Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects a staggering 25 to 45 million people in the U.S.
And if you suffer from this common problem, chances are that your doctor has told you to make sure you eat more fiber.
But that advice is only partially correct.
Because, as a recent study in the medical journal GUT pointed out, if you don’t get the RIGHT KIND or RIGHT AMOUNT of fiber, your IBS symptoms could get much worse!
So, let’s talk about the different types of fiber. And then, I’ll share with you five tips for how to SAFELY add them into your diet…
Soluble versus insoluble fiber
As I discussed in the very first issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Dietary fiber: Cancer cure—or cause?”), the REAL guidelines on dietary fiber aren’t as straightforward as your doctor makes them sound.
Yes, moderate amounts help regulate your digestive system and “keep it moving,” so to speak. But there are TWO kinds of fiber: Soluble and insoluble. And you need just the right amount of both.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, so it’s easier for your body to digest. It’s found in bran, barley, beans, lentils, nuts, oats, peas, seeds, and some fruits and vegetables. Research has associated soluble fiber with better blood sugar control and lower fats in the blood (lipids).
Meanwhile, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It’s found in the outer, bran layer of whole grains and in the skin of many whole fruits and vegetables. (That’s why I always recommend eating the skin of fruits and vegetables.)
Insoluble fiber helps bulk up your stools, pushing the waste through your intestines in a timely manner. The fibers actually act like little “brooms” on the inside of the colon, removing old and damaged cells, which is thought to reduce the risk of cancer.
However, like most things, moderation is the key with insoluble fiber!
In fact, as I first published 30 years ago, too much scraping and stimulation of the cells in the colon can signal the cells to proliferate, which is a risk factor for colon cancer. So, consuming too much can be quite counterproductive.
That finding may also explain why people who follow vegan or macrobiotic diets (which only contain plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber foods) don’t have lower colon cancer rates.
In the end—and especially if you suffer from IBS—achieving the right balance in your diet is key. So, here are five tips for getting the RIGHT AMOUNT and the RIGHT KIND of fiber into your diet…
Moderation in all things—including fiber
When it comes to working fiber into your diet, there are a few simple rules of thumb to follow:
1.) Skip the ultra-processed, “high-fiber” products. As always, I encourage you to avoid the ultra-processed, “high-fiber” food products found on grocery store shelves. Including “high-fiber” granola bars, protein bars, and cereals. For one, your body doesn’t know what to do with most of that fake, added fiber. So, they can make your IBS symptoms (and general digestive issues) worse!
Second, these products usually also contain loads of unhealthy additives—like sugars, processed carbs, preservatives, and artificial flavors. By comparison, truly healthy foods that are naturally rich in fiber don’t have labels…and don’t come in cardboard boxes!
2.) Cut out white flour. You should also avoid ANY kind of processed grain, including white flour. These processed grains break down too easily in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, so they essentially run right through your digestive system without offering much nutritional benefit. Not to mention, eating them leads to spikes and surges in blood sugar.
3.) Opt for REAL sources of fiber. It’s important to get REAL fiber from a variety of sources. Including fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and vegetables.
These whole food sources contain both types of dietary fiber, along with bioactive substances. And this diversity helps support the health of your GI microbiome—the environment in your gut where billions of healthy probiotic bacteria thrive.
Some healthy, high-fiber, natural foods are:
- Fruits: Apples, avocados, bananas, berries, and pears.
- Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, and split peas.
- Whole grains: Buckwheat, bulgur, couscous, millet, 100 percent whole wheat, rye, steel-cut oats, and wheatberries.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sunflower seeds, and walnuts.
- Vegetables: Artichokes, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes (with skins on).
Of course, fruits and vegetables also contain many other healthy substances besides fiber—including carotenoids, flavonoids, indoles, isothiocyanates, lignans, phenols, minerals, and vitamins. So, aim to buy fresh, organic produce in ALL shades of the rainbow (not just green!).
4.) Make sure it’s organic. I’m writing more and more about the importance of choosing organic, full-fat dairy, grains, produce, and meat. For one, organic foods don’t come from genetically modified seeds (GM). Nor are they contaminated with glyphosate, also known as Roundup®. This pesticide—and known human carcinogen—poisons your GI microbiome and probably much more.
5.) Aim for the moderate middle. The Institute of Medicine’s recommendation for daily dietary fiber intake is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. But I find people follow this advice best when it’s illustrated in servings of food—not specific, weighed amounts. So, I’m going to put my recommendations in easy-to-follow, whole-food terms…
- Aim to eat three to five servings of colorful, varied, fresh fruit or vegetables a day.
- Aim to eat two to three servings of whole grains per day.
Lastly, if you suffer from IBS, fiber isn’t the only dietary recommendation to help. I also suggest adding probiotic and prebiotic foods to your healthy diet. You can learn all about it in the October 2021 issue of Insiders’ Cures (“My go-to breakfast food can help prevent the No. 1 cause of disease and aging”). If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, now is the time to become one!