History and Benefits of Diets High Fiber

About the history and benefits of Dr. Burkitt's high fiber diet.



The Head Men: During 20 years in Africa, Dr. Denis Burkitt observed that a high-fiber diet seems to protect natives against cancer of the colon and other diseases common in the Western world. Back home in Great Britain, he became known as "the bran man" for advocating more roughage in the diet. In the U.S., the cause was taken up by psychiatrist David Reuben, author of the popular sex manual, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1969). Shifting his attention to the intestinal tract, Reuben wrote Save-Your-Life Diet in 1975.

According to the current theories popularized by Reuben, fiber, composed largely of cellulose, is indigestible and moves rapidly through the digestive tract. In addition to speeding the process of digestion, it also seems to cause the intestines to excrete rather than absorb fat, in some manner not yet fully understood. Thus, it appears that a high-fiber diet lowers cholesterol, provides protection against diverticulitis and heart disease, and aids in weight control. Other diet gurus who have picked up the fiber theme include Carlton Fredericks and osteopath Sanford Siegal.

Overview: According to Reuben, all low-roughage foods, processed food products, refined sugar, and alcohol should be eliminated from the diet. Instead, you should eat lots of cereals and other grain products, as well as fruits and vegetables, either raw or prepared with a minimum of cooking. Moderate amounts of lean meat, fish, poultry, and oil are allowed. Yogurt is recommended on a daily basis to help maintain favorable intestinal bacteria. Most important, 2 teaspoonfuls of unprocessed miller's bran should be taken three times daily, either with water before each meal or added to cereal, yogurt, soup, and homemade bread. In addition to filling you up, the bran-and-water combination induces what Reuben calls "an internal feeling of calmness and tranquility" and "an indescribable feeling of well-being." Overall, your diet should include 24 grams of fiber daily--enough to produce one or more bowel movements daily that are "large in amount, well-formed, low in odor, and passed without straining," according to Reuben.

Pro: It is nearly universally conceded that the American diet with its reliance on refined and processed foods is deficient in roughage. In correcting that deficiency, a high-fiber diet may also save you money. For example, the recommended allowance of miller's bran costs only 2 cent a day.

Con: Reuben fails to specify the size of portions, relying instead on his "mystical" feeling of fullness to regulate consumption. As critics point out, a calorie is still a calorie regardless of the speed of digestion; should you overeat, you will gain, not lose, weight. The more rapid digestion of fiber, moreover, may result in mineral deficiencies, particularly among younger dieters, and may also produce kidney stones. The sheer bulk of 24 grams of fiber daily may cause flatulence and a constant preoccupation with bowel function. Finally, the scientific verdict on fiber is not yet in. Although Africans have a low incidence of some diseases, they also have a short life expectancy.

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