Hi Sweet Friends,
Sometimes when folks add more veggies and fiber-filled foods to their plate, their digestive system doesn’t cooperate very well and uncomfortable physical issues crop up. These not-so-awesome bathroom trips and embarrassing gassy moments have given fiber a bad name. But fiber really is your friend — you just have to get to know it a little better and learn a few simple fiber guidelines. Today, I hope to mend any grudges you have against fiber and show you how to live in harmony with it. C’mon, give fiber a chance!
What is fiber?
Quite simply, fiber is plant roughage — the part of veggies, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and seeds that resists digestion. So why would you go out of your way to eat things that just come out anyway? For precisely that reason. Fiber helps clean out your digestive system and get rid of things (namely extra hormones, cholesterol, toxins and waste) that shouldn’t be there.
Fiber also provides a plethora of other health benefits, including proper colon health and intestinal bacterial balance. In addition, fiber-rich foods are essential for a strong immune system, faster metabolism and weight control, diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention, beautiful skin and better overall health. Are you beginning to see why I’m so passionate about fiber?
What’s the difference between soluble & insoluble fiber?
Insoluble fiber has a laxative effect and is found in fruit and vegetable skins, wheat, wheat bran, rye and rice. It doesn’t readily dissolve in water so it adds to fecal bulk (poop mass). It’s crucial for hearty, healthy bowel movements, which should be excreted at least once or twice a day.
Soluble fiber absorbs liquid, swells and is readily digested by intestinal bacteria. It ferments and produces gases in the digestive tract. I know this doesn’t sound so sexy, but it’s very important for colon health. Soluble fiber creates a feeling of fullness and is the kind of fiber responsible for lowering LDL “lousy” cholesterol. You have to look a little harder for soluble fiber in the diet, but champions include chia seeds, flax seeds, oats, oat bran, barley, beans, lentils, psyllium and most fruits — especially berries.
How much fiber do you need to eat?
There’s a big difference between how much fiber the average person is eating and how much they should be eating for optimal health. The recommended intake for disease prevention is 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories consumed, which averages to at least 38 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women. Many health authorities, however, recommend eating even more fiber to better your chances of overall health and wellness. However, the average American fiber intake is about half of what’s recommended — 16-18 grams of a day for men and 12-14 grams per day for women.
And let’s not leave out the kiddos! Kids eat less food and should naturally have less fiber in their diet. But, fiber is still important for their overall health, and it’s important for them to have a mix of insoluble fiber-rich veggies, wheat bran, and rice as well as soluble fiber-rich beans, seeds and berries. Loose stools are often the first sign that a child may be getting too much fiber, or an improper balance of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Why does fiber cause gas and indigestion?
Too much added fiber, too fast
An increase in total fiber, especially a jump too quickly can cause gas and bloating. But, it’s really the fermentation of soluble fiber in the colon that produces these issues. Soluble fiber hits the colon undigested, and when the gut bacteria works to break it down, gas results. A-ha! This is why the childhood song pokes fun at beans as the “musical fruit” and not lettuce — beans have a great deal of soluble fiber, lettuce has mostly insoluble fiber. Keep in mind that beans or no beans, it is actually normal to pass gas 13-21 times a day. Yes, I said it’s normal. Fart-tastic!
Irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders affect how much gas moves through the intestinal tract and can increase intestinal gassiness as well as bloating and painful discomfort. Like anyone new to a high-fiber diet, folks with sensitive or otherwise challenged digestive systems should increase fiber intake slowly and ensure a mix of both insoluble and soluble fiber-rich foods.
Soluble fiber like the kind found in chia seeds and flax seeds helps to soften stools and make happy bowel movements with minimal discomfort. Raw vegetables and cruciferous vegetables may provide special challenges for those with digestive disorders. If this is the case, eating smaller quantities or cooking veggies thoroughly may give some relief.
You’re not drinking enough water
To avoid constipation (which often goes along with extra gas and bloating), be sure to increase fluid intake as you increase fiber intake. If you’re dehydrated, your body pulls water from your food waste, making your poop more difficult to pass. Women need (on average) at least 2 liters of water a day and men need at least 3 liters a day. You can also calculate this by dividing your body weight in half and drinking that quantity of water in ounces (a person who weighs 200 pounds needs to drink 100 ounces water daily).
