It’s been drilled into your mind by doctors, your mom, and cereal commercials: Fiber is good for you! They’re not wrong, either: Fiber helps you feel satisfied after eating, while also making sure that burger you ate actually gets digested properly.
So…the more fiber the better, right? Girl, no. There is definitely such a thing as eating too much fiber in one day, and once you overdo it, you’ll never want to let that happen again. Trust me.
- What is fiber, again?
- What are the signs you’ve eaten too much fiber?
- What can you do if you’ve gone overboard on fiber?
- Are some diets more prone to excess fiber?
- How can you make sure you’re eating a healthy amount of fiber?
- How to get enough fiber
- A word on fiber supplements
- Is It Possible to Eat Too Much Fiber?
- What Is Fiber?
- How Much Is Too Much?
- Fiber: How Much Is Too Much?
- Why Seniors Should Add More Fiber to Their Diets (And How)
- Rough Up Your Diet
What is fiber, again?
Dietary fiber (or “roughage,” as your grandma might say) is a type of carbohydrate that’s found in plant foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. After you eat it, it mostly passes straight through your digestive system, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Fiber can be broken into two camps: Soluble, which dissolves in water to make a gel-like substance, and insoluble, which doesn’t break down and passes through your digestive tract relatively intact.
“Dietary fiber is important in our diets because not only does it help regulate our bowel habits and improve our overall gut health, but it also has other systemic benefits such as improving blood sugar control, contributing to heart health by improving cholesterol and blood pressure, and helping with weight loss and management,” says Tara Menon, MD, a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Aim for 25 grams of fiber a day!
What are the signs you’ve eaten too much fiber?
If you hit your fiber sweet spot (which is around 25 grams a day for women), your digestive system should be working pretty well. But if you happen to have too much, you’re probably going to know it. Menon says the signs you’ve had too much fiber include:
- Stomach pain or cramping
- Gastroesophageal reflux
Cute! Basically, eating too much fiber means you’re going to be spending a lot more time on the toilet.
What can you do if you’ve gone overboard on fiber?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that will absorb all that excess fiber and make it disappear out of your body. But you can treat the symptoms. If gas is your issue, taking an OTC gas-fighting pill that contains simethicone can help, Menon says. Diarrhea should pass, but if that’s gotten out of hand, you can also consider taking an anti-diarrheal medication to stop things up.
Yeah, fiber is important, but don’t forget about protein! Check out these high-protein ice creams:
Are some diets more prone to excess fiber?
Given that plant-based foods are great sources of fiber, vegans and vegetarians are probably eating more fiber than the average carnivore, Menon says. But, she adds, “the majority of Americans do not consume enough fiber.”
If you feel like your symptoms are probably caused by having too much fiber, Menon recommends stepping down your fiber intake until you feel better. “Once your symptoms have improved, see if you can pinpoint any specific food that may have triggered your symptoms,” she says. Then, slow your roll on those foods in the future.
How can you make sure you’re eating a healthy amount of fiber?
You want to aim to get 25 grams of fiber a day (try tracking your intake for a few days if you’re not sure where you stand). If you’re below that and you want to add more, Menon says it’s best to slowly add more fiber to your daily routine to work your way up to your goal.
If you’re pretty sure you’re not eating too much fiber, but are still experiencing some of the symptoms of a fiber OD, talk to your doctor to find out what’s going on.
Korin Miller Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more.
And, according to AND, there is no “Tolerable Upper Limit” for fiber, meaning that, as far as research has found so far, there isn’t a level of fiber intake that is shown to have serious negative effects on either mineral levels or GI functioning. So basically, unless you’re experiencing GI symptoms or have a mineral deficiency, oodles of fiber is not something most people have to worry about. (This changes if you have some kind of GI or other medical condition.)
In reality, most of us aren’t eating enough fiber. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average American gets just 16 grams of fiber a day. (To put that in perspective, this is the amount a girl aged 4 to 8 should be getting, per the Dietary Guidelines.) In fact, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and of Agriculture (USDA) label fiber a “nutrient of public health concern” given how important it is to our health and how underconsumed it is.
How to get enough fiber
While the recommendation is 14 grams per 1,000 calories, in reality many of us don’t count calories, let alone keep tabs on our fiber intake. The good news is that it’s actually pretty easy for most people to hit this ballpark number if they’re eating a wide array of plant foods, Lisa Young, R.D.N., C.D.N., Ph.D., adjunct professor in the department of nutrition and food studies at New York University and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, tells SELF.
