Debunking The Fibre Myth

As a nutritionist part of my job is to debunk nutrition myths, but this can sometimes be pretty complicated – after all that’s why the information was misinterpreted in the first place.   It’s rarely a matter of “One food is healthy while another is not”. Or, “Everyone should eat this and avoid that”. A classic example of this is Fibre, while food manufacturers, some government agencies and doctors recommend that everyone consume lots of fibre everyday, from what I’ve witnessed in my practice and according to more recent science, it’s just not that simple…


First off, “What is fibre?”


Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. There are two major types of fibre soluble and insoluble. Fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (beans, dried peas and lentils).


Fibre is not a nutrient it contains no vitamins, minerals or calories.


“Everyone should eat 8 servings of grains a day” (True or False?)


This was thought to be the case since the mid-1970’s, when Denis Burkitt, kindly referred to as ‘Fiberman’ popularized the idea that fibre from grains protects against the development of diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and obesity.   While Burkitt was in Uganda he observed that Africans produced more feces with less pain and discomfort, while rarely suffering from many of the most common diseases in the Western world.


Bring on the pasta! – wait a minute….

Fibre can be harmful to some.


Fibre & Constipation


We have been lead to believe that by consuming extra bulk in the form of dietary fibre it would help move the feces along, keeping us ‘regular’ and thereby helping to remove toxins, excess estrogen and cholesterol from the body.


“Fibre helps to relieve constipation” (True or False?)


Studies now suggest that if overcoming a sluggish bowel is the aim, one of the last things we should do is to consume more fibre. Here’s a quote from a Study published by the World Journal of Gastroenterology,


The role of dietary fiber in constipation is analogous to cars in traffic congestion. The only way to alleviate slow traffic would be to decrease the number of cars and to evacuate the remaining cars quickly. Should we add more cars, the congestion would only be worsened”


We can liken that to adding more fibre to an already jam packed colon…


Tummy upset?


Excess consumption of high fibre foods, can be problematic for some, causing abdominal pain, gas, bloating and possible damage to the intestinal lining.



Now this is where it gets a little complicated – fibre is not all bad…


The foods that contain fibre such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes are nutritious, delicious and affordable. These foods also contain lots of other nutrients and therefore provide protective health properties.

More recently nutrition studies have shown how some forms of fibre help to feed the microflora in the gut.   When this prebiotic fibre known as resistant starch feeds good gut bacteria it produces small chain fatty acids (SCFA) like butyrate, which are essential for a healthy immune system and lowering inflammation in the body.



So What Should You Do?


If you think that fibre may be causing you digestive discomfort, try using a Food and Symptom Journal for a week or two to try and assess which foods cause you discomfort. If symptoms persist you should probably consult with a qualified healthcare provider.


For most, fibre consumption should not be the objective, but rather a byproduct of eating a balanced diet including lots of vegetables, some fruits along with good quality healthy fats, proteins and whole grains.