As you likely know, dietary fiber is important for your health, especially for your cardiovascular system, metabolic flexibility, gut health, and the stabilization of blood glucose levels. The average male adult should take in about 30 to 38 grams of fiber a day and for women the recommendation is 21 to 25 grams. And although most people don’t eat enough fiber, consuming too much fiber—especially quickly and over a short period of time—can also be a problem.
Why, you ask? Well, most of the fiber you consume binds to water in the GI tract, which creates a big, soft bulk. The softer the bulk, the easier it passes through the GI tract. Problems arise, however, when there is too much fiber and not enough water. This lack of water can lead to hard bulky stools and the digestive problems that come with them.
Four signs you’re overdoing it on the fiber.
These are some of the signs and symptoms that you may be consuming too much fiber too quickly:
1. A change in bowel movements.
Excess fiber can cause constipation or diarrhea. Remember to think of fiber as bulk that attracts water in the GI tract. If you don’t have enough fluid in your system or you haven’t taken in adequate fluids, dehydration of the GI tract can occur, leading to hardening and difficulty passing the stools. This is especially common when the fiber is primarily soluble fiber like that found in oatmeal, beans, apples, strawberries, or blueberries.
Opposing symptoms, like diarrhea and loose stools, can occur when this bulk is made up of the insoluble fiber found in wheat, corn bran, leafy vegetables, broccoli, and tomatoes. Although adding insoluble fiber to your diet can be a good treatment for constipation, too much consumption of this type of fiber can lead to diarrhea and loose stools—especially if you up your intake all of a sudden, which will push the contents of your GI tract through more quickly.
2. Bloating and gas.
Consuming too much fiber can also create uncomfortable symptoms like bloating and excess production of gas. This most often happens when you eat too much fiber too quickly because most of the fiber won’t be digested or broken down while moving through the GI tract. As a result, bacteria that live in the colon digest some of the remaining fiber and create a gas by-product.
3. Abdominal pain.
Along with the change in bowel movements, gas, and bloating, cramping can also occur with too much fiber. This results from too much fiber causing digestion to slow down or stop.
4. Mineral deficiencies.
Fiber is a binding agent, meaning it can also bind to nutrients and cause them to be eliminated before the body has a chance to absorb them. This process most commonly affects iron, chromium, copper, zinc, and calcium absorption. According to some studies, it may be possible to offset this by ensuring that you consume adequate amounts of vitamin C and fish or animal protein.
Here’s what to do if fiber is causing you problems.
If you’re experiencing any or all of these symptoms, you may be eating too much fiber, consuming it too quickly, consuming the wrong kind of fiber, or be in need of some extra vitamin C and more protein. I suggest you try the following:
1. Do a test.
Try different sources of fiber slowly and at a low dose. If a certain type of fiber causes symptoms at the start, switch to a different source and see if the symptoms recur.
2. Slowly increase your intake.
If you tolerate small amounts of fiber, increase the amount every week or two. When you start experiencing a symptom, decrease the dose for a few weeks. Once the symptoms have been gone for a few weeks, try to slowly increase the dose again until you eventually reach the daily requirements.
3. Switch sources.
If you’re experiencing constipation, try switching to insoluble fiber. If you’re experiencing loose stools, try switching to soluble fiber.
4. Drink water.
As we learned earlier, the balance between water and fiber in the GI tract is crucial. Ensure that you’re drinking water with your intake of fiber—especially if your tendency is to get constipated.
This article originally appeared on mindbodygreen.com
Hello and thank you so much for posting this article!
I experienced various discomforts with IBS-C, indigestion, gas and bloating. Countless doctor visits and internet searches all told me he same thing – increase fiber and water.
Personally I’m a vegetarian who already eats A LOT of fiber, yet the doctors are set in their standard diagnoses, which is fair to some extent.
I realized eating mostly whole grains, hard to digest vegetables, and tons of fiber from beans and lentils all resulted in a life of struggle. I’ve since tried including soups, boiled/steamed carrots, broccoli, kale and so on while reducing whole grains.
Finally I found relief from my troublesome symptoms!
People like me who inherently follow a high fiber diet sometimes may need to take it down a notch. I appreciate you for making this information available to everyone out there. You’re a rock star! 🙂
Thank you for this article. I didn’t realize that although I thought I was doing the right thing with fiber, I was making matters worse.
Hopefully this will help!
Were you doing the right thing? There is a lot of confusion over fibre, and this article doesn’t help much.
The main thing to note is that ingesting fibre naturally (i.e. eating fruit, vegetables, grains etc) is never bad, and it is almost impossible to get too much that way. If fact, it is nearly impossible to get even enough that way – one would have to eat a fantastically healthy diet to get the recommended levels.