The rest of the culprits
Eating too fast, smoking, chewing gum, not chewing your food thoroughly, drinking carbonated beverages, eating lactose found in dairy products, even chowing on too much fructose (fruit sugar), and loading up on too many raffinose-heavy foods like beans, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage can increase gas production. In case you’re curious, raffinose is a hard-to-digest sugar. Kombu (a seaweed) helps break it down, therefore making it easier to digest. (I share my tip for using kombu while cooking below.)
A diet too high in fatty foods can also increase bloating and digestive discomfort. Fatty foods (even of the healthier fat variety) slow down stomach emptying and lower the transit time of foods through the digestive system. This gives the body extra time to get gassy and uncomfortable.
I love this Kris, so incredibly informative – I just love how you give us the scoop on things in such a way that it empowers us to incorporate and apply the knowledge into our days… I so love that!! Thanks so much.
I love this article! You make it so doable. I am going to try adding in more water, and cooking beans with kombu this week. I would love to hear sometime if you have any thoughts on food combining, and whether that effects gas?
Food combining definitely makes a huge difference for me! I think that’s why I still have problems with “beans”; they’re both starch and protein…. Following the Body Ecology Diet principles has helped me tremendously;)
U rock. Always
Nicely put, succinct and funny!
The most difficult thing in taking care of myself and my family is being consistent and compliant.
One grocery trip will create amazing tasty and healthy meals, snacks and juices… then the next one done in haste creates crap-tastic meals or the craziness of our weekly schedule results in rotted and wasted produce adding guilt to the mix.
In a dream scenario, we would have a person dedicated to buying our groceries, making our meals and directing us in fun physical activity daily. That would take the stress of planning off my plate and allow me to work and play with my 4 kiddos and my hottie husband.
I need to own it though… it needs to be a priority in my life.
Your inspiration helps.
You took the words right out of my mouth Ivy 😉
I will definintely try the kombu with beans. Thanks.
Kombu for beans really works! It’s been saving our butts for years 🙂
It feels like you’ve been hearing me complain! I started a vegan diet (too much too soon) and had so many “issues” that after four months returned to bad habits! I’ve been searching for an answer. I truly appreciate you tackling a sensitive topic w great advice (pace yourself and the kombu are happening immediately) in a frank and informative manner! Yay!
Thank you so much Kris for the tips.All your articles are simple to understand,so insightful and make healthy eating easy to follow.God bless.
I LOVE Crazy Sexy Kitchen! Does the tip for beans and kombu apply to Edens canned beans or just dried beans??
Hi Meg, I eat Eden Organic canned beans and they are pre-cooked and packed with kombu, so you wouldn’t likely need to add extra.
Perfect! Thank you.
I love this information I have been working on eating and living healthier this past year. the information really helps. Keep up the good info. Thank You so much Pam
Thank you Kris for this incredibly helpful article. You are right there for me when I need you the most. I’ve been suffering with chest pains for over a year now. They come and last about three days and then go. This January I did your 21 day cleanse but I knew my system was just not working right and I was constipated quite often. I just had a heart cauterization done and a stent was placed by my cardiologist. I thought my chest pains would be over but not so–even worse. I added fiber to my diet and have had some success with eliminating constipation but now the chest pains are worse. I sleep on a wedge pillow at night (if you can call it sleep) and am just beginning to feel better after I cut the fiber intake in down. Your article encourages me to stay with it and give my body time to adjust. Thanks!!!
Great article! I checked an online list of foods and fiber grams and I am getting enough, so that is good! I did not know that pineapple was probiotic. Also, I had never heard of “kombu”, and that adding it to beans when cooking would alleviate gassiness. Great tips! I learned a lot. Thank you so much!!
Your article covers the subject of fiber better than any I’ve ever read. The simple, yet, thorough way you explain everything makes it a cinch to understand. Helping us remember certain medical terms using familiar terms like “lousy” for LDL helps me tremendously!
I’ve “ear” witnessed a yoga pose (during a group class) that helps with gas and its name is so appropriate, wind breaking pose, pulling your knees into your chest.