In other words, you shouldn’t really have to go out of your way to get enough fiber, because a well-rounded and generally healthful diet is also a fiber-full diet. So instead of meticulously tracking grams of fiber or seeking out specific foods, the easiest and most effective way to go about it is eating a variety of plant foods every day, Young says—fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
To give you a rough sense of what that variety can actually look like, the Dietary Guidelines has a handy list of the fiber content per serving for a number of different foods. For instance, a half-cup of chickpeas has about 8 grams of fiber, a pear has 5.5 grams, and a half-cup of frozen mixed vegetables has 4 grams—so it can add up pretty fast.
By the way, you generally don’t need to worry about how much of each type you’re getting either. Like we mentioned, most plant foods have both insoluble and soluble fiber, and most nutrition labels don’t break the fiber content down that way anyhow. (Fiber supplements and packaged foods with added fiber, like granola or protein bars, commonly contain just one or the other though, Young says—one more reason why it’s easiest to focus on naturally fiber-filled foods.)
Another low-effort way to up your fiber haul is by swapping out foods made with refined grains, which are stripped of most of their fiber content during processing, for versions made with whole grains, as SELF previously reported. When buying things like bread, cereal, pasta, and crackers, look for “whole wheat flour” instead of “wheat flour” at the top of the ingredients list. (The same applies to other grain-based foods, like rye bread: Look for “whole rye flour.”) And if you bake at home, experiment with replacing some of the all-purpose flour in the recipe with whole wheat flour.
Take it easy as you ramp up your fiber content, though. Increasing your fiber intake too quickly can result in some uncomfortable side effects, like gas, bloating, and cramping. The bacteria in your GI that help break down soluble fiber need a little time to adjust to the increased fiber, per the Mayo Clinic. So gradually up the fiber you eat over the course of a few weeks, instead of all at once. And remember, make sure to be drinking plenty of water.
A word on fiber supplements
There isn’t any evidence that taking daily fiber supplements (i.e functional fiber) is harmful, according to the Mayo Clinic. And if you’re having trouble getting enough fiber in your diet for whatever reason, these pills and powders are a convenient way to help you close the gap, Young says. It’s also great in a pinch if you’re experiencing constipation, Dr. Lee says.
Is It Possible to Eat Too Much Fiber?
I regularly purchase a whole-grain wrap labeled “high-fiber.” While I’m sure I looked at the Nutrition Facts panel before initially buying it, I happened to glance at it again recently and was a little surprised—and maybe a tad concerned. One wrap contained 11 grams of dietary fiber. Some were from whole-grains, but the majority were thanks to extra fibers the manufacturer added. Most days this is a nice boost to get closer to recommended intakes, but what if you’re consuming a wrap (or two) like this along with fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Is it possible to get too much fiber?
What Is Fiber?
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Fiber isn’t really flashy, exciting, or even controversial—especially in comparison to other nutrients like fat and sugar. Fiber does have consistency, though, when it comes to what research suggests about its health effects. Higher daily fiber intakes are associated with improved digestive health, decreased risk of digestive issues such as constipation, lower blood pressure, increased satiety following a meal, lower body weight, improved health of gut bacteria, as well as reduced risks of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers like colon, breast, and stomach. The problem is that the average daily intake is 17g for U.S. adults – an amount significantly below recommendations (listed below).
19 to 50 years
25g per day
38g per day
20g per day
30g per day
Even though intake is chronically low, it appears that more individuals are starting to look for fiber amounts on food labels like they might calories or sodium. But there’s just one problem: food manufacturers are also aware of increased consumer interest in fiber, and over the last two decades, the practice of adding extra fibers (referred to as functional fibers) during processing has increased for the primary purpose of boosting the fiber amount on a food’s label. When it comes to my wrap with 11g of total fiber, I estimated that approximately 2 to 4g come from whole grains and the remaining 7 to 9g are probably functional fibers.
How Much Is Too Much?
Unlike the fibers naturally found in foods that are a blend of soluble and insoluble types, functional fibers are often one to two specific types of fiber that are added in bulk. While they can provide a nice boost, high intakes of functional fibers may be more likely to cause abdominal pain, gas, and bloating compared to naturally-occurring fibers.
There is no maximum intake for fiber—largely because of fiber’s positive health benefits. However, this was determined before the market had so many foods with functional fibers added. So, is this still true when you factor those in along with the fiber found in a healthy diet?
The answer appears to be “yes” but there is also evidence that one should proceed slowly and that the focus should be on getting fiber from foods that are naturally good sources first. Here are general guidelines for increasing and consuming fiber:
Get a Baseline
Track your fiber intake for a few days to get a baseline of your average intake. Don’t worry about other nutrients—just keep it simple with a daily running tally for fiber. I’m always surprised when I do this because my total grams are lower than what I assume.
