Now let’s talk about fiber. The message we’ve heard for what seems like eons is, “If you don’t eat fiber, you can’t have a healthy bowel movement.” We’ve been told that fiber is essential for a healthy gut and healthy digestion; the latest word is that it’s necessary for a healthy microbiome. There are certainly studies and theories to support these assertions, but I can easily point out many observations that run completely contrary to those theories.
For instance, many carnivorous mammals have no problem whatsoever having normal, regular bowel movements in the complete or nearly complete absence of fiber. For example, my dogs poop on the grass every day despite eating nothing but meat. (I sometimes wish that lack of fiber would prevent them from pooping; then I wouldn’t always have to carry those little black dog poop bags every time I go out.) I know what you’re saying, and you’re right: Humans aren’t dogs, and we’re not carnivores (maybe), so perhaps we shouldn’t compare ourselves to dogs. But we can look to numerous human populations that have had no difficulties with elimination despite living on diets that are essentially devoid of fiber.
For example, I don’t recall the early Arctic explorers having to administer enemas to the Inuit populations when they arrived. Perhaps the handful of berries the Inuits would occasionally eat in the summer was sufficient for keeping them regular throughout the rest of the year. Instead of speculating, though, we can ask people today what happens when they go without fiber for a long period. The resounding response is that they have no problem whatsoever having bowel movements. They’re regular and comfortable, and most report their overall gastrointestinal function is the best it’s ever been in their lives. We have studies showing both that chronic constipation is relieved when the diet contains zero fiber and that people who eat lots of fiber have much higher rates of diverticular disease.
Why do we ignore these observations and instead rely on that good ol’ standby of nutritional epidemiology? Could it be because the origins of the nutrition field were tied to vegetarianism and a religious group that started feeding people cereal to cure them from having and acting on impure sexual thoughts? Companies like Kellogg’s and other grain-heavy megacompanies continue to influence nutritional organizations via funding of research and support of some of the dietitians’ groups.
The refrain is, “Eat your fiber, keep your colon nice and full, poop three times a day, and feed those fiber-starved little bacteria.” I’ve heard several prominent vegan proponents state that humans should have an average of three bowel movements per day and should expect to fart fairly frequently because it’s a normal state of affairs. They contend that early humans didn’t mind passing gas because they spent a lot of time outdoors. As far as I can tell, they pulled this theory out of their vegan asses. You will receive zero prizes at the end of your life for having had the largest bowel movements (in either size or quantity).
You shouldn’t be walking around with bloated guts and feeling the need to fart all day long. Why the hell would we have been designed to have a digestive system that caused us pain and discomfort? The short answer is that we weren’t. One of the most common “side effects” of a carnivore diet is the near-complete absence of gas. Yes, most people on an all-meat diet stop farting. I know some folks may find this fact a downside because they’re quite proud of the fact that they can level a room with relative ease via their methane retro cannon, but I hope most people consider the lack of gas to be an asset of the diet.
As I discussed earlier, fiber reportedly can lower cholesterol; that’s great, but I also mentioned that low cholesterol is linked to other conditions, such as dementia, depression, and perhaps cancer. Humans cannot digest fiber because our digestive tract wasn’t designed for fiber. Just because we shove fiber-filled foods down our digestive tube and some bacteria start to grow and eat it in no way indicates that our bodies require it. Think of it this way: If we were to start eating dirt, we’d have colons full of bacteria that prefer dirt. And if we believed that dirt was good for us, we could most likely find some compound that those dirt-eating bacteria produced that would be of benefit to us.
However, if we looked hard enough, we also could find compounds that were detrimental to us. Earlier, I talked about bias in research, and studies about dietary fiber are one place where we can see some bias. Some researchers believe that fiber is good for humans because of some crappy epidemiology. Therefore, they look for beneficial compounds that result from eating fiber while ignoring negative compounds. Can anyone say how a bunch of methane is benefiting our colon? What about the fact that fiber consumption has been shown to increases rates of diverticular disease, or that removing it from the diet often solves longstanding constipation?
Fiber can limit a glucose excursion; for example, if you drink apple juice, you see a fairly typical high spike in postprandial blood glucose, which arguably is a bad thing. If you eat a fiber-rich apple, you get a much lower spike. Well, guess what. If your diet is a bunch of meat, you also avoid large postprandial spikes of glucose. Why would Urk and the rest of our megafauna-munching ancestors have gone out of their way to eat a bunch of fibrous foods that would have provided next to no calories, would have been difficult to digest, and likely would have tasted like cardboard.
He didn’t have the American Diabetes Association telling him to eat his heart-healthy whole grains and leafy vegetables, which incidentally weren’t even cultivated yet. Urk was living it up on the bounty of fatty, delicious meat. From time to time he may have had something a little bit sweet, like some berries, but I can’t see him going out of his way to chew on super fibrous roots and bitter leaves unless he was desperate. I know I sure as hell wouldn’t have unless I’d had some overzealous dietitian yapping at me about phytonutrients, eating the rainbow, and the ill-defined balanced diet. How the hell do you make a balanced diet when you’re living through an ice age?
In the movie Jerry Maguire, you might remember that the athlete played by actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. repeatedly yelled, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” during his contract negotiation. I bring that up here because I don’t see any evidence of the doom and gloom reports about poor gut function, scurvy, and micronutrient deficiencies when I look at the real-world application of the carnivore diet. So I have to say, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” to all the critics. Results are what count.
When someone tells me that lack of fiber leads to poor gut health, I say, “How? Show me what the clinical consequences are.” All I see is people who report vastly improved digestion and often state that they feel the best they’ve felt in their lives. People with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease tend to get better. If that’s the case, how does that translate to worsening gut health? I’m just a dumb ol’ MD, but that doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
My critics would point out that I’m citing anecdotes, the implication being that if anecdotal data doesn’t match our preconceived ideas, those reports must be discounted. How about we don’t discount this stuff and instead actually listen to our patients rather than our pharmaceutical sponsors?
The more I learn about nutrition, the more I’m convinced that is has its basis in religion as much as it does in science. Think about it: When people become passionate about diet, they often feel strong cultural and ethical emotions. I constantly am amazed at how certain camps get so entrenched about long-held beliefs of what’s healthy to eat. It’s very different than many other topics. For example, if we were to talk about the science of building furniture, most people wouldn’t get too excited because very few people are emotionally invested in whether something is made of cherry or maple. But when we talk about whether we should eat a steak or a big bowl of veggies, people become very animated.
Excerpted from The Carnivore Diet, By Dr. Shawn Baker.
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