My new mantra will be “Eat more beans”!
a big thank u for all of ur valuable info
Thanks so much Kris! This information is really helpful. With my IBS, and dairy, gluten sensitivity, raw veggies of any kind are on me. Do you know if steaming, or microwaving broccoli or other veggies sucks the nutrient value out of them? What about baking kale for kale chips? I wonder sometimes if there are any nutrients left in the veggies after all that. Also.. what about essential enzymes? I was told by a local nutritionist that taking them before eating would help with gas with raw fruits and veggies.
Thanks for all you do. Love your show in Hay house radio!
Try cooking your veggies in a pressure cooker, it will keep the nutrients but will make it easier on your IBS.
Such a timely post, Kris! I’ve been adding more raw foods to my diet lately and have noticed a steady increase in gassiness. I will definitely try out some of your tips to see what works and what doesn’t. Thank you! I had no idea about soluble and insoluble fibers or that fats cause gas. I will absolutely keep these things in mind going forward.
Kris I love you! A few of us are still anxiously awaiting a response about your famous vegan reuben recipe you mentioned last week. Please please whenever you have a chance. My mouth is watering already!
Using essential oil of Peppermint ,in two ways.One by licking a drop or two and chase it with a glass of warm to hot water or out 2-3 drops on the belly button in circular fashion ,and if the gas is really bad put a wash cloth that was soaked in hot water over the belly button after the oil application . The heat will disperse the aroma within the digestive tract quickly. Either one works instantly .
Your articles are the best, Kris! Humor with great content is just what I needed this morning. I’m sharing this article (fully attributed, of course 🙂 with the women in my ‘Body Wise: women, weight & wisdom’ group today. And telling them to get in gear and sign up for your blog. Thanks g’zillions! ~Thea
Great information. My husband and I both struggle with getting enough fiber in our diet. I had a hunch that my husband needs more fiber than I do and as I have read, it is true!
More than a year ago I found out that the reason I had been sick most of my short life (25 years) was that I’m hypoglycemic (low blood sugar). Naturally I was addicted to sugar big time- but it was causing my problems. So I went on the low GI diet not eating anything sugar or that would turn into sugar quickly in my stomach. After about a year (emotional as heck) I didn’t crave sugar anymore and I was feeling much better.
I started thinking about getting my PH levels into the green and that’s when I found Crazy Sexy Diet! I was only planning on reading the section about PH, but I had casually started to read your intro and got hooked reading from cover to cover. So to make my life more interesting I went from gluten, sugar, alcohol, and starch free to adding less dairy and meat products. I’m also making green smoothies, not every day but usually at least a few times a week so far.
In the past couple of weeks I have cut out dairy entirely to see if it’s causing my numerous black head bumps on my forehead. Now I can’t remember the last time my stools weren’t loose. I’m eating mostly Quinoa, steel cut oats, bulgar, beans, lots of salads and fresh veg, apples & grapefruit, seeds & nuts along with a little bit of flesh as you would put it 😉 So my question is: how do I get my stools to firm up a bit? From reading the artical Tips to Live in Harmony with High Fiber Foods I’m guessing I might need to eat more insoluble fiber?
Thank you for all the great info and awareness you put out there!
Bridget, try adding vegetable stews cooked with oil. Chewing thoroughly until food is luquified is very important also. Try these and observe how you feel. I bet you will see some drastic improvement.
Bridget, it sounds like you get plenty of fibre. There is never one magic bullet answer that works the same way for everyone. It sounds like you have made many positive changes in your life & made a serious commitment to your health. Try not to get frustrated, patience is a must, it took 25 years to get here! If you are already eating a healthy, mostly plant balanced diet which includes plenty of fibre and still having some health issues then it may be a good idea to seek professional advice from a qualified natural health care practitioner, like a Naturopathic Dr. or Holistic Nutritionist etc. that can narrow down the focus on where you may be experiencing underlying imbalances. In the mean time, you may want to start taking a good quality probiotic if you are not already doing so, and add cabbage juice and un-pasteurized sauerkraut to your daily menu. Cabbage is very healing for the gut and the sauerkraut with also be loaded with enzymes & good bacteria. Keep discovering what works for your body and your life. Good luck! 🙂