Start with Food
Start by adding or substituting in foods with natural fiber like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grains, nuts, etc. Check out this overview of what foods are highest in fiber, as well as few foods high in fiber that may surprise you.
RELATED: Reboot Your Microbiome With Our 3-Day Gut Health Makeover
Consider Boosting Your Fiber Intake
Add in some occasional foods with functional fibers, or take fiber supplements as needed to boost intake. These fibers should be used to complement your food intake and not as a primary method to meet fiber needs.
Add Fiber Into Your Diet Gradually
Don’t go from 0 to 30g overnight. Gradually increase fiber to avoid discomfort and side effects. Try adding two extra servings of the foods mentioned above for a week. If tolerating well, then increase fiber-rich foods a little more.
Drink Lots of Water
Fiber acts like a sponge in the intestines, so water consumption needs to increase along with your fiber intake. This is true for both fibers naturally found in foods and those added during processing. If not, then you may experience some discomfort as that extra fiber tries to move through the intestines.
Fiber: How Much Is Too Much?
A popular TV commercial shows a woman eating broccoli and other fiber-rich foods throughout the day, depicting how difficult it seems to get the recommended daily levels of fiber. In truth, a lot of people just don’t bother. Yet to the other extreme, it’s possible to get too much fiber or eat too much at once, which can lead to unpleasant side effects.
So just how much fiber do you need? The national fiber recommendations are 30 to 38 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women between 18 and 50 years old, and 21 grams a day if a woman is 51 and older. Another general guideline is to get 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories in your diet. Achieving these goals is beneficial to your overall health, and fiber helps you feel fuller longer.
For many people, it can be a challenge to get that much fiber in a typical American diet. Most people top out at an average of 15 grams per day, regardless of how many calories they eat. But if you’re going overboard with a high-fiber diet plan, you could be putting yourself at risk for problems like stomach cramps, constipation, and even nutritional deficiency.
“High levels (of fiber) can also interfere with absorption of some minerals, such as iron, and some antioxidants, such as beta-carotene. It’s rare, though, for people in this country to be getting too much fiber,” says registered dietitian Brie Turner-McGrievy, Ph.D., R.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Getting the Right Amount of Fiber
Of course, it’s possible to feel like you’re getting too much fiber, either because of how you’re eating your fiber, or because you’ve dramatically increased your fiber intake too quickly. Here are some tips for getting more fiber without unpleasant side effects:
- Space out portions. “Spreading out your fiber intake throughout the day will allow you to avoid some of the gastrointestinal discomforts that a large amount of fiber may present,” says Dr. Turner-McGrievy. Try to include fiber-rich foods in every meal and snack, but don’t feel like you have to overdo it.
- Increase slowly. A new commitment to healthy eating could make you want to achieve those daily fiber goals quickly, but when it comes to ingesting fiber, it’s a good idea to take your time. You want to give your gut the chance to get used to the new amounts of fiber you’re eating. This will decrease some of the digestive side effects you see with a sudden increase, Turner-McGrievy says. Plan to take about two weeks to reach your goal, and pay attention to discomfort along the way. If you do experience any discomfort, it may be a sign that you shouldn’t add any more fiber just yet.
- Hydrate. Fluid and fiber go hand in hand: The more fiber you eat, the more fluid you need. “We need to make sure we drink an appropriate amount of water along with our fiber intake to allow for proper digestion,” says Turner-McGrievy. Remember that juices, soups, and other liquids count.
If your diet is largely made up of whole foods, including lots of vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains, you could easily meet or even slightly exceed the daily recommended fiber intake. But fiber intake isn’t necessarily a “more is better” situation once you’ve met the daily requirement. Taking significantly more fiber than is recommended won’t magically improve your health, and could actually make you feel worse.
Why Seniors Should Add More Fiber to Their Diets (And How)
You’ve heard that it’s important to get enough fiber, especially as you grow older, but how much is enough? Also, why is fiber so good for you?
Besides its reputation for making it easier to ‘go’, there are many benefits to eating a diet that is rich in fiber. Numerous studies have proven that fibrous foods help seniors age healthier because they lead to lower cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, normalize bowel movements, and help them manage a healthy weight. Fiber is found in a lot of foods—fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, grains, and cereals—so it’s easy to add to daily meals.
Despite the advantages of maintaining a diet with the proper amount of fiber, many aging adults don’t get enough. In this article, we break down fiber’s role in helping us stay healthy during our golden years, as well as provide tips on how to eat more of it.
