We all know fiber is a good thing. We keep reading articles about it in magazines and see packaged foods boasting "high fiber" claims in bold letters. Indeed, fiber has several health benefits: it helps our intestines function regularly and may help lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
People with IBS need to be careful about the amounts and types of fiber they eat so not to experience unwanted symptoms. Certain fibers are rapidly fermented in the large intestine and may lead to bloating, abdominal pain and excess gas. A few examples of foods that contain these types of fiber are onions, artichokes, wheat, and beans. These are the fibers a low FODMAP diet is designed to minimize.
Other types of fiber are slowly fermented and better tolerated, for example, the fiber in brown rice, kiwis, raspberries, carrots, and chia seeds.
How much fiber do we need? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and adequate fiber intake is 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men up to the age of 50 (a little less for older people). This is, however, for the general (healthy) population (sadly, most Americans consume too little fiber, an average of 15 g per day). Monash University recommends people with IBS eat between 25 and 30 g of fiber per day.
Here are 5 tips to eat more fiber:
1. Don't be afraid to consume some fiber. Remember, this is a low FODMAP diet, now a zero FODMAP diet. On the other hand, don’t overdo it. Depending on your IBS subtype and symptoms (diarrhea or constipation), you might need to be on the low or high end of those recommendations. As you increase your fiber intake, make sure to also drink enough water during the day.
2. Be sure to choose low FODMAP whole grains (brown rice, millet, quinoa) and don't limit yourself to the "white" stuff. There is a tendency for people to gravitate towards either avoiding grains altogether or mostly eat white rice, white-rice flour based products (crackers, gluten-free bread). By including more whole grains, in addition to the fiber (2-4 grams per cup of cooked brown rice, quinoa, quinoa-corn pasta or millet), you will get other important nutrients as well.
3. Choose a variety of low FODMAP fruits and vegetables (keep the skin on) in small portions (1/2 cup is a good benchmark and will provide 2-4 grams of fiber) and spread them out throughout the day. Try some of these:
- Fruit: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, kiwifruit, oranges
- Vegetables: carrots, radishes, kale, Swiss chard, eggplant
4. Some canned legumes are ok even during the elimination phase (rinse and drain first). Try up to ½ cup per meal or snack (5-8 grams of fiber):
- Lentils (great in soup, salads or chili)
- Chickpeas (they are delicious roasted as a snack or sprinkled on salads)
- Fresh or frozen edamame (boiled and rinsed)
5. Don’t forget the nuts and seeds. In small amounts, these can contribute good amounts of fiber without triggering symptoms. Try up to 2 tablespoons per meal or snack (1-2 grams of fiber in most nuts/seeds; 10 grams in chia seeds):
- Nuts: almonds or walnuts – great sprinkled on hot rice/quinoa cereal for breakfast
- Seeds: pumpkin seeds (good by themselves or as topping for tacos) and chia seeds (in a smoothie or as chia pudding – see my recipe for Cocoa Chia Pudding below - who thought that eating more fiber could look like this?)
Finally, if you feel you need a fiber supplement, consult a dietitian before trying one on your own. If you choose the wrong fiber, you may make your symptoms worse. An expert dietitian can recommend one most suitable to your IBS subtype.
Cocoa Chia Pudding
1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
¼ cup chia seeds
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa or raw cacao powder
1 packet powdered stevia (1 g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Combine the almond milk, chia seeds, cocoa, stevia, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Whisk until well combined and the mixture begins to thicken. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator overnight or for 6-8 hours.
2. When the pudding has set, give it one more stir, then portion into single-serve bowls. Alternatively, heat up in the microwave for a warm pudding.
3. You can sprinkle a small amount of shaved chocolate or chips
Yield: 2 servings
Storage: Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Author: Antonella Dewell, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Natural Chef