The Ins and Outs of Fiber
Dr. Denis Burkitt was an English physician who studied a group of Bushmen hunter-gatherers in Uganda in the late 1960's. He found that they had a very low incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity as compared to the nearby British residents in Uganda, who seemed to suffer significantly from these chronic diseases.
He also found that the average stool of a hunter-gatherer (I’m sure he had an assistant take these measurements) weighed two pounds as compared to a modern Westerner who has a stool weight of only four ounces.
Dr. Burkitt attributed these differences to the fact that the hunter-gatherer group ate a diet rich in fiber and unrefined plant foods.
While there’s a chance that Dr. Burkitt jumped the gun in coming to his conclusions (there are other lifestyle factors that may explain the hunter-gatherer’s good health) many other researchers have come to the same conclusion regarding fiber. Eating enough fiber can help us to thrive and reduce our chances of developing many of the chronic diseases that are so common in our society.
Dietary fiber is the indigestible portion of food derived from plants. There are two kinds of fiber, and they each have benefits. Many fruits and veggies contain both.
Soluble Fiber attracts water and turns into a gel during digestion.
- Promotes healthy weight by promoting a sense of fullness
- Helps to keep your insulin levels / blood sugar steady
- Lowers cholesterol and your risk of cardiovascular disease
- May help to prevent some types of cancer as well as diabetes
- Helps promote GI health by keeping gut bacteria healthy
Insoluble Fiber does not dissolve in water, is inert and provides bulking.
- Insoluble fibers acts like a scouring pad for your intestines
- Promotes movement of material through your GI tract
- Adds bulk to the stool, promoting regularity
- Helps to reduce your risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids.
The average hunter-gatherer consumed about 100 grams of fiber per day. The average American gets between 8-15 grams per day. While it might be difficult to increase your intake to 100 grams without gnawing on tubers all afternoon, maybe you could find a way to add just 10-15 grams of additional fiber to your day.
Here are some of the highest fiber foods to help you get on track:
Beans (black, navy, chickpea, edamame, kidney)
Squash (butternut, acorn)
Seeds (sunflower, chia, ground flax, pumpkin, sesame)
Legumes (lentils, split peas, green peas, sugar snap peas)
Sweet and russet potatoes
Nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans)
Veggies (artichoke hearts, okra, turnips, asparagus, beets, carrots, collard greens, kale, broccoli, chard, Brussels sprouts)
Fruit (bananas, avocado, oranges)
Fruit with skins (apples, pears, figs, berries)
Grain (popcorn, steel cut oats, bulgur, rolled oats)
There's mounting evidence that emulating the lifestyle of hunter-gatherer groups is one way to optimize our genetic predisposition towards good health and vitality. Of course we can only take it so far, (loin cloths are cold in the winter), but the closer we can get - the better!
Dr. Russell Charno