Fiber (Fibre) is generally a very good thing, but is it possible to get too much?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a relatively new vegan who’s having some stomach issues, and getting too much fiber may be the cause of it.
As I’ll shortly go over, it’s very hard to get too much fiber, but only if your gut is used to it. Suddenly increasing your fiber intake significantly can cause stomach issues and even nutrient absorption issues.
At the same time, eating too much fiber will very rarely escalate to a serious health issue. So don’t panic, just read this article and you’ll have a good grasp on the situation.
How Much Fiber Should You Eat Per Day?
Among Western countries, most countries recommend getting a minimum of around 25 grams of fiber a day for women, and 38 grams for men.
Here’s an interesting table from a meta-study that examined how much fiber different cultures get in their diet.
In case you’re confused, “coprolite” is fossilized feces, so it’s referring to Americans in the past in that table.
A few things stand out:
- Americans and U.K. citizens average a low amount of fiber – Only 12 grams per day for the UK, and 12-18 grams for the U.S. The average person in either county doesn’t come close to meeting the minimum recommended value.
- Rural people in China and Africa get 60+ grams per day, up to 120 grams.
- In the past, Americans, and even some Paleolithic people consumed over 100 grams of fiber a day.
Let’s put this in perspective.
I’m an average sized guy, around 6’0 and 170 lbs, who needs just over 2000 calories per day.
Imagine I ate nothing but lentils and spinach, 2 vegan foods that are very high in fiber.
If I plug in 20 cups of spinach, and 9 cups of lentils into Cronometer, which is a crazy amount for one day, that gives me about 2200 calories and 117.6 grams of fiber.
This is right in line with what rural people and older cultures ate on average. As far as we know, they suffered no health consequences from having that level of fiber.
But most vegans don’t get anywhere close to that, unless you’re eating an incredible amount of high-fiber vegetables.
For reference, I get about 50 grams of fiber per day, eating a good amount of legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
If you’re now eating a similar amount on a vegan diet, it may be a big step up if you were starting from the low amount of fiber an average omnivorous diet has in it.
In summary: It is very unlikely that you’re getting an unhealthy amount of fiber. It’s more likely that you recently started eating a lot more fiber, and your gut just hasn’t adapted to be able to process it effectively yet.
Signs That You’re Getting Too Much Fiber (Or Haven’t Adapted Yet)
The most common signs of a sudden increase of fiber are:
- Stomach issues – Gas, bloating, constipation, and sometimes diarrhea.
- Decrease in appetite
- Inability to eat enough
The stomach issues are typically exacerbated in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The type of fiber you’re mainly eating can also make a difference. There are 2 types of fiber:
- Soluble – found in vegetables, fruits, and oats mainly.
- Insoluble – Mainly found in legumes (beans, peas, etc.), seeds, root vegetables, wheat bran (so whole wheat products)
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, so assuming you’re hydrated, it typically ferments easier.
Insoluble fiber is typically harder to ferment and can take longer to adjust to.
What to Do If You Suspect You’re Getting Too Much Fiber
Combining everything above, and common sense, there’s a few things you can choose to do now:
- Eat less fiber – Whether by switching out foods for alternatives with less fiber (e.g. white bread for whole wheat bread), or just eating less in general for a bit.
- Drink more water – Especially if you’re eating lots of soluble fiber.
- Eat different fiber types – Focus your diet more on soluble fiber if you’ve been having issues with insoluble fiber.
- Add enzymes to your foods – These are capsules you can eat with meals that will essentially digest the fiber for you to make it easier on your gut. You can find plenty of affordable options on Amazon.
- Wait – As long as it’s just a bit of discomfort, it will pass after a few weeks (usually) as your gut gets used to handling the higher amount of fiber.
I’m sorry there’s no immediate solution, and they certainly aren’t exciting solutions, but that’s the reality of the situation.
It’s hard to get so much fiber that it’s a major health concern, but you can experience stomach problems while adjusting to a higher level of fiber, which is common when switching to a vegan diet.
If you suddenly have a lot of discomfort