We share many experiences with the kings of old: pastries, for instance, and home entertainment and vacation trips to far-off lands. Ancient-day common folk knew nothing of such things. Then again, they weren’t constipated… We are. Not all of us, of course. But enough Canadians so that some doctors call our a constipated society. And even if you’re not constipated, your present day diet may be leading you to more serious complaints like disorders of the large intestine or colon. These, too, were afflictions of of the upper classes of old. Why? Because in general the rich refined their food, along with their lives, and so stripped it of an odd but essential ingredient called dietary fibre. Like its fellow carbohydrates, the various types of dietary fibre are the product of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide combining in green plants. Most form part of plant cell walls. But unlike the other carbohydrates, fibres do not break down into sugars in the human digestive system and then course through the blood stream fueling muscles and nerves. Rather, when eaten they tumble intact through the stomach and small intestine and end up in the colon where billions of bacterial feed on them – in turn producing intestinal gas. No wonder, then, that dietary fibre has been unwelcome in many of history’s nicer neighborhoods. Even 20th century doctors reasoned that since the bulky material provided not a single nutrient, it would only strain already troubled guts. Accordingly, they recommended low-fibre diets for patients suffering from hemorrhoids and other colon disorders often found in the West. But then, about 15 years ago, the prescription was reversed as researchers found that poor Africans, who eats lots of fibre, rarely suffer from such complaints. Fibre, the researchers learned, actually eases the bowel’s burden by mixing with water and other food residues to create large, Soon, nutritionists came to see the low-fibre diet of most North Americans as a culprit in the onset of disorders ranging from tooth decay to heart attacks. Increasing the consumption of certain kinds of fibre, they found, could slow the body’s absorption of sugars to which diabetics are sensitive, and of cholesterol, which may lead to heart disease. Furthermore, fibres fight obesity. They’re filling, especially the pectins in citrus fruit and the gums in some beans. And they’re mainly indigestible. So dieters eating lots of fibre are likely to eat less of other, more fattening foodstuffs. As for why populations on high-fibre diets seem to experience fewer colon cancers, no one knows for sure. In any case, there is no doubt that fibre is nature’s laxative, the dietary key to regularity. Nutritionists therefore advise you to stay away from foods containing processed and refined ingredients such as bleached flour and white sugar. Remember that meats contain little fibre and that overcooked vegetables and fried foods have lost much of theirs. Nevertheless, fibre supplements are usually unnecessary. Merely ensure that your diet is full of fresh fruits and vegetables – and some of the most fibrous foods such as bran cereals, whole wheat breads, peas, beans and lentils – and you, too, can eat like an old-time pauper.