What is Fiber, and How Does it Help?
High-fiber foods are generally low in fat and calories, yet packed with essential minerals and vitamins that promote healthy bodily functions. There are two different types of fiber— insoluble and soluble.
When most people think about fiber, insoluble fiber comes to mind. It does not dissolve in water, and as it travels through the digestive tract, does not change its form. Insoluble fiber performs a variety of helpful functions in our bodies, from controlling pH acidity levels in the intestines to eliminating toxic waste through the colon to moving roughage (or bulk) through the digestive tract. And, as you may already know, it promotes regular bowel movements.
A range of foods contain this fiber , including vegetables (especially dark, leafy green types), root veggie skins and fruit skins, seeds and nuts, wheat bran and corn bran, and whole-grain products.
Soluble fiber is very different from insoluble. It dissolves in water and also changes its form while moving through the digestive tract, where it’s fermented by bacteria. During this process and while it absorbs water, soluable fiber becomes gelatinous. It binds to fatty acids, slows down the time it takes to empty the stomach, and also slows the rate of sugar absorption— meaning it’s necessary for people with metabolic syndrome and diabetes. This type of fiber is also known to lower cholesterol levels, which is something that’s always important when you’re getting older.
There are many healthy sources of soluble fiber, including kidney beans, apples, oranges, zucchini, grapefruit, brussel sprouts, broccoli, prunes, oatmeal, whole-wheat breads, and spinach.
Data Favors Fiber
After understanding how fiber functions in the body, it’s helpful to know how it keeps us healthy as we age. There are many studies that have supported its role in this. One example, a recent paper published in The Journals of Gerontology, found a correlation between fiber intake and successful aging. In this 10-year study, researchers tracked the habits and health stats of 1,609 adults, age 49, who were cancer free and had no problems related to stroke or coronary artery disease.
During this decade-long experiment, the participants regularly completed food-frequency surveys and questionnaires. Researchers analyzed total fiber and carbohydrate intake and other dietary factors from the surveys and questionnaires, such as glycemic index and load and sugar intake. Considering all of these measurements, researchers found fiber intake was by far the most important factor to successful aging, or reaching old age free of disease and disability. After 10 years, 15.5 percent of the participants were said to have a successful aging status. These individuals with higher fiber intake were nearly 80 percent more likely to live longer, healthier lives.
How Much Fiber Should You Eat?
The USDA cites that the majority of people are not consuming enough fiber. This is especially true for seniors. By now, we know fiber is important, but how much should we have?
According to the health and medical division experts from the Academy of Nutrition and Diabetics , men over the age of 50 should consume 30 grams of fiber per day, and women over 50 should have 21. It is also important for younger adults to have a diet rich in fiber. For those 50 years and younger, the recommended intake is calculated at 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women.
Most dietitians say your ratio of soluble versus insoluble fiber should be 25 percent to 75 percent—three parts insoluble to one part soluble. Most high-fiber foods contain both types of fibers, which means you can skip the dividing and calculating. Generally, your focus should be on consuming more fiber in general rather than thinking about what type it is. In most cases, five servings of fruit and vegetables and servings of whole grains each day should allow you to meet your daily fiber requirement. While supplements can aid you in reaching this goal, they should not be favored over fibrous foods.
Be sure to start slow when adding foods that are rich in fiber as snacks and meals because too much fiber too fast can potentially cause pain and discomfort. When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to drink plenty of water. This will keep fiber moving through the digestive tract. Additionally, try to avoid foods such as processed pastas and white breads . The refining process of these foods lowers the fiber content, taking the nutritional and health values out.
Fiber For a Healthier You
Adults today, especially those over the age of 50, do not get enough fiber in their daily diets. Instead of using supplements as a means to boost daily fiber intake, search for fiber-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, apples, grapefruit, oranges, and other fruits in addition to unprocessed whole grains. Eating these foods not only helps you achieve your goal of recommended daily fiber intake, but the fiber from them can prevent diseases and illnesses that come with age, including high cholesterol, diabetes, and even colorectal cancer.
Rough Up Your Diet
Fit More Fiber Into Your Day
Fiber—you know it’s good for you. But if you’re like many Americans, you don’t get enough. In fact, most of us get less than half the recommended amount of fiber each day.
Dietary fiber is found in the plants you eat, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It’s sometimes called bulk or roughage. You’ve probably heard that it can help with digestion. So it may seem odd that fiber is a substance that your body can’t digest. It passes through your digestive system practically unchanged.
