…] hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing to […]

Primal Palate
Primal Palate
5 years 4 months ago
I used to be dependent on laxatives since I was a teenager. Every week or twice a week I gulped down nasty Milk of Mag. in order to trigger bowel movements….very annoying. I could not figure out wth was causing me to have hard stools AND constipation until I stumbled upon MDA and read Fiber Menace. Apparently sugar sucked bio-organic sodium (the slime on your gut lining) right off my intestinal walls which slowed the bowles down and fiber glumped up into giant bolders. Both together wrecked havoc on my colon. I ditched sugar and grains, took probiotics to repopulate… Read more »
James
James
5 years 4 months ago
Yeah, the times I did resort to a bowl of oatmeal or a laxitive all the poop that was backed up was near perfect. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to want to come out on its own despite it being good poop. I may just try waiting it out and not panic if I go a few days without going. Another thing I always wondered about is I have a history of constipation from being a kid. When I was two or three I had horrible constipation for like a year because I was kind of taught to hold… Read more »
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[…] “But but . . . fiber?” Not nearly as important as we used to think. See this humorous post by […]

trackback
5 years 4 months ago

[…] *THIS article from Mark was very helpful […]

trackback

[…] hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing to […]

James
James
5 years 1 month ago

As veggies go I have found that Lebanese cucumber is particularly good – I have read that it is due to the high silica content; also read somewhere recently about leeks being a good veggie for fibre

trackback
5 years 1 month ago

[…] about fiber? Not nearly as important as we used to think. See this humorous post by […]

trackback

[…] hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing to […]

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[…] of carbohydrate. I wouldn’t exactly compare it to coconut flour, which is extremely high in fiber, low in digestible carbs, and really soaks up the liquid in a recipe. Tapioca flour can be treated […]

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trackback

[…] new evolutionarily-speaking, are frankly hard on the digestive system. (You say fiber, I say unnecessary roughage, but that’s only the half of it.) Enter gluten and lectins, both initiators of digestive […]

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4 years 7 months ago
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4 years 7 months ago

[…] http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fiber/#axzz1llVjenWX By Tom Scoble on February 9, 2012   /   Food, Nutrition, Paleo   /   Leave a comment Recent Posts […]

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[…] upping that to 40 grams a day. Why? Neither Mark Sisson or Barry Cripps appear to agree: Fun With Fiber: The Real Scoop | Mark's Daily Apple The Paleo Diet and Fiber Paleo Diet News I thought this was a good thought on the subject: […]

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[…] More on Fiber. […]

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[…] of carbohydrate. I wouldn’t exactly compare it to coconut flour, which is extremely high in fiber, low in digestible carbs, and really soaks up the liquid in a recipe. Tapioca flour can be treated […]

trackback
4 years 2 months ago

[…] The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got […]

trackback

[…] fiber comes two different ways, with each having a different effect on your bowels and their movements. […]

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[…] new evolutionarily-speaking, are frankly hard on the digestive system. (You say fiber, I say unnecessary roughage, but that’s only the half of it.) A few years back, scientists found that high-fiber foods […]

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[…] 60-ish years, and we are starting to see vast amounts of conflicting research on fat, cholesterol, fiber, sodium, and fructose that can’t merely be explained away as “bad […]

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[…] new evolutionarily-speaking, are frankly hard on the digestive system. (You say fiber, I say unnecessary roughage, but that’s only the half of it.) A few years back, scientists found that high-fiber foods […]

trackback

[…] benefits of a high fiber diet, or the risks of a low fiber diet, are decidedly mixed. Here is an article that covers some of the reasons why, contrary to conventional wisdom, we don’t need that much […]

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