Eating foods with added fibre (e.g. breakfast cereals) or adding fibre to foods (e.g. pouring wheat germ on porridge) is not a good way to add fibre to our diets and should be considered only as a medical intervention.
The idea that we can lose nutrients by eating fibre (point 4 above) hints that the author is talking about a non-whole-foods diet. Eating more fruit, veg and grains means we increase our nutrient intake. We need the fibre AND the nutrients in natural foods, we should not have to choose. And we don’t, since natural foods are naturally balanced with the necessary nutrients.
If we wish to offset this supposed malnourishment, the suggestion above is to consume more vitamin C. But where do we get the vitamin C without fibre? In a pill. Supplements have their place, but are not a substitute for a healthy diet.
Adding animal foods to our diet will give a certain number of nutrients, but it will also add a lot of fat and cholesterol, which are far worse than even added fibre. To say that we should replace nutritious fibrous foods with animal proteins is saying that we prefer to risk heart attacks and strokes than risking bloating and gas. We can get used to a high fibre diet so our bodies no longer get bloated and gassy, but we cant get used to high blood pressure and cholesterol if we eat a high fat, high salt, low fibre, and low vitamin diet.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. It is always better to stick to a whole food, nutrient dense, nutrition plan. You are correct in saying supplements should only be used if necessary. Every body is different and if following a whole food nutrition plan with a balanced amount of fiber doesn’t work, it is best to work with your health care provider or nutritionist to discover the best solution.
Hello and how are you sentongo Musa is name at fast I had had stool with to much pain so doctor advised me to have some fiber foods of Wich I did in big number with same time then now am getting another problem of to much gas, watery stool ,and kind of costpetion because I don’t ease properly so leaving the toilet an sustified and confused.let tell you what I eat bananas together with any food also green vegtables in big sorry with my English and also ghava cado at the same time twice dairy and also in between hrs I eat too much fruits
I’m not sure I understand, but you may want to eat slightly less fiber and talk to your doctor about probiotics. You may also want to try a FODMAP diet (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fodmaps-101) to see if you are sensitive to certain foods.
Hello Dr. Eva, I am taking Celery Juice in the morning empty stomach. (juice of 250 gms Celery per day). I also eat Celery residue left after squeezing juice through a cloth. I mix Celery residue with one glass of water and gulp it down after two hours of drinking Celery Juice.
I would like to know best time to eat Celery residue.
I’m not sure, but try morning.
True because this costipetion happens whenever I go to the team and sweat too much
I didn’t know that overdoing fiber can have negative effects too. Thanks for sharing this.
Dr I have acid reflux . I was also told that I have a little colitis. I suffer from a lot of gas always bloating at times my bowels get loose and then it goes away. It’s hard for me to gain any weight because of my stomach problems. I do eat Raisin Bran a lot because I love it. I was wondering maybe I’m eating too much. If I could just get rid of this problem. The Dr has prescribe pepsin prescription. Now she gave me something cld protonix. Are they really helpful
You may be eating too much raisin bran and you may want to avoid gluten and dairy to see if that is a source of your problems. I would also look into adding a probiotic to improve the flora in your gut. Of course, check in with your doctor.
Thanks for sharing these signs!
What a great article. You answered my problem. If I had not read your article I would have went to thinking I had an allergy but, I know I eat a lot of fiber and it effected my uranary tract.
Glad it helped!
Thank you for all the info,,,,,, I have been so constipated for over a week so I took lots and lots of fibre magnesium Metamucil and stool softeners but nothing happened,,,, I was in so much pain. Until I talked to a friend and she said maybe because you are on weight watchers you are eating too much fibre. I went home and I thought she’s right everything was fibre and then more fibre thinking I would have a good bowel movement to get rid of my pain,,, I O,D . On fibre and needed lots of water or tea and finally., but I know That I have lots more stored in that long colon of mine, that’s my story ,,,,Maggie
That can absolutely happen Maggie. I hope you are feeling better now!
I’m lactose free, and I have celiac disease, I do not eat wheat. I suffer from constipation big time so I take Miralax
DR ordered. They keep saying take more if you need it it can’t hurt you. I followed their orders & you cannot believe the pain I was in. Couldn’t walk it hurt so bad & could not sleep for 3 whole nights & following that I slept very restlessly for 3 more nights. Afraid to take more of it so now I am taking milk of magnesia & using as absolutely as needed. Three times so far this week. Hope you can help me I doubt my DR’S can help me right away. Thank you.
It is certainly challenging to figure out what is best when you have celiac. Have you worked with someone to make sure you do not have leaky gut syndrome? If so, you can work towards healing the gut with probiotics, omega fish oil and possibly glutathione, which may help leaky gut and the autoimmune issues. I would definitely find a doctor who can help you manage this. It sounds like your gut microbiome needs to be restored and then make sure you are consuming the right foods that aren’t adding to the inflammation, but resolving it.
