We all know that fiber is essential for good health. Unfortunately, many people lack fiber because modern diets are high in meat, dairy, and processed foods. As a result, we often hear about how beneficial it is to add more fiber to your diet. But can you have too much fiber? Can too much fiber cause constipation and bloating? In this article, we're going to explore the connection between fiber and bloating and discuss what a healthy amount of fiber in a diet is.
What Is Fiber?
Fiber, also called "roughage," is a carbohydrate the body cannot digest. Instead of being broken down into sugar molecules (glucose) like most carbohydrates, fiber cannot be broken down into glucose by the body and instead passes through the digestive system undigested or is broken down by certain types of bacteria in the intestines.
If we can't digest fiber, why do we need it? Even though fiber isn't digested, many nutritious foods contain fiber. Our bodies separate the nutrients and fiber in foods. The nutrients are absorbed, and the fiber continues through the digestive tract to be eliminated. Fiber helps to regulate our bowel movements and also helps to regulate the body's use of sugars, which can help keep hunger and blood sugar levels under control.
Many people know that fiber helps with digestion but don't know exactly how fiber helps digestion. Dietary fiber softens your stool and increases stool weight and size. A bulky stool is easier to pass and can decrease your chance of constipation. Hence, if you are constipated, doctors often recommend you add more fiber to your diet. Fiber may help with loose stools as well. Fiber can help solidify the stool because it absorbs water and adds bulk to the stool.
Fiber also benefits heart health as it helps reduce LDL cholesterol (often referred to as "bad cholesterol." Fiber foods also lower triglycerides, a type of fat that circulates in your blood. Both triglycerides and LDL cholesterol are risk known factors for heart disease.
Different Types of Fiber
There are two primary types of fiber, both of which have a positive impact on our health. The two types of fiber are soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is fiber that dissolves in water. Soluble fiber can help lower glucose levels and help lower blood cholesterol. Examples of foods with soluble fiber include apples, berries, chia seeds, oatmeal, lentils, beans, and nuts.
Insoluble fiber is fiber that does not dissolve in water. This fiber can help food move through your digestive system, promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. Examples of foods with insoluble fibers include quinoa, whole wheat, brown rice, leafy greens, seeds, legumes, and fruits with edible skins like apples, pears, and plums.
How Much Fiber Should You Have?
While fiber is excellent for health, it is essential to consume the right amounts. Too much or too little can cause some uncomfortable digestive symptoms. The recommended daily amount of fiber is:
- 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day for women
- 30 to 38 grams of fiber a day for men
It is better to go a little over the recommended range than not have enough fiber. A little bit of excess fiber may increase your bowel size and frequency. Too little fiber, however, is likely to cause constipation.
Some experts estimate that as much as 95 percent of the population does not ingest enough fiber, with the average estimated at around 15 grams. This is why people so often recommend increasing your intake of dietary fiber.
If you already eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, however, you don't have to worry about it. You could be consuming too much fiber. If you have too much fiber, it can also lead to some digestive issues, though keep in mind that this is far less common than not consuming enough fiber daily.
Foods That Are High and Low in Fiber
Some examples of foods that are low in fiber include:
- refined grains (white bread, white pasta, white rice, pancakes, bagels)
- meat, especially chicken and fish
- dairy products
- peanut butter
- fats (oils, butter, gravy)
- canned vegetables
- skinned potatoes
- peanut butter
Some examples of foods that are high in fiber include:
- whole grains
Because so many people nowadays eat diets high in meat, dairy, eggs, and refined grains, most people also lack adequate fiber in their diet. However, if you are more health-conscious and tend to eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you will likely get enough fiber.
For many, a healthy amount of fiber will relieve their digestive issues. However, suppose you are on a high fiber diet and are experiencing digestive issues. In that case, you might be overeating fiber.
What Happens If You Eat Too Much Fiber?
While most fail to meet their recommended daily fiber intake, it is possible to have too much fiber, especially if you increase your fiber intake too quickly. Too much fiber can lead to:
· abdominal pain
· loose stools
· intestinal blockage
· temporary weight gain
· reduced blood sugar levels
In severe cases, too much fiber can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, or an inability to pass gas or stool. You should call a doctor immediately if you are experiencing these more severe symptoms.
Does Fiber Cause Gas and Bloating?
If you are wondering, "can fiber cause gas and bloating?" the answer is yes, too much fiber can cause gas and bloat. However, other factors can lead to gas and bloating as well. For example, if you know you've had too much fiber, have recently eaten high-fiber foods, or have had more fiber than you usually have. Your gas and bloating are likely caused by consuming too much dietary fiber.
Interestingly, low fiber intake can also cause gas and bloating. If you have chronically low fiber intake, you may experience intestinal gas or bloating if your low fiber intake results in constipation or incomplete defecation of hard, small stools. A lack of fiber and face bloating have also been found to have a connection. Therefore, if your bloating is caused by a lack of fiber, you may need to consume more fiber to relieve your gas and bloating.
Only you can determine whether your gas and bloating are caused by too much or too little fiber by reflecting on your dietary habits. For example, have you recently eaten many fruits, vegetables, grains, or legumes? If so, gas and bloating could result from too much fiber. On the other hand, have you eaten a lot of meat, cheese, eggs, and bread? If so, your gas and bloating could be caused by too little fiber.
Other factors that can cause gas and bloat include:
- Carbonated beverages, such as soda and beer
- Eating habits, such as eating too quickly, drinking through a straw, or chewing gum (these habits may cause you to swallow more air that could cause gas and bloating)
- Sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners
- Chronic intestinal diseases include diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease.
- Small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Food intolerances
How Do You Relieve the Symptoms of Too Much Fiber?
Suppose you recently ate too much fiber and are experiencing the symptoms mentioned above. In that case, the following things may help to relieve your symptoms:
- Drink plenty of water
- Exercise regularly (if your symptoms are uncomfortable, perform mild and gentle exercises like walking or swimming)
- Avoid using any fiber supplements (including psyllium husks)
- Limit high-fiber foods
- Remove foods that have been fortified with fiber from your diet
- Eat low FODMAP foods
- Keep a food diary to keep track of how much fiber you consume (you can find out how many grams of fiber are in a food with a quick internet search).
Once your symptoms ease up, you can slowly reintroduce more fiber-rich foods into your diet. Aim to introduce fiber in your diet evenly, and spread it throughout your meals—instead of having too much fiber at one meal.
Fiber is essential for good health. Unfortunately, many people lack fiber since many modern diets are high in meat, dairy, and processed foods. Some experts believe that even as high as 95% of people fail to meet their recommended daily fiber intake.
While fiber is essential, it is also possible to have too much fiber. Too much fiber can cause uncomfortable symptoms like constipation, bloating, and changes in bowel movements. If you know that you are overeating fiber, aim to cut back your fiber intake or spread your fiber intake more evenly throughout your meals during the day.
If you have a low-fiber diet and want to add more fiber to your diet, start by slowly introducing more fiber with each meal instead of having too much at once. Too much fiber at once can also lead to the symptoms of excess fiber consumption mentioned above.
Suppose you are experiencing severe digestive issues, especially for more than a few days. In that case, you should speak with your doctor for medical advice.