Fiber is an essential nutrient. However, many Americans fall short of the recommended daily amount in their diets. Women should aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should target about 38 grams, or 14 grams for every 1,000 calories. Your fiber intake is a good gauge for overall diet quality.
The idea that more fiber is always better is one of those persistent nutrition myths that has been drilled into us for decades. When someone decides to go on a ‘health kick’ they often start by loading up on the salads, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and legumes because fiber! Only to experience tons of gas, bloating, constipation and heartburn a few days in.
While adding ‘roughage’ to our diet is often recommended, there are some potential downsides to that:
👉 Harsh fibers can be very irritating for our gut, damaging the gut lining.
👉 Your body has to expend a lot of energy to move all this bulk that provides no energy in return.
👉 When too much fiber sits in the gut for too long, it can ferment, causing gas, bloating and acid reflux.
👉 Just think about it: is making something bigger really the solution when you are trying to pass it through a small hole?
This is not to say that all fiber is bad. But overdoing greens and grains especially when your gut is not in an optimal state can end up making you feel worse. I like to stick to more gentle fibers. These include fruit fibers and those from very well cooked vegetables. If your gut is in a good place, you can probably handle more fiber with less problems.
So why the raw carrot salad then? Raw carrots are unique in that they have their own defense’s against bacteria and fungi (ever noticed how much longer you can keep carrots in your fridge compared to other veggies?). The fiber in carrots can bind toxins produced by bacteria and carry it out rather than increasing the amount produced.
Fiber rich food sources are veggies like carrots, peppers, asparagus, bamboo shoots, cooked leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, fresh arugula. Fruits like apples, berries, oranges, plums, prunes, and avocado.
When increasing fiber, be sure to do it gradually and with plenty of fluids. As dietary fiber travels through the digestive tract, is similar to a new sponge; it needs water to plump up and pass smoothly. If you consume more than your usual intake of fiber but not enough fluid, you may experience nausea or constipation.
The fiber argument is nuanced. We can’t really make blanket statements about fiber because it really depends on the type of fiber, the state of the individual’s gut, what else they are eating, etc. The best way to determine your fiber threshold is to pay attention to how your body reacts and adjust as necessary.