Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet. Eating a diet rich in fiber sourced from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can offer many health benefits, including decreasing your risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.
But there’s another important benefit of eating fiber – fiber can improve your colon health, including increasing stool frequency.
If you suffer from occasional constipation, increasing your daily fiber intake may help you find relief.
Understanding how fiber can benefit your health and which foods are rich sources of fiber can help you make the right dietary choices when you’re feeling constipated.
In this article, I will explain the different types of fiber and how they affect your digestive health.
I will also explain how much fiber you should aim to consume each day and when you may want to reach out to a healthcare provider for help with your constipation or digestive concerns.
Different Types of Fiber
Fiber is an essential component of a healthy diet.
Fiber refers to the parts of plant foods (including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains) that the body can’t digest or absorb.
Because the body can’t process fiber the way it can with carbohydrates or proteins, much of the fiber we eat passes through the digestive tract intact.
Importantly, there are two different types of fiber that benefit our health in different ways:
- Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help soften stools, lower blood cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, and slow the absorption of carbohydrates from foods. A variety of plant foods are rich in soluble fiber, including: black beans, lima beans, brussel sprouts, avocado, sweet potato, broccoli, turnips, pears, oats, apples, seeds, prunes, berries, nuts, peas, citrus foods, carrots, barley, and psyllium.
- Insoluble fiber: Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water as it moves through the digestive tract, but it does attract water to the intestine, increasing the bulk and softness of stool. By helping waste move more smoothly through your system, insoluble fiber helps to prevent constipation and regulate bowel movements. Other health benefits of insoluble fiber include reducing the risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. Foods that are good sources of insoluble fiber include: whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, celery, tomatoes, and seeds.
Most fiber-rich foods are excellent sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Fiber and Digestive Health
When consumed, fiber has a direct impact on digestive health.
It affects the rate of food digestion, the absorption of nutrients, and the movement of stool through the colon.
It also provides a surface on which beneficial intestinal bacteria can thrive.
One of the most common causes of constipation, or difficulty having regular bowel movements, is inadequate consumption of dietary fiber.
Gradually increasing dietary fiber intake can help to relieve occasional and sometimes chronic constipation.
A consistent dietary fiber intake pattern can also help improve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Does Fiber Make You Poop More?
Simply put: Yes, increasing your dietary fiber intake does increase stool frequency, especially in people with constipation.
This happens because increasing your intake of both soluble and insoluble fiber can help increase the weight and softness of your stool, speeding up its movement through your digestive tract.
However, some of the other symptoms associated with constipation, like poor stool consistency and painful defecation, are not as directly improved by increasing dietary fiber intake.
How Much Fiber Do I Need?
Most adults should get between 25-31 grams of fiber each day.
However, the exact recommendation will vary depending on your age and sex.
It’s also important to keep in mind that if you’re starting from a low-fiber diet, you should gradually increase your fiber intake, rather than all at once, to avoid unwanted side effects like gassiness and bloating.
Men between the ages of 19-59 should aim to eat 38 grams of dietary fiber per day.
Men over the age of 50 should aim to eat roughly 30 grams of dietary fiber per day.
Women between the ages of 19-59 should aim to eat 25 grams of dietary fiber per day, while women over the age of 50 should aim to eat roughly 21 grams of fiber per day.
Incorporating adequate amounts of fiber into your daily diet can improve your colon health and stool regularity, but there are other benefits.
Evidence suggests that adequate daily dietary fiber intake (from vegetables and cereals more so than from fruit) is associated with a decreased risk of death caused by severe health conditions like respiratory and infectious.
Additional benefits of consuming fiber-rich diets may include weight maintenance, improved satiety (feelings of fullness after eating), and a decreased risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.
When to See a Medical Provider
Adding more fiber-rich foods into your diet can benefit your health in many ways.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of mild constipation, adding more fiber to your diet is a good place to start when trying to find a home remedy.
Slowly increase your fiber intake, drink plenty of water, and avoid ultra-processed and fast food to help get your bowel movements regular again.
But changing your diet or lifestyle isn’t always enough to relieve your constipation.
If you’re suffering from chronic constipation that won’t go away, it’s important to reach out to your doctor for help as soon as possible.
In some cases, chronic constipation can be a sign of something more serious.
If your constipation isn’t responding to a change in dietary fiber intake or other treatments, keep an eye out for more severe symptoms.
If you experience any of the below symptoms, seek emergency medical attention right away:
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. (2019).
Dietary fiber intake and mortality in the NIH-AARP diet and health study. (2011).
Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. (2021).
Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta analysis. (2012).
Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Constipation. (2018).
Fiber, Digestion, and Health. (2012).
Rethinking fiber and hydration can lead to better colon health. (2013).
Should I be eating more fiber? (2019).