I type this article with trepidation because no one likes to hear the words flatulence, diarrhea, and bloating. While these words are commonly used in my professional life, it’s not exactly table conversation. When seeing patients though, it’s inevitable to discuss bowel habits and the importance of fiber. The more I think about it, everyone does seem to talk about poop and fiber. I didn’t anticipate my career to take this turn. Nevertheless, fiber seems to be misunderstood. Modern food manufacturing processes – especially in the low-carb industry – have brought a high level of dysfunction into lives needlessly. Therefore, I think it’s important to discuss some common fiber myths.
Myth #1 – Fiber is needed for every meal
Fiber is necessary for bowel function. Too little of it and it can lead to constipation or bouts of diarrhea – two sides of the same coin. When one’s intake consists of low-fiber foods, it’s often associated with increased cases of inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. There’s even known links to heart disease because a low-fiber diet usually indicates someone is eating an excessive amount of sugar and fat. To illustrate the benefits of fiber, see it as a broom for your gastrointestinal (GI) system. It increases bulk, softens stool, and shortens transit time through the body. Too much fiber though can create impaction, leading to a serious medical issue. Conversely, too much fiber can make diarrhea probable when a binding agent, such as starch can’t do their job. Too much chronic abuse of fiber can ultimately lead to inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and colitis. I suggest eating a good serving of vegetables in a couple meals and a serving or two of fruit per day. Generally speaking, 25-35 grams a day of fiber is sufficient unless a known GI issue or food intolerance exists. Fiber supplements may be needed, but self-experimentation and journaling are important to connect any symptoms to the foods you’re eating.
Myth #2 – Eat a wholefood diet if you have a sensitive GI system
While I don’t condone the intake of a macrobiotic-rich diet, it seems everyone who endures GI distress thinks, or is told, to eat more and more vegetables. Nothing could be worse frankly. Because of the raw roughage and complex, hard-to-digest grains, it will create more GI inflammation, thus worsening one’s symptoms. Try limiting raw vegetables, and you might need to decrease the size and frequency. Eat small amounts of steamed vegetables instead. Starch is a friend to someone who has inflammatory bowel issues, but fiber is still necessary. It just means the balance may need to be tilted towards the more soluble type of fiber.
Myth #3 – To lose weight, ALL of your carbs should be fibrous
Here’s the reason why fiber is so popular and mainstream – to aid in weight loss. Let’s establish one thing, your body needs starch (carbs), even when dieting. Cutting out carbs completely will reduce your metabolism faster and increase muscle catabolism (breakdown) more than other dieting method. However, those who get caught in this trap miss the opportunity to include more satisfying, more anabolic (muscle building), and more metabolic complex starch sources. Don’t get caught up and deceived by misinformation. Include those whole-grain pastas, breads, rice, quinoa, potatoes, oats, and many more. Dare I even say have a Reese’s cup or white rice as long it fits the context of your goals and macronutrient requirements.
Myth #4 – For better regularity, eat more vegetables; it’s normal to have gas and bloating
Lets say it together: too much fiber is too much fiber. While most avoid fruit because of the carbs, the fiber found in most fruit is extremely helpful with stool formation. However, the need for increased fat in one’s diet can also help with regularity. Flaxseed oil is a favorite for its omega-3 fatty acid qualities, and a small serving or two per day can be the ticket to stimulate GI movement.
When polysaccharides can’t be digested in the upper GI tract, the bacteria of the lower GI tract consume and ferment them, and the byproduct is methane gas. Not only is it annoying, it’s inflammatory. How often do you hear others blame their protein shake, or assume it’s normal? No one realizes the things we can’t digest are causing the inflammatory process. You do have options though. Consider cheap protein, soy, legumes, harsh vegetable fiber, nasty filler fiber in low-carb products, and lactose as primary offenders and cut them out. Take every processed food out of your diet and start adding one thing in at a time and you will find there are some items you can consume in small amounts, but there is a limited amount of digestibility. Some foods are better completely avoided.
Not too often does a person have upper GI issues to the point he or she feels bloated with a normal-sized meal. When you eat a meal, everything is pushed along all 20 feet of your intestinal tract. Food in, food out. Because food is shifted further after eating, the methane gas production and discomfort felt is happening at the other end, not in your stomach. It normally takes 18 to 24 hours, or longer, for a complete digestion cycle. When you feel bloated after a meal, it’s the meal you consumed 18 to 24 hours earlier. Track that meal accordingly and identify any possible offenders. The exception to this is when a strong allergic reaction is caused or an irritant is consumed, but I assure you you won’t be worried about the gas and bloating because you’ll be sprinting to the nearest bathroom.
All kidding aside, bowel health is serious and suffering doesn’t have to be part of good health or weight loss. There are no quick fixes, and never settle for cliché, cookie-cutter diet plans that leave you hunched over.