Do I need more fibre?
Fibre is such a key nutrient for so many health goals, but there are times when you need to scale fibre back to keep your gut healthy. Let’s look at when you might need more fibre, less fibre, or to troubleshoot how to tolerate it better.
Quick refresher on where we find fibre:
Fibre is only found in plant foods. The biggest natural sources tend to be:
- Dark leafy greens
- Beans and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans, green peas, etc.)
- Seeds (chia, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.)
- Some (in varying amounts) in all veggies and fruits
- Whole grains like quinoa, popcorn (or regular corn), wild rice, farro, whole grain breads etc.
You Might Need Less Fibre If:
If one of these applies to you, you should probably get to the bottom of what is going on with your gut with the support of a Dietitian or other specialized health professional before ramping up fibre any further. Being able to tolerate more fibre will help build a healthy gut once you get it calm and happy.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease with active flare ups (Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis etc)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Diarrhea dominant or mixed (constipation and diarrhea)
- Bloating in the upper abdomen (feels more below the chest as opposed to low down between the hips) – this MAY (not always) indicate an issue like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, and too much fibre may actually worsen the issue until we eradicate the bad bacteria.
- Uncomfortable and frequent bloating despite regular poops – this indicates IBS, potential imbalance in your gut bacteria or some other issue that should be resolved before driving up fibre arbitrarily. More fibre in this situation will just add more fuel to the fire, and make you more uncomfortable.
If one of these applied to you, try these things:
- Gently and gradually increasing fibre every couple weeks to allow your gut bacteria to adjust
- Experimenting with soluble fibre like chia, flax or psyllium in small amounts. It causes less fermentation and is gentler on the gut.
- Increasing fluid, without it the fibre may actually have the opposite of your intended effect and cause discomfort, bloating and gas.
You’ll notice I didn’t suggest adding a probiotic right away. Probiotics are actually very strain specific as far as how and what they help, and adding a random one often does more harm than good.
Start with food first, and then see your Dietitian or use an evidence based tool like Probiotic Chart to pick something targeted to your specific issues. Marketing of supplements is much like marketing of breakfast cereals, eye catching and convincing but not necessarily in your best interest.
You Might Need More Fibre If:
- Constipation – either going less than daily, or poops aren’t soft and easy to pass.
- Bloating or gas alongside less frequent or harder poops
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes
- Trying to lose weight
- Trying to lower Cancer risk (fibre is implicated as protective in a huge range of cancers from colon to breast).
- Unstable or really up and down energy throughout the day – more fibre at meals will stabilize and steady blood sugar.
- Getting hungry every couple hours
If you’re trying to increase fibre, make sure you do so gradually. I recommend starting at about 25% more veggies or fruits each week if you’re having digestive issues to help your gut adjust and keep discomfort at a minimum. Don’t forget to keep those fluids coming to help it do its job!
If you have been struggling with bloating or discomfort when you add fibre and plant foods, you may benefit from trialling a low FODMAP diet. You can find out if its right for you, and how to avoid the common pitfalls here.
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