To eat fiber or not to eat fiber? That’s the question faced by people with digestive disorders.
On one hand, fiber is a key part of a daily diet. On the other hand, you may worry that foods with fiber can exacerbate the symptoms of digestive conditions such as IBS.
The truth is that eating fiber can help you with digestive troubles in different ways. It just depends on the type of fiber you consume. Let’s look at the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble Fiber Slows Things Down
How does fiber help with digestive disorders? Everyday Health puts it like this:
“Fiber is like an on-off switch as far as IBS is concerned,” according to Dr. Patricia Raymond of Gastrointestinal Consultants Ltd. in Virginia Beach, Va., and assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk.
“Soluble fiber attracts water to form a big, globby gel that will slowly creep down the digestive tract,” says Dr. Raymond.
This slows down digestion and decreases diarrhea by removing excess fluid. If your digestive disorders are causing diarrhea, you may want to eat soluble fiber-rich fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, blueberries, oranges, carrots and cucumbers.
What Is Insoluble Fiber?
If soluble fiber puts up a roadblock against diarrhea, then think of insoluble fiber as a traffic cop, helping moving things along in your digestive system when you feel constipated.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, and therefore stays intact.
“It basically adds bulk to the diet — it helps pull water into the colon,” Dr. Raymond told Everyday Health. This makes the fiber an effective laxative for people with digestive disorders. It’s beneficial for IBS sufferers who deal with constipation.
Foods with insoluble fiber include produce such as broccoli, cabbage, root vegetables, leafy greens, zucchini, grapes, and nuts. Breads and other grain products, brown rice, cereal, and foods with bran or rolled oats can also provide you with insoluble fiber.
Should I Up My Fiber Intake?
Fiber can help your digestive system run more smoothly, but adding too much fiber all at once at levels your body isn’t used to can leave you feeling bloated and gassy.
Again, from Dr. Raymond: “When you eat all these wonderful fruits and vegetables, you will develop some gas. Everybody has a settling in period with fiber and that’s just what it is.”
Eventually, your body will become used to the new higher fiber regime. It's a good idea to talk with your doctor about obtaining balance. To get more fiber, try to eat two cups of fiber-rich fruits and two-and-a-half cups of fiber-rich vegetables each day.
Replace fine grains and cereal and white bread and rice with whole grain breads and cereals, bran muffins, oatmeal and brown rice. Make changes gradually to make for an easier transition.
Finally, pay attention to labels when grocery shopping, looking for foods with at least five grams of fiber per serving.
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