Thanks for sharing good information
I have a question for you. I have noticed that maybe I haven’t been drinking enough water or fluids. And I have been better about it; however, when I consume a lot of insoluble fiber, I seem to get constipated. Is there a reason for this?
Also, is there a way to avoid becoming dehydrated at night?
You may want to look into the fiber you are consuming. It may be that your body isn’t tolerating it. Maybe back off using the particular one you are using and see how your body responds. You may have food sensitivity that is causing a reaction. You may need to be on probiotics as well. Make sure you drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water a day. Hopefully, that will do that trick.
i got a box of fiber granola bars at costco and i ate the whole box
Thank you so much for this article. I have been fiber intolerant since I was a child. I was constantly sick and skinny as a nail, which was my nickname. My mother made us eat salad and fiber rich fruits and vegetables for every meal. I only felt well when I went to stay with my grandmother who made homemade comfort food – chicken pot pies, homemade casseroles, pot roast, apple pies, and on. And, she didn’t make me drink milk, which is something else I could not and can not tolerate. When I stayed with Granny, not only did she teach me how to sew, I gained at least five pounds. Later in life, I blew myself up trying to eat fiber and had to have a bowl resection. Fortunately, my doctor told me to leave the heavy fiber alone and eat what I felt like eating. I’m 69 now and am much better and I only eat what agrees with me and I’m not over or under weight. Never again will I try to eat a green pepper or brussel sprout. I do love broccoli – steamed and not raw.
So wonderful that you are paying attention to your body!
I have horrible constipation and I’ve been to 3 doctors. I just had a colonoscopy to check if there is a narrowing of sorts.
There was none and the doctor asked me to eat ground flax seed.
I think I am even worse now. I just bought dried figs and prunes and prune juice too.
After reading your article, I assume that I am eating too much insoluble fiber now. But I was constipated before too.
It is an ongoing battle.
77 year old women that consumes mainly fiber, mostly fruit, 2 cups of milk, sometime vegetables, and pumpkin flax cereal. I drink one cup of coffee a day and have a piece of fis or meat about 2-3 times a week.
My poop this last couple of months is pencil thin and a yellow brown color. Is this normal? I had a CT scan which was normal.
It is hard to say why stool changes if it’s been the same and your diet hasn’t changed. You may need a colonoscopy, but sometimes this happens because of lack of hydration.
Great blog post.
I tend to think I eat (what I hope/think is) a healthy diet, with lots of raw sprouts that I grow: broccoli sprouts, red cabbage sprouts, radish sprouts, turnip sprouts, buckwheat sprouts, lentil sprouts, pea sprouts, every day. Next to that I eat things such as avocado, cooked black rice, nuts, a lot of fresh herbs, etc. So a lot of insoluble fiber I would think.
I used to have good bowel movements 2-3 times per day, but recently I ended up with major stomach pain and bloating. The situation got so out of hand I was unable to walk, sit, sleep, and was crying from pain for days. All of a sudden my bowel movements had stopped. My GP prescribed a laxative that didn’t work and then send me to the hospital. They did a CT scan to rule out kidney stones (something I really like to avoid, obviously but I was in tremendous pain and on pain killers by now). Turned out as the doctor said that there were a tremendous amount of faeces stuck in my intestinal tract. So much so, that she thought this was not just a recent problem. I felt pretty stupid at that moment!
I did notice in the past that part of the lentils I that ate seemed not to have digested; does that mean it’s better to avoid eating lentils altogether? The foods that are part of my staple diet, I eat because of their supposed health benefits, and lentils have been a daily staple food. I’m just not sure whether once you notice some foods in your diet usually are not digested fully, it is a sign it may be better to stop eating them altogether.
I do know I never want to end up in this situation anymore as the pain was really intense, and I want to avoid having to take laxatives. At the same time I don’t want to stop eating a healthy diet with a lot of raw food, as studies show that most cooked foods are lower in interesting phenolic compounds/flavonoids (tomatoes being the exception).
Thanks a lot!
I think the key will be moderation for you when it comes to the raw foods you love, and I do think you might find your digestive system is happier if you do cook/steam your vegetables, not completely through, but enough to make the digestive process easier on your gut. I hope that helps!
Amazing Benefits of eating high fiber foods .
Thanks for sharing. I found recently I was having horrible gas and stomach upset. I was very irregular and going from constipation to diarrhea all in one day! I was starting to think I had IBS or some sort of condition. But the timing didn’t make sense. I had recently cut all added sugar from my diet and started eating more clean. After a little research I realized I was eating too much fiber and the spinach I was putting in my daily protein shakes was the #1 offender. I would immediately bloat and have problems the rest of the day. Since omitting this ingredients I don’t bloat and have actually become more regular! There is such thing as “too healthy” I guess!
Everyone is different! Good you are getting to know your body and your needs!