The story that made headlines around the world about fibre (see The Guardian) and at the end of last week isn’t going to be a flash in the pan. On the back of it, you can be sure it will be used by governments and the food industry to get us back onto the bread and cereals wagon.

Low carb diets are already under attack because of it – and that battle will continue. The grain and baking industries are going to be thanking their lucky stars that they now have a potent piece of science to justify their existence – and their profits. The public will be left in even more of a quandary: should they get back to eating bread and wholegrain cereals as their staples – or dramatically cut them along with grain-based carbs, the approach that’s been heralded and celebrated by such a cross-section of our society, from celebrities and politicians, through to social media influencers and world-class athletes.

The landmark fibre study

The study was big. It wasn’t just one systematic review and meta-analysis, it was multiple ones. It looked at data over 50 years, from when these kinds of data were first recorded to the near-present day (2017-18). The methodology was reasonable as far as this study is concerned, so we won’t be picking it apart. The results were entirely expected. Previous studies had already shown that lots of fibre, a lot of which, but far from all, has traditionally come from wholegrain and cereal sources means less heart disease, cancer and early death. This was confirmed previously in two studies published in major journals back in 2016, one in the British Medical Journal, the other in Circulation.

This landmark study was commissioned by the World Health Organization and led by Prof Jim Mann and his research group at the Department of Medicine, University of Otago, New Zealand. The main finding was that the sweet spot for fibre intake, for those wanting to live a longer, healthier life was between 25 and 29 grams of fibre per day.

Again, we know that. All long-lived populations eat lots of fibre. Many also eat non-digestible, so-called ‘resistant starch.’ Both are great for gut microbes. The science on this is clear and undisputed. So while we can all agree that getting 30 or so grams of fibre a day is what we should all target, it’s a completely different question to argue that means eating bundles of grains. This is another classic case of overlapping risks and benefits, something we’ve previously shown for vitamins and minerals.

What’s wrong with the study’s interpretation 

The thing we’ve been gagging over these last few days since the study was published online is that it is being used to push whole grains and cereals.

With the following view expressed by the study leader Jim Mann, extracted from The Guardian and also published in the Irish Times, it’s easy to see where this will go:

“It was very difficult to have high levels of fibre on a low-carbohydrate diet unless you took fibre supplements, said Mann. And “there isn’t the huge body of evidence that we’re talking about” for supplements being beneficial, he said, adding that “it’s pretty well impossible” to get enough fibre from fruit and vegetables alone.”

There are three stand-out misrepresentations of the data and how that is likely to be applied to the public, both by governments and the food industry. They are:

  • MISREPRESENTATION 1: It’s absolutely possible to get over 30 grams or more of fibre a day from a grain-free diet, as we show below. Jim Mann needs to do his research before he claims that “it’s pretty much impossible” to get enough fibre from vegetables and fruit alone
  • MISREPRESENTATION 2: Current bread flour qualities, fermentation, baking methods, food processing techniques and bread compositions are not as they were 30 to 50 years ago
  • MISREPRESENTATION 3: The health problems of today, in which around one-third of the population of industrialised countries have deranged metabolism caused by insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes and related conditions, doesn’t mean we can apply findings that were relevant to a historic, healthy population. Yet that’s what’s being done here. That’s also what we can expect the WHO and national authorities, aided and abetted by the grain and food industry to do.

There is so much more to say – but this is an occasion where perhaps less is more. We’re looking at all avenues for making these and related points to the WHO and those in public health decision-making positions in governments.

And here’s our figures, calculated using data from the USDA’s Food Composition Databases.

Food Item Description Portion Size Fibre in portion


Poached Egg 142g 0
Spinach 25g 0.60
Butter 10g 0
Tomatoes 9g 0.11
White Mushrooms 50g 0.50


Wild Samon 140g 0
Rocket (Arugula) 10g 0.16
Raw slaw    
Red Cabbage 50g 1.05
Carrots 20g 0.56
Fennel 10g 0.31
Red Radishes 5g 0.08
Tahini 10g 0.93
Olive oil 20g 0
Lemon juice 30g 0.09
Maple syrup 5g 0.01
Apple (with skin) 80g 1.92
Walnuts 20g 1.34
Brazilnuts 15g 1.13
Hazelnuts 15g 1.46


Bean Stew    
Aduki Beans 100g 7.30
Onion 15g 0.26
Garlic 2g 0.04
Olive oil 20g 0
Red Peppers 21g 0.25
Broccoli 60g 1.68
Green beans 30g 0.96
Butter 10g 0
Coconut Milk (tinned) 7g 0
Cauliflower 20g 0.46
Savoy Cabbage 21g 0.59
Leeks 14g 0.14
Summer Squash (with skin) 15g 0.15
Fresh Parsley 5g 0.17
Dried Basil 5g 1.89
Dried Oregano 5g 2.13
Raspberries  100g 6.50
Creamed Coconut 30g 0.30





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