We hear all the time that we need to eat more fiber. But why? If you have IBS you may have heard this advice and tried to follow it, only to feel even more uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Let’s talk about why fiber is important and how you can increase your fiber intake without getting bloated or gassy.
Why You Should Add More Fiber to Your Diet
Fiber has a number of benefits (I won’t go into all of them here). For people with gut issues such as IBS and irregular bowel habits, adding more fiber can help to:
- Regulate bowel movements (both the frequency and the consistency) and help you get the perfect poop (not too hard, not too loose) with the right frequency for you (this could be anywhere from 3 times a day to 3 times a week).
- Feed your gut bacteria (they are hungry!) and help you maintain good gut and overall health and prevent gut issues in the future.
The problem is: you might have tried to eat big salads and pile up the vegetables on your plate. Or eating hearty types of bread full of whole grains and seeds…only to feel even more bloated! Therefore, you’ve given up the salads, gassy vegetables, beans, and whole grains because they “don’t agree with you”. As a result, you may be wary of all high-fiber foods and afraid or tentative about eating them. If that’s you, here are some tips to slowly reintroduce fiber into your diet without experiencing uncomfortable gut symptoms.
5 Tips to Add Fiber Without Getting Bloated or Gassy
Tip #1 – Start slow
The recommended target for fiber intake is at least 22-25 grams per day for a woman; and 30-38 grams per day for a man (the lower end of the range is for people over 50 years old). Unfortunately, most people in the US get about 15 grams per day. At the same time, if you are not getting the target fiber levels yet, going there too quickly might leave you bloated and a bit gassy. You want to think of this as a long run (not a sprint). There is no rush to get there!
Rest assured, you don’t need to necessarily count each gram of fiber. To start with, just add one portion of a food rich in fiber per day. After a week, add another portion, and continue until you reach your target. For example, add one portion of fruit or a couple of tablespoons of nuts or seeds to your breakfast. One week later you can add a serving of vegetables to your lunch. And so on.
Tip #2 – Choose your fiber well
Start adding slowly-fermentable (low FODMAP) soluble fibers first. They are the best tolerated, meaning, the least likely to cause bloating and gas. Some of my favorites are oats, chia seeds, oranges, avocados, eggplant, and canned chickpeas, kidney beans, or lentils.
Tip #3 – Cook your vegetables
Surely, salads have a reputation for being a “healthy meal”. On the other hand, if you are having a big salad as your main meal, your sensitive gut might have trouble digesting it. Instead, start adding more cooked vegetables at first. Salads can be still part of your diet but make them small (appetizer or side dish). In addition, choosing tender lettuces such as mixed greens or arugula (instead of hardier types like kale or cabbage) can help minimize gut symptoms as well.
Tip #4 – Mind your fruit
What I mean by this is to be careful about how much fruit you eat in one sitting. Fruit is delicious and it is easy to eat a large amount, especially if you eat smoothies, drink fruit juice, or love fruit salads. Unfortunately, we all have a hard time digesting too much fructose or sorbitol at once, and this can lead to bloating and gas. Try to keep your fruit intake to about three ounces per sitting, up to three times a day.
Tip #5 – Don’t forget hydration
When you increase your fiber intake, you need to increase your fluid intake. Consider adding a glass or two of water per day as you increase your intake of fiber-rich foods. Keep in mind that it’s not just water: tea, coffee (if tolerated), herbal teas, broths, and clear soups count too!
Having enough fiber in your diet is crucial to enjoying regular bowel movements and fostering your gut and overall health. It is entirely possible to have enough fiber without getting bloated or gassy. Increasing your fiber slowly and choosing slowly-fermentable soluble fibers can help you get started if you have a sensitive gut. If you are still having trouble with gut symptoms, I would love to help!