The Fiber Fallacy

The world was first instructed to “Eat More Fiber because of research from Dr.’s Denis Burkitt and Hugh Trowell.  They were studying the associations between diet and health status and wanted to determine why the diseases plaguing individuals in the Western World were not affecting secluded tribes in Africa.

According to their observations, the lower incidence of colon cancer and heart disease was because of a higher fiber intake. As they believed the indigestible roughage (fiber) North Americans were removing from their foods was providing additional health benefits to the tribesmen – increasing digestive flow, preventing the absorption of toxins, etc.


Not to go into a full-blown history lesson, but Burkitt and Trowell’s ‘theory of dietary fiber’ is actually a piggyback hypothesis from research on refined carbohydrates (white flour and sugar) performed by Dr. Peter Cleave. Coined saccharine disease, Cleave believed that the overconsumption of refined grains (white flour and sugar) was causing the increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many other ailments, in Western culture. A subtle, but extremely important distinction:

Cleave’s overconsumption of carbohydrates theory said “remove or eat less sugar and flour,” while Burkitt’s processing of carbohydrates theory said “eat foods in their whole form.”

Research since has shown that ‘a grain is a grain’ processed or not.  So, despite the cereal-giant propaganda, switching from refined grains to whole grains provides no difference in disease risk, a blood sugar response that is nearly equivalent, and no significant reductions in body fat or other risk factors of the metabolic syndrome.

Sadly, Burkitt’s theory caught on and Cleave’s was forgotten.  Likely because Burkitt’s work aligned perfectly with Ancel Keys theory that saturated fat causes heart disease.

“Replace animal fat and protein with low-fat whole grains and everybody wins!”

His book quickly rose to best-seller status and dietary fiber became a staple in the North American diet.


Just like Keys, Burkitt’s work was seriously flawed. He conveniently withheld research on African tribes that were consuming low amounts of fiber and relying heavily on saturated fat and animal protein, while experiencing LOW cancer and LOW heart disease.

The Masai in Kenya and Tanzania, eat a great deal of milk and fat, and extremely low amounts of fiber (if any), yet they have virtually no heart disease.

Moreover, there’s a fair bit of a healthy-user-bias going on when you compare secluded populations to Western culture. As typically, we’re less active, we experiences different stress (chronic instead of acute), and we’re exposed to plenty of toxins.

When you analyze groups like the Mormons, that eat a low-fiber diet by government standards (less than 25g) and experience similar daily environments to these tribes, you’ll see that they’re also considerably healthier:

  • Cancer rate = 22% lower than the U.S. average
  • Mortality rate from colon cancer = 37% lower than the U.S. average

Some have even argued that the low cancer rates in the African tribes may be because of their early death rate. Since it’s difficult for someone to conclude, “this group doesn’t get cancer,” when they don’t live beyond their 40’s!

Perhaps that’s why they call it best-SELLING author?

Burkitt was definitely selling, and North American’s were eating it up…bread and cereal that is.

Stay Lean!
Coach Mike


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