Signs You're Eating Too Much Fiber — and What to Do About It
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet, but here are the signs you're eating too much of a good thing.
Most Americans eat too little fiber — less than half the recommended amount. You may hear that stat and want to add more fiber to your diet for numerous health reasons. However, before you do, you'll want to understand the side effects of adding too much fiber to your diet too quickly. Yes, there is also a thing as too much fiber. How do you know if you're eating too much fiber? We spoke to several registered dietitian experts who shared the signs of fiber overconsumption and ways to remedy it.
What Happens When You Eat Too Much Fiber?
When you introduce fiber too quickly in the diet, it can result in excess intestinal gas, bloating and, in some people, significant abdominal pain and digestive distress. Gut health expert and GI dietitian Kate Scarlata, MPH, RDN explains, “Most fiber in our diet is food for the trillions of microbes that reside in our gut. Our gut microbes have special digestive enzymes that humans do not, so they can digest and consume the fiber our bodies do not. When microbes consume fiber, they create various amounts of gas." Slowly adding fiber to our diet gives our gut microbes time to adjust. When we add fiber too quickly, that's when problems arise. As every individual houses different microbes in the gut, tolerance to different fibers differ from person to person.
What Is the Best Way to Increase Fiber?
There are numerous ways to increase fiber in order to minimize gastrointestinal symptoms. Scarlata recommends adding about an extra 3 to 5 grams of fiber to your diet each day to the general goal of about 25 to 30 grams per day. In order to aid in digestion, as you increase your fiber intake you also want to increase water.
Scarlata also says that you don't just want to increase one fiber rich food or supplement to meet your needs. Including a variety of fiber ensures that you are feeding the different types of microbes in the gut. “The greater diversity of gut microbes appears to be a marker of gut health," says Scarlata who recommends a weekly diet that consists of 30 or more different plants per week.
Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, says to include “a variety of whole plant foods to get the benefits of different types of fiber in these foods in your diet.” Palmer eats steel cut oats, chickpeas, flax seeds, walnuts, berries and kale just about every single day. But she recommends including a variety of seasonal grains, pulses, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables in your diet too.
Don't Forget Refined Grains — Really!
Refined grains like white bread, white rice and all-purpose flour can also be a part of a fiber-rich diet. Refined grains that have been enriched with iron and B-vitamins can provide important nutrients to the diet. However, when refined grains are processed many of the nutrients are removed, including most of the fiber, so make sure to consume them in moderation along with whole grains.
Fiber is an important part of the diet and most people certainly don’t get enough. However, you also don’t want to go overboard and take in too much too quickly! Introducing a variety of fiber-filled foods slowly over time and drinking plenty of water is the trick to taking in fiber with minimum digestive issues.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.