Is a High-Fiber Diet Really Healthy?

A Review of the Important Book: Fiber Menace

By Konstantin Monastyrsky
Ageless Press

The striking cover illustration of Fiber Menace—a cereal bowl full of gold screws—primes the reader for its startling message: the USDA-endorsed high-fiber diet has a disastrous effects on the digestive system.

Fiber Menace describes major health problems that can develop from eating what’s considered a modern healthy diet high in fiber from grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and even fiber supplements. The author details how high-fiber diets cause large stools which stretch the intestinal tract beyond its normal range–eventually resulting in intestinal damage–and a drastic upset of the natural bacterial flora of the gut. The end results manifest as hernias, hemorrhoidal disease, constipation, malnourishment, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.  He also provides numerous medical references to show that high-fiber diets do not confer the benefits claimed for them.

The author of this book is a brilliant professional man who suffered a life-threatening illness from years as a vegetarian living on high-fiber foods. Konstantin Monastyrsky was trained as a pharmacologist, but after immigrating to the US from the Ukraine, pursued a career in high technology. He worked in two premier Wall Street firms: as a senior systems analyst at First Boston Corporation and as a consultant at Goldman-Sachs & Co. He has also written two best-selling books in Russian: Functional Nutrition: The Foundation of Absolute Health and Longevity, and Disorders of Carbohydrate Metabolism.

Monastyrsky explains that human teeth are fashioned to chop flesh and that our digestive system is built to handle mainly protein digestion, with only small amounts of fiber. When we eat too much fiber, digestion lasts longer and fermentation occurs, damaging the bacterial flora and causing problems such as bloating, flatulence and enlarged stools, leading to constipation or diarrhea, IBS and diverticular disease.

One fascinating chapter of Monastyrsky’s book details the problems with drinking too much water. Drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day may cause problems such as mineral depletion and imbalances, which can contribute to digestive disorders, kidney disease, degenerative bone disease, muscular disorders and even cardiac arrest from electrical dysfunction. Paradoxically, overconsumption of water may also cause constipation.  When too much water is added to a high-fiber diet, the fibrous foods swell and ferment in the intestinal tract, leading to gas, bloating and other uncomfortable effects.

Traditional peoples did not drink large quantities of water. Instead, they stayed hydrated with milk, fermented beverages and bone broth soups, which have incredible nutrient qualities and do not upset the body’s homeostasis.  Plus, traditional peoples consumed plenty of fat, which renders much more water during metabolism than proteins or carbohydrates.

I was very interested with this author’s perspective as I also suffered a life-threatening digestive illness and recovered through eating a nutrient-dense diet, which happens to be a low-fiber diet. For years, I ate lots of fruits and vegetables—mostly raw—ate tons of grains and faithfully drank eight glasses of water daily. I ate some meat and dairy but avoided fat— and definitely no butter! I developed severe intestinal damage from undiagnosed Celiac disease and a hiatal hernia. The material presented in Fiber Menace makes me wonder whether my digestive disorders—which led to intestinal damage and severe malnutrition–may have been caused by all the fiber I was eating, rather than gluten intolerance.

For those who worry about getting enough nutrients without eating raw vegetables and fruits, the author reminds us that nutrient-dense animal foods contain concentrated nutrients because the animals spend their whole lives chowing down literally bushels of fresh green grass and other plant matter. The result is meat and fat containing all the vitamins and minerals found in fresh produce, not only in more concentrated form, but also one that is easy to digest.

Fiber Menace gets a Thumbs Up, but the book is not without flaws.  The book becomes repetitive in the later chapters in the descriptions of various diseases caused by eating the way the doctors tell us to.  Monastyrsky’s audience would have been better served with a concise presentation of what to eat. He is firmly in the WAPF camp, recommending butter and small amounts of cod liver oil, but in this book he fails to emphasize the healing effects of bone broths, fermented foods, medium-chain fatty acids and liberal amounts of the fat-soluble activators A and D. (His book in Russian, Functional Nutrition, does emphasize these foods, and Monastyrsky tells us that he will be translating these sections into English and posting them at The author does warn his readers not to eat anything that your great, great, great, great grandparents wouldn’t eat . . . but our grandparents did include high-fiber foods like grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables in their diets. They could do this without ill effects because they knew how to prepare these foods by soaking and sour leavening or, in the case of vegetables and even many fruits, by cooking and because they did not weaken the mucosal tissue by following a low-fat vegetarian diet.

Monastyrsky warns readers of problems when switching to a low-fiber diet. It is important to gradually cut down on fiber and make sure you are getting adequate fats and foods that build the intestinal flora. As stools are smaller, the urge to go to the bathroom will be less pronounced, so it is very important to pay attention to the “urge” signal; otherwise stools may harden and cause constipation. Interestingly, he points out that a healthy stool is easy to pass, rather small in diameter and is mostly composed of bacteria leaving the body rather than protein residue—the human digestive tract is design to digest proteins completely. He stresses the fact that it is not necessary to consume fiber to have regular stools as we have been led to believe. Some of the healthiest cultures had very little fiber in their diets.

Dr. John Turner, DC, CCSP, DIBCN, who lectures with me on building health through traditional nutrient-dense foods notes that, “my training as a physician included many hours of nutrition, but fiber was only mentioned in regards to the effects of a deficiency.  Never once did any of my professors consider the possibility that too much of what has always been considered a ‘good thing’ could have such harmful or far-reaching consequences.  The author’s detailed description of the trauma imposed to the gastrointestinal mucosa by the expanding fiber is a vivid reminder that returning to the basics of GI function and logically thinking through what our bodies actually are designed to do with the food we eat, should be the first step on anyone’s journey to recovery from digestive disorders. Thanks to the insights in this book I have slowly begun to change my approach to common patient symptoms, which I traditionally would have treated by suggesting increased fiber and more water to correct!  So far the results are promising.”

Many thanks to Konstantin Monastyrsky for writing this important book.

Review by Kathryne Pirtle

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New York Times Article-Food for the Soul

the new york times

Op-Ed Column
Food for the Soul

On a summer visit back to the farm here where I grew up, I think I figured out the central problem with modern industrial agriculture. It’s not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all.

More fundamentally, it has no soul.

The family farm traditionally was the most soulful place imaginable, and that was the case with our own farm on the edge of the Willamette Valley. I can’t say we were efficient: for a time we thought about calling ourselves “Wandering Livestock Ranch,” after our Angus cattle escaped in one direction and our Duroc hogs in another.

When coyotes threatened our sheep operation, we spent $300 on a Kuvasz, a breed of guard dog that is said to excel in protecting sheep. Alas, our fancy-pants new sheep dog began her duties by dining on lamb.

It’s always said that if a dog kills one lamb, it will never stop, and so the local rule was that if your dog killed one sheep you had to shoot it. Instead we engaged in a successful cover-up. It worked, for the dog never touched a lamb again and for the rest of her long life fended off coyotes heroically.

That kind of diverse, chaotic family farm is now disappearing, replaced by insipid food assembly lines.

The result is food that also lacks soul — but may contain pathogens. In the last two months, there have been two major recalls of ground beef because of possible contamination with drug-resistant salmonella. When factory farms routinely fill animals with antibiotics, the result is superbugs that resist antibiotics.

Michael Pollan, the food writer, notes that monocultures in the field result in monocultures in our diets. Two-thirds of our calories, he says, now come from just four crops: rice, soy, wheat and corn. Fast-food culture and obesity are linked, he argues, to the transformation from family farms to industrial farming.

In fairness, industrial farming is extraordinarily efficient, and smaller diverse family farms would mean more expensive food. So is this all inevitable? Is my nostalgia like the blacksmith’s grief over Henry Ford’s assembly lines superseding a more primitive technology? Perhaps, but I’m reassured by one of my old high school buddies here in Yamhill, Bob Bansen. He runs a family dairy of 225 Jersey cows so efficiently that it can still compete with giant factory dairies of 20,000 cows.

Bob names all his cows, and can tell them apart in an instant. He can tell you each cow’s quirks and parentage. They are family friends as well as economic assets.

“With these big dairies, a cow means nothing to them,” Bob said. “When I lose a cow, it bothers me. I kick myself.” That might seem like sentimentality, but it’s also good business and preserves his assets.

American agriculture policy and subsidies have favored industrialization and consolidation, but there are signs that the Obama administration Agriculture Department under Secretary Tom Vilsack is becoming more friendly to small producers. I hope that’s right.

One of my childhood memories is of placing a chicken egg in a goose nest when I was about 10 (my young scientist phase). That mother goose was thrilled when her eggs hatched, and maternal love is such that she never seemed to notice that one of her babies was a neckless midget.

As for the chick, she never doubted her goosiness. At night, our chickens would roost high up in the barn, while the geese would sleep on the floor, with their heads tucked under their wings. This chick slept with the goslings, and she tried mightily to stretch her neck under her wing. No doubt she had a permanent crick in her neck.

Then the fateful day came when the mother goose took her brood to the water for the first time. She jumped in, and the goslings leaped in after her. The chick stood on the bank, aghast.

For the next few days, mother and daughter tried to reason it out, each deeply upset by the other’s intransigence. After several days of barnyard trauma, the chick underwent an identity crisis, nature triumphed over nurture, and she redefined herself as a hen.

She moved across the barn to hang out with the chickens. At first she still slept goose-like, and visited her “mother” and fellow goslings each day, but within two months she no longer even acknowledged her stepmother and stepsiblings and behaved just like other chickens.

Recollections like that make me wistful for a healthy rural America composed of diverse family farms, which also offer decent and varied lives for the animals themselves (at least when farm boys aren’t conducting “scientific” experiments). In contrast, a modern industrialized operation is a different world: more than 100,000 hens in cages, their beaks removed, without a rooster, without geese or other animals, spewing out pollution and ending up as so-called food — a calorie factory, without any soul. August 23, 2009

This marvelous article from the New York Times reminds us how important traditional food from sustainable farms is to our country. By opting out of factory farmed food and getting back to the simple basics of connecting to farmers and real food, we will regain our own health as well as the health of our nation.

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