“You might think that if it’s not digestible then it’s of no value. But there’s no question that higher intake of fiber from all food sources is beneficial,” says Dr. Joanne Slavin, a nutrition scientist at the University of Minnesota.
Fiber can relieve constipation and normalize your bowel movements. Some studies suggest that high-fiber diets might also help with weight loss and reduce the risk for cardiovascularThe system of heart and vessels that circulates blood through the body. disease, diabetes and cancer.
The strongest evidence of fiber’s benefits is related to cardiovascular health. Several large studies that followed people for many years found that those who ate the most fiber had a lower risk for heart disease. The links between fiber and cardiovascular health were so consistent that these studies were used by the Institute of Medicine to develop the Dietary Reference Intakes for fiber.
Experts suggest that men get about 38 grams of fiber a day, and women about 25 grams. Unfortunately, in the United States we take in an average of only 14 grams of fiber each day.
High fiber intake seems to protect against several heart-related problems. “There is evidence that high dietary fiber consumption lowers ‘bad’ cholesterolA waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to function normally. A high level in the blood, however, is a major risk factor for heart disease. concentrations in the blood and reduces the risk for developing coronary artery disease, stroke and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Somdat Mahabir, a nutrition and disease expert with NIH’s National Cancer Institute.
Fiber may also lessen the risk for type 2 diabetesA disease in which blood levels of glucose—a type of sugar—are too high., the most common form of diabetes. Fiber in the intestines can slow the absorption of sugar, which helps prevent blood sugar from spiking. “With diabetes, it’s good to keep glucose levels from peaking too much,” explains Dr. Gertraud Maskarinec of the University of Hawaii.
In a recent NIH-funded study, Maskarinec and her colleagues followed more than 75,000 adults for 14 years. Consistent with other large studies, their research found that diabetes risk was significantly reduced in people who had the highest fiber intake.
“We found that it’s mostly the fiber from grains that protects against diabetes,” Maskarinec says. However, she notes that while high fiber intake may offer some protection, the best way to reduce your risk of diabetes is to exercise and keep your weight in check.
Weight loss is another area where fiber might help. High-fiber foods generally make you feel fuller for longer. Fiber adds bulk but few calories. “In studies where people are put on different types of diets, those on the high-fiber diets typically eat about 10% fewer calories,” says Slavin. Other large studies have found that people with high fiber intake tend to weigh less.
Scientists have also looked into links between fiber and different types of cancer, with mixed results. Much research has focused on colorectal cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death nationwide. Protection against colorectal cancer is sometimes stronger when scientists look at whole-grain intake rather than just fiber. One NIH-funded study of nearly 500,000 older adults found no relationship between fiber and colorectal cancer risk, but whole-grain intake led to a modest risk reduction.
Different types of fiber might affect your health in different ways. That’s why the Nutrition Facts Panels on some foods list 2 categories of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber may help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. It’s found in oat bran, beans, peas and most fruits. Insoluble fiber is often used to treat or prevent constipation and diverticular disease, which affects the large intestine, or colon. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran and some vegetables.
Still, experts say the type of fiber you eat is less important than making sure you get enough overall. “In general, people should not be too concerned by the specific type of fiber,” says Mahabir. “The focus should be more on eating diets that are rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits to get the daily fiber requirement.”
Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are also packed with vitamins and other nutrients, so experts recommend that you get most of your fiber from these natural sources. “Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to pick low-fiber foods. They go for white bread or white rice. Most of the processed foods—foods that are really convenient—tend to be low in fiber,” says Slavin.
For people who have trouble getting in enough fiber from natural sources, store shelves are filled with packaged foods that tout added fiber. These fiber-fortified products include yogurts, ice cream, cereals, snack bars and juices. They generally contain isolated fibers, such as inulin, polydextrose or maltodextrin. These isolated fibers are included in the product label’s list of ingredients.
The health benefits of isolated fibers are still unclear. Research suggests they may not have the same effects as the intact fibers found in whole foods. For instance, there’s little evidence that isolated fibers help lower blood cholesterol, and they have differing effects on regularity. On the plus side, some studies suggest that inulin, an isolated fiber from chicory root, might boost the growth of good bacteria in the colon.
The bottom line is that most of us need to fit more fiber into our day, no matter what its source. “It would be great if people would choose more foods that are naturally high in fiber,” Slavin says.
Increase your fiber intake gradually, so your body can get used to it. Adding fiber slowly helps you avoid gas, bloating and cramps. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts to add a mix of different fibers and a wide range of nutrients to your diet. A fiber-rich diet can help your health in many ways.