Vail Daily letter: Importance of fiber in diet
I would like to expand on the article in the Health section on Nov. 17 where Dr. Dennis Lipton emphasizes the importance of the fiber found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, nuts and legumes. I think it is important to know just why this is so, not just because the doctor says so.
Recent evidence points out that our genus (homo) began evolving around 2 million years ago. During that time as our bodies and organs have evolved, our diet consisted of foods much coarser and higher fiber than the wonderful produce we get so beautifully displayed at contemporary supermarkets. In addition to the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc., our evolving ancestors consumed leaves, twigs, dirt, and even some sand and gravel.
Our current diet consists almost solely of pure processed protein, fat and carbohydrates, all of which is absorbed into the blood stream as it passes through the small bowel. These are the foods mentioned by Dr. Lipton such as white bread or rice, chips, desserts and oils, and animal products meat, cheese, milk and eggs. The other non-nutritious part of the evolutionary diet, the fiber, sticks, leaves, etc. that traditionally passed unchanged through the small bowel into the colon to provide bulk along with the normal colonic bacteria was what made up the stool, and the protein, carbs and fat have always been absorbed in a healthy small bowel. There was so little protein, carbs and fat in the primitive man’s diet, they had to consume large quantities in order to maintain their weight, adding to the amount of “fiber” that passed through the small bowel to the colon.
Dr. Dennis Burkett, who first described Burkett’s lymphoma in Uganda, Africa, was also very interested in diets and health in the African natives. Those whom he studied ate diets that very much resembled the diet of our ancestors as our bodies and organs evolved. His studies included following the native people and actually weighing their feces as a way to determine just how much “bulk and fiber” they were consuming in order to maintain their weight and good health, and their daily output was several times that of “Western man.” He also found that diseases common to Western man such as appendicitis, diverticulitis, colon cancer and numerous perianal diseases like hemorrhoids and fistulas were very uncommon in the natives who ate their primitive diet.
It is my opinion that, given our contemporary diet that has evolved in the last one or two hundred years, it is virtually impossible to get enough fiber to maintain healthy colons without supplementing some additional fiber. If we were to eat even a vegetarian diet in the quantities necessary to supply adequate fiber, we would gain more weight than is healthy. There are numerous products that can be added to our diet, even if one is a vegetarian, to add bulk and promote better colon health. Among these are natural products such as psyllium or ground flax seeds, but even newer products such as benefiber can be helpful. Some people cannot tolerate such a high-fiber diet, but most with fundamentally healthy digestive systems can and should.
John Snyder, M.D.