How To Boost Your Fiber Intake Without Bloating

Fiber has several benefits, but quickly upping your intake can cause bloating and other GI distress.

In the United States, most people do not eat enough fiber. Yet, fiber is an essential nutrient that adds bulk to your meals, promotes bowel regularity, and might lower cholesterol. Upping your fiber intake has several benefits.

However, many people who quickly boost their fiber intake notice bloating, and their abdomens feeling uncomfortably tight and full. Fiber may make you bloat because your body cannot fully digest it. 

In response, your body produces bacteria that can break down and ferment fiber, creating gas as a byproduct. That gas builds up in your stomach and intestines, causing bloating.

Although, keep in mind that some bloating is natural. For example, while fiber can cause bloating, changing hormones may also result in a distended abdomen.

What Is Fiber?

Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate derived from plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. During digestion, the body cannot fully break down fiber. 

There are two types of fiber, known as soluble and insoluble fibers. During digestion, soluble fiber binds with water and becomes a gel. That gel slows digestion.  

Sources of soluble fiber include:

  • Oat brain
  • Barley
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables

In contrast, insoluble fiber speeds digestion. Sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, and vegetables.  

Benefits of Fiber

In the United States, many people do not eat a lot of fiber in their diets. However, adding soluble and insoluble fibers to your diet has several benefits, such as:

  • Adds bulk to your meals
  • Satiates your appetite 
  • Helps manage your weight
  • Promotes bowel regularity by helping with digestion

Fiber might help treat health conditions like diverticulosis, diabetes, and heart disease. For example, high blood sugar is a risk factor for diabetes, and fiber can manage your blood sugar by slowing sugar absorption. Also, soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol, which might protect against heart disease.

Why Does Fiber Make You Bloat?

Although fiber has many benefits, many people who quickly boost their fiber intake have bloating. Bloating happens when gas builds up in the stomach and intestines, causing you to feel abdominal pressure. In the United States, about 20% of people have bloating.

One study published in 2020 in Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology noted that increased fiber intake is a common cause of bloating. Since the body cannot fully break down fiber, your GI system produces certain bacteria to break down and ferment it. Gas is a byproduct of that process.

In addition to bloating, quickly increasing your fiber intake may cause gas, constipation, diarrhea, and cramps. Therefore, slowly adding fiber to your diet is key to avoiding those side effects.

How To Increase Your Fiber Intake

The National Institutes of Health advises that women consume 25 grams of fiber daily, while men aim for 38 grams. However, most people in the United States only eat 16 grams daily.

To increase your fiber intake, start slowly: Let your body get used to fiber in small amounts rather than loading up on fiber all at once. Gradually increasing your fiber intake helps avoid bloating and other GI distress. 

As your digestive system adjusts, remember that foods with soluble fiber produce more gas than foods with insoluble fiber. Your body needs both types of fiber. With time, you can find high-fiber foods that agree with you. Try incorporating as much variety as possible.

Also, a diet rich in carbohydrates rather than protein may help alleviate bloating while upping your fiber intake. For example, the 2020 Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology study found that people who ate a high-fiber, high-protein diet were 40% more likely to have bloating than those who ate a high-fiber, high-carb diet. The researchers noted that carbs might play a role in altering gut bacteria that increase gas.

Staying hydrated with eight glasses of water daily can help reduce bloating, as well. Additionally, removing the peels from fruits and vegetables can slightly reduce your fiber intake.

A Quick Review

Fiber is an essential nutrient that adds bulk to your meals, promotes bowel regularity, and might lower cholesterol. However, quickly upping your fiber intake causes bloating. To avoid bloating and other GI distress, slowly add fiber to your diet and drink plenty of water.

Health's medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is an associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and a cofounder of TULA Skincare.

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  4. MedlinePlus. Dietary fiber.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fiber: The carb that helps you manage diabetes.

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