Fact: many folks do not consume enough fiber. The recommended daily fiber intake is 25–30 grams for healthy adults. However, in the United States, many people consume closer to 15 grams a day.
But because I am a vegan who consumes a diet primarily of whole foods, I realized I was eating too much fiber. Indeed, eating a vegan diet puts us at an increased chance of exceeding the recommended fiber intake. Can there be too much of a good thing?
You may be eating too much fiber if you experience:
Bloating and abdominal pain
Flatulence, loose stools, or diarrhea
Constipation and weight gain
Yikes, yucky stuff, I know. But the good thing is its easy to turn it around! First, lets take a look at what fiber specifically is.
Dietary fiber is basically plant material that cannot be broken down in our digestive tracts. Fiber is either water-soluble or water-insoluble, but these are different in the following ways:
Soluble fibers absorb water during digestion. In turn, this adds “bulk” to stools, ideally making them easier to pass. Additionally, soluble fiber promotes healthy blood cholesterol levels and decreases the risk of developing diabetes or heart disease. Soluble fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, barley, and oats.
Insoluble fibers don’t absorb water during digestion. Rather, they remain unchanged which can help facilitate movement of the intestines. Found in fruits with edible peels, vegetables, whole grains, bulgur, rolled oats, brown rice, and corn meal.
How can too much fiber cause constipation?
I’m working to wrap my head around this as well! But research indicates high fiber intake can cause constipation. The researchers conclude that “previous strongly-held belief that the application of dietary fiber to help constipation is but a myth. Our study shows a very strong correlation between improving constipation and its associated symptoms after stopping dietary fiber intake.” They posit that constipation is the difficulty of passing stools, and adding bulk through fiber doesn’t help. If you want the gory details of how that works mechanically, click through the study.
What to do if you’re eating too much fiber:
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms on a whole-food vegan diet, it is worth considering that perhaps your fiber intake is too high. I know mine personally was. I favor fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and tofu, while largely leaving grains off my plate. And in theory, this sounds super healthy, right? Well actually, I may have been doing more harm than good. Consuming too much fiber can cause mineral deficiencies because it may hinder absorption of key nutrients.
If you’re in the same boat, increase your fluid and exercise levels. Consider reducing fiber intake until your symptoms subside. Once you’re feeling better, it is safe to gradually reintroduce fiber-rich foods, but remember to continue incorporating foods with less fiber content to maintain a healthy balance. For me, this has meant more rice and noodles, and less potatoes. But for you it may mean something totally different. As long as we continue listening to our bodies and educating ourselves, well, I’d say we’re winning.
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