A Different Food Pyramid?!?

The New Healthy Food Pyramid

The New Food Pyramid

There’s no telling what kind of event will bring about a major change in people’s lifestyles. For some it might be a stroke or heart attack. Cancer is a big one. AIDS. The death of a significant other. Maybe it’s something less personal but no less damaging, say a catastrophic bank failure or the loss of a job.

Sometimes, huge outcomes arise from things that, on the surface, seem minor or insignificant. Remember that old saying, for want of a nail? For me, it wasn’t a nail. It was—to risk offering too much information—a nagging case of, well, constipation. There, I said it. A minor event that ultimately led to the overturning of some very cherished, lifelong beliefs I’d held about nutrition and fitness. And the net result is that, today, both my wife Jeanie and I feel better in our mid-fifties than we did when we were twenty years old.

Here’s what happened. We’d been dieting (like most of the population in the US at one time or another). In our case, we’d been using Weight Watchers. And we were very successful. I won’t divulge just how much weight my wife lost, but I managed to shed close to thirty-five pounds on the program. We both had to go out and buy entire new wardrobes to fit our new bodies.

We should have felt great, being down to our ideal weights. We certainly looked great, which was a tremendous boost to our egos. But something wasn’t quite right. For starters, I’d lost a bunch of muscle mass on the Weight Watchers program. And what I hadn’t lost were cravings: I’d wake up in the morning starving, and I’d always feel the tug of the sweets aisles at the supermarket. Ice cream was a particular problem. We were limiting our fats (eliminating them wherever possible), and increasing our intake of fiber-rich, whole-grain foods. We limited our intake of meats, particularly beef and pork, which were high in fat, a Weight Watchers no-no.

Well. We’d been on the plan for several months, when I began to notice my trips to the toilet were becoming increasingly difficult. Not only was I having trouble eliminating, but I’d developed a very uncomfortable case of hemorrhoids. Uncomfortable enough that I began to seriously contemplate having surgery.

I went to the Internet. Lovely place, the Internet. Gobs of information. You’d be amazed at the thousands of articles dealing with the subject of hemorrhoids. And 99.9 percent of these articles, the majority of which were written by nutritionists and medical doctors, all offered the same advice to relieve this annoying problem: increase your fiber intake, drink a half-gallon or more of water each day, and you might try adding some fish oil and/or aloe to your diet as well. Oh, and getting lots of aerobic exercise is important, too…you gotta get the blood and oxygen flowing to the affected area.

Okay, I thought. If this is the solution offered by the medical professionals, who was I to question them? I dutifully blasted my innards with Shredded Wheat and high-fiber breads and vegetables, drank at least a full gallon of water each day, and took brisk walks over hill and dale for ninety minutes or more. I did everything that was prescribed.

That should do the trick, I thought.

But, alas, outside of a slight improvement over the course of two days, my bowels returned to business as usual–which is to say, I wasn’t able to do my own business without a lot of strain and very little to show for it…except, of course, the hemorrhoids, which stubbornly refused to go away.

So it was back to the Internet. Pages and pages of search results. All of them seemed to be saying exactly the same thing. Then I stumbled on this: buried deep in the bowels of the Google search engine. It was a website promoting a cheesy-looking self-published book entitled Fiber Menace. (The title is actually much, much longer, but the shortened version here will suffice.) The website was hosted by the author, an unknown Ukrainian pharmacist named Konstantin Monastyrsky, who achieved some notoriety when he came to America–in computer programming. Go figure. You can read Mr. Monastyrsky’s biography (which I didn’t bother with at the time) here. But I did take some time to skim his website. I couldn’t believe what he’d written (he actually quoted much of his book right there on the website), including these preposterous (I assumed) notions, some of which I’ve paraphrased from his page entitled Give Me Ten Reasons Why I Should Read Fiber Menace:

  • fiber causes chronic digestive disorders and irreversible colorectal damage — even though your menu choices, conventionally speaking, may be impeccable.
  • many accelerated aging and degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis, stem from digestive and endocrine disorders caused by fiber consumption.
  • many common digestive complaints, such as heartburn (GERD), gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and constipation, are actually caused or made worse by fiber.
  • there is enormous pressure coming from all quarters to conform to the one century-and-a-half old medical doctrine regarding the ‘health benefits’ of fiber. But if you study morbidity charts, so far the increased consumption of fiber has brought neither ‘health’ nor ‘benefits.’
  • we have become unwitting victims of medical error. Acute digestive disorders directly related to the consumption of fiber — such as appendicitis, ulcers, cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), intestinal obstructions, hernias, and ulcerative colitis — are the leading causes of hospitalization and surgical intervention among people under fifty. Sadly, you’re six times more likely to die from a medical error while hospitalized than from getting killed in a car accident.
  • even dietary supplements are rendered useless when their assimilation is blocked by the ill effects of fiber on the stomach and intestines.
  • if you’re a committed vegetarian, the odds of remaining a “healthy vegetarian” are about as good as beating Russian roulette.

What this guy was saying wasn’t just preposterous; it was laughable. And I did laugh a little derisively while I went back to searching the Internet for more sage–read, believable–advice on how to relieve my steadily worsening hemorrhoid and elimination problems.

But something in the periphery of my mind had begun nagging me about this Monastyrsky fellow, and the outrageous things he’d said about an established fact, unequivocally, irrefutably proven in the medical and nutritional establishment–that dietary fiber was healthy, and the more the better. I was suddenly curious to learn whether there were any scientific studies to back up his claims. So I decided to begin another search, just to settle the question once and for all in my own mind. I brought up my trusty Google page and entered “Fiber Menace” in the window.

What I discovered was, to put it mildly, jaw-dropping.

I’ll get into that in my next installment. In the meantime, I welcome your comments.

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