A Thumbs Up Book Review
By Konstantin Monastyrsky
Reviewed by Kathryne Pirtle
The striking cover photo of Fiber Menace–a cereal bowl filled with brass hardware screws–primes the reader for its startling message: the USDA-endorsed high-fiber diet creates disastrous effects for 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 produce 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, endangering 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 of drinking too much water. Drinking the currently 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 contribute abundant 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 in 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–and 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 tons 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 for us 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. And 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 his website fibermenace.com.)
The author does warn his readers not to eat anything that your great, great, great, great grandparents wouldn’t eat . . . but our forebears 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 high-fiber foods and make sure you are getting adequate fats and foods that build the intestinal flora. As stools are smaller, the urge to eliminate 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 designed 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.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2006.