Increasing fiber intake is one of the most popular treatments for IBS. Although your fiber intake might not be ideal, it’s unlikely that it’s causing your irritated bowel. By now you’ve probably already figured that out. However, there are many good reasons to get fiber in your diet, so it’s worth discussing. Below you will find some good information about fiber that will increase your understanding about this important component of food.
Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
Fiber can be soluble, meaning that it partially dissolves in water, or insoluble, meaning that it doesn’t. Although neither type typically cures IBS, soluble fiber (which is also called viscous fiber, and is found in foods such as oatmeal, okra, or legumes, such as garbanzo beans) can be helpful in treating IBS symptoms, especially constipation and diarrhea. Insoluble fiber is more of a “scratchy” fiber; it adds bulk to the stool. A good example of insoluble fiber is celery.
Soluble fiber forms a thick gel that helps to properly form the stool in the digestive tract and move it through the bowel; it also adds bulk to the stool. Because it slows the stool’s transit time, it helps to prevent diarrhea. Soluble fiber also prevents constipation, because the colon becomes filled with gel, as opposed to being clenched tightly around dry, hard stools. Basically, fiber moves bulk through the intestines and helps to balance the pH (acidity) level in the intestines. It is also helps to keep healthy the good bacteria that live in your digestive tract. In particular, one type of plant fiber, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), feed these good bacteria. You can supplement your diet with FOS, which are available on our Digestive Aids and Healing Products Page.
Recommended Fiber Intake
The USDA recommends that adults take in a minimum of 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily, and soluble fiber should account for one-third to one-half of the total. As many as 60 grams of fiber per day is required for optimal health. If you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables as well as at least five servings of grain products per day, you are very likely meeting your fiber requirements. Unfortunately, the typical American eats only 10 to15 grams of fiber daily.
One serving of vegetable is 1/2 cup cooked vegetable or 1 cup of a raw leafy vegetable (like spinach). One serving of fruit is one medium sized apple, pear, or 1/2 cup berries. One serving of grain is 1/2 cup cooked grain.
Most foods that are high in fiber have a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Because the average diet contains three times as much insoluble as soluble fiber, it is best to focus on foods that are higher in soluble fiber. These include grains such as pasta, oatmeal, rice, and soy; vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and yams; and fruits such as bananas, papayas, and avocados.
The problem, however, with recommending a generic list of high-fiber foods is that individuals may have an intolerance to one or more of them. If you have a problem with soy, wheat, gluten, or the like, then increasing your consumption of these foods may actually make your symptoms worse.
To learn more about fiber please refer to the book, The Irritable Bowel Syndrome Solution.