black beans

Fiber is nature’s answer to optimal health. A high fiber diet is good for your digestive tract, it lowers cholesterol, blood sugar, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. But for some of us, it’s also the unwelcome “musical fruit” that constantly makes you toot.

So let’s take a closer look at why high fiber diets can cause gas, and more importantly, what you can do about it to avoid gas and bloating.

First of all, let’s talk about what fiber actually is and its role in your body. Fiber is plant roughage, the portion of veggies, fruit, beans, nuts, and seeds that goes undigested. It also increases the weight and size of stool, that’s why it cleanses your digestive tract.

Fiber is classified as soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material which can lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels. It’s found in foods including oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium. Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber that doesn’t digest in water. It promotes movement in your digestive tract. It’s found in foods including whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.

Men under age 50 require at least 38 grams of fiber per day and men over age 50 require 30 grams of fiber. Women under age 50 require 25 grams of fiber per day and women over age 50 require 21 grams of fiber.

When Fiber Presents a Challenge

For some, especially those with irritable bowel syndrome, fiber can present a challenge. In particular, raw vegetables can be problematic. In this case, lightly steam your veggies so they become easier for your digestive system to break down.

Also consider increasing your fiber intake gradually. If you go from 0 to 60 in a day, it’s no surprise that your system is fighting back. Increase your fiber intake about 5 grams per day until you’re at the required amount for your age group. And as you add in fiber, also make sure that you’re adding in water to push the fiber through. The combination of dehydration and roughage isn’t a pretty sight.

The other key to digesting fiber is ensuring a good balance of soluble and insoluble fiber. When soluble fiber hits the colon undigested, it causes gas. That’s why beans, which have a great deal of soluble fiber, are known as the musical fruit. Soak dried beans overnight before cooking them to reduce their impact. Additionally, soaked, dried beans tend to cause less gas than canned beans. A few other tricks for staving off bloating and gas include adding ginger to meals, taking probiotics, and avoiding chewing gum.

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Image: Stacy Spensley