Working toward a healthy diet is always a good choice. A decision to add fiber is one of the simplest and most powerful changes you can make. More fiber means more vegetables, fruit, and whole grains — all choices correlated with lower risk of chronic diseases, cancer, and many more health problems.
Eating plenty of fiber keeps your digestion regular and is associated with weight loss, better management of Type 2 diabetes, and healthier gut bacteria.
Yet adding fiber can lead to temporary digestive problems. How can you increase fiber in your diet and avoid stomach trouble?
How much fiber is too much fiber?
70 grams of fiber per day — double the recommended amount — could be too much, leading to bloating and even constipation. 70 grams of fiber could come from 20 apples, six cups of lentils, seven bowls of bran cereal, or 11 servings of whole wheat pasta. That’s a lot of fiber.
Let’s assume that you’re making dietary changes to move from the typical 10 or 15 grams a day to 25-30. That’s still a big change. If your body is accustomed to getting five grams of fiber at each meal and you suddenly double that, it could take you some time to adjust.
This is not because you’re getting too much fiber. It’s because you’ve been getting too little and your digestive system is out of practice.
Add fiber gradually
Imagine one breakfast plate with a biscuit, sausage, and scrambled eggs. Now imagine a breakfast composed of oatmeal with walnuts, whole wheat toast, and fresh fruit salad. That’s a low fiber breakfast compared with a high fiber breakfast.
Instead of shifting from a low fiber menu to a high fiber one at every meal, you could make gradual changes. Switch to whole grains on the first day. Add a salad the next day. Bring in some nuts and seeds on the third day. By the end of the week, you’ll reach your fiber goals and your digestive system will be up to speed.
Drink plenty of water as you add fiber to your diet. Your digestive system needs liquids to work properly. Plenty of water helps break down the food you eat so you get all the nutrients. It also helps to keep stools soft and avoid constipation.
Give yourself a checklist so you’ll remember to drink 8 glasses of water each day. You can also drink plain (not sweet) tea, sparkling water, or water infused with cucumber or lemon.
Choose foods that contain liquids, too. Watermelon, oranges, lettuce, and grapes, among many other foods, help keep you hydrated.
Don’t rely on supplements
Fiber supplements have their place, but they don’t make up for low fiber intake in your food. Read labels in the grocery store and choose foods with higher fiber, switch to whole grains, and increase the fresh produce you eat.
Choose popcorn and nuts for snacks, along with fruits and vegetables.
And don’t give up. Your tastes can change over time. Soon you’ll find yourself enjoying high fiber foods.