Today we’ll be reframing the ubiquitous nutrition advice that a high fiber diet is the pinnacle of health; the more fiber you consume, the healthier you’ll be.
A quick perusal in any “healthy” corner of the internet will leave you feeling confident that fiber is just about the best thing you can put into your body. It is hailed as a powerful super-nutrient that makes everything it touches healthier. Increasing your fiber intake will improve your current health and prevent any future ailments. Hurray!
Except that it isn’t, and it doesn’t.
We’re offering a new frame for fiber: Fiber is a non-entity when it comes to nutrition.
Wait. What? Take a breath. In. Out. Now, I’m going to reiterate: Fiber contains zero nutritional value.
Before you send hate mail, let me explain. I really am out here just trying to help.
There is simply no scientific evidence that fiber promotes health in any way. There are only “correlations” made between fiber and health.
Ok, but why should you believe our assertion over the assertions and “correlations” of others?
Here are a couple of reasons:
1. Fiber is not a nutrient. Fiber is not “good” or “bad”. Fiber’s sole purpose is to hold plants together. That is all. It isn’t a nutrient, and certainly not a “super” nutrient. No cape. Next time you see a diet guru touting fiber because it has 0 calories, remember that it also has ZERO of anything else. Just in case you doubt, here’s the dictionary definition of “nutrient“.
So, how then, is fiber hailed as a positive when it does nothing for you? Ironically, that’s supposed to be the charm of it. It gives you nothing, and in this modern world where we get too much, being able to eat bulk without consequence is a good thing, right?
Sadly, not quite. If calories were important to health or weight loss, then bulk without calories (ie fiber) might be a benefit. Calories are not important to health or weight loss, but that’s a topic for another day. In actuality, zero calories and zero nutrients don’t equal zero consequences inside your body.
2. Your digestion is not better because of fiber. The nutrition community-at-large will say you need fiber to keep things moving through your digestive tract. Not true. You don’t need to add more fiber for that.
You may have heard fiber referred to as “nature’s broom”. This moniker comes from the way in which fiber moves through your digestive tract (ie: scratching, clawing, and generally irritating things). Over time, consistent scraping and scratching is destructive to, well, anything, but when it is applied to the soft tissues of your digestive tract, this extreme irritation creates inflammation and sometimes even holes in the intestinal walls leading to negative health symptoms and eventual diagnoses such as diverticulitis, Crohn’s Disease, and autoimmune disorders.
Ironically, these diagnoses come with strict instructions to avoid fiber altogether so as not to irritate your intestines any further. They say you should eat lots of fiber to avoid intestinal issues, but once you have them, you better stop eating fiber. How is fiber good for you one day and bad for you the next? It isn’t. It was never benefiting you in the first place.
If you’re concerned about keeping regular, eat more fat. I promise you’ll never be constipated again.
The biological purpose of eating is to digest what you’ve consumed so that it can be used to fuel and heal your body. Fiber is indigestible and by extension, unusable to your body. Therefore, the higher the fiber content in the foods you eat, the more unnecessary work you’re asking of your digestive tract. This unnecessary work has unintended consequences.
The goal of this article is not to vilify fiber or to suggest you avoid it. Far from it. Instead, the goal is to shift the focus from fiber, a potentially harmful non-nutrient, to real nutrients that your body can use. With that shift, the fiber content will take care of itself. If you are eating foods that do nourish your body, some of those foods will also contain different amounts and varieties of fiber. You will still get your fiber, but you won’t have to worry about amounts or supplementation. More importantly, your body will not be unduly asked to process items it can never use.
In the end, the fiber content itself makes no difference to the overall healthfulness of any particular food item. Fixating on one nutrient (or non-nutrient, in this case), adds unnecessary stress and confusion to your life (and in the case of fiber, to your intestines). Fiber isn’t a nutrient, it’s just there. You don’t need to worry about it.
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“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”