About the American Low-Fiber Diet

Most Americans eat a low fiber diet –

…fewer than 3% of us reach the recommended fiber intake for our age and gender.1, 2 Denis Burkitt (1911-1993) was a highly respected epidemiologist, a researcher who studies a disease by investigating where and when the disease occurs geographically and over time. For example, Burkitt was famous for being the first to describe a particular cancer now known as “Burkitt’s lymphoma.”

Burkitt is also famous for his epidemiologic study of Western diseases that are correlated with the industrialization of  civilizations. Burkitt primarily blamed the rise of Western chronic gastrointestinal diseases on the refinement of cereal grains and the resulting low-fiber diet.3 Burkitt included inflammatory bowel disease in the group of chronic diseases associated with the rise of  modern low fiber foods.

Even when people decide to eat a high fiber diet, it is hard for them to accomplish their goal. People think of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains when they think of dietary fiber. The above statistic shows that this line of thinking has not given Americans the tools they need to actually eat a high fiber diet.

In my opinion, adding bran cereals and legumes (dried beans) are the best way to eat the recommended amount of fiber and to eat a therapeutic amount of fiber when needed. These foods are easy to obtain and inexpensive. Consider the following examples of food fiber contents:

Fiber Content TableFiber recommendations range from 20 to 35 grams based on age and gender categories.5 As long as Americans rely mainly on fruits and vegetables for fiber, I believe they will continue to have difficulty meeting their daily recommended amount of fiber. For me, the recommended amount is not even enough.

I learned that I need MORE fiber than the recommended amount for my age and gender. The therapeutic amount of fiber for me during flares was much higher – there were times when I needed 55 to 60 grams of fiber per day to stop the diarrhea and intestinal bleeding caused by my Crohn’s disease flares. I could never have achieved that amount of fiber without bran cereal and cans of beans. In upcoming blogs I will present a few PhD-informed hypotheses I have regarding my need for an extra high fiber diet.

Another important concept I’ve learned about the fiber in wheat bran cereal and canned beans is that these fibers are soothing to my gut – in contrast to the nature of fruits and vegetables. Think about it. Excess fruit causes loose stools for anyone who overeats these sweet treats when they are in season – it wouldn’t have made sense for me to use fruits and vegetables to increase my fiber during those early flares of bloody diarrhea. But 55 to 60 grams of fiber contained in bran cereal and black beans succeeded in stopping bloody diarrhea for me in a matter of days.

Fortunately for me, I began by hearing a simple encouraging message about fiber, particularly wheat bran. In time I learned to successfully use what I had heard, and it has worked consistently for me since 1981. Some recent fiber research has only served to muddy the waters concerning fiber, because diet research is very complex – much more difficult to accomplish than a drug study.  Here is an example of an article I am glad I didn’t see until after I had proven for myself what fiber does for me:


After decades of overwhelming success with an ultra-high fiber diet for Crohn’s disease, I can read an article like the one above without wavering in my conviction. I know insoluble fiber is the answer for me. I will do everything in my power to share my story.

In America, where 97% of people fail to meet fiber recommendations, it makes me sad to think that some people with IBD may actively avoid fiber even further, without cause.

  1. Clemens R, Kranz S, Mobley AR, et al. Filling America’s fiber intake gap: summary of a roundtable to probe realistic solutions with a focus on grain-based foods. J Nutr 2012;142:1390S-1401S.
  2. Agricultural Research Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary fiber (g): Usual intakes from food and water, 2003-2006, compared to adequte intakes. What we eat in America, NHANES 2003-2006. Volume 2013, 2010.
  3. Burkitt D. Fiber as protective against gastrointestinal diseases. Am J Gastroenterol 1984;79:249-252.
  4. Mount Sinai Health System. Bowel function and dietary fiber: fiber content chart. Available from: https:www.wehealny.org/healthinfo/dietaryfiber/index.html Accessed February 18, 2016
  5. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Fiber. Medline Plus. Volume 2016, 2016. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002470.htm Accessed February 18, 2016