Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How Much Fiber is Enough versus Too Much?

Hi, My doctor suggested I increase my fiber intake to help a terrible constipation problem I've been having. How much should I take in? And is there such a thing as too much fiber?  Thanks, Janice

Dear Janice,

Generally you can't go wrong with fiber, but there are a few exceptions. People with certain intestinal disorders or stomach ulcers must watch the types of fiber they eat, and avoid tough skins (like apples or cucumbers) and sometimes nuts and popcorn.  Other types of fiber, such as fiber one cereals, with 14 grams per serving, sometimes have "warning" labels encouraging plenty of water or milk to be consumed with the product. There have been cases of people consuming lots of fiber without enough water and getting "stopped up".

Those issues aside, the recommended fiber intake is 25-35 grams per day and it's pretty difficult to get there! Use whole-grain products like bread, cereals and pasta; include the skins when you eat apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables, and look for products with fiber added (usually breakfast cereals).

To further boost your intake you can take fiber supplements like Metamucil, Benefiber or Citrucel. Follow the instructions on the label and start out with just one serving per day to let your body acclimate. Otherwise discomfort from gas is more likely.

It would be interesting to note what your current fiber intake is, and then to see what adding 10 or 15 grams does for you! In addition to helping with constipation there is evidence it can also prevent some types of cancer, including cancer of the colon.

Be sure to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day. Fiber works to ease constipation because it bulks the stools, but it needs water to work (otherwise stools may still be on the dry side). And getting whatever kind of exercise you can (like walking a few miles each day) helps regular bowel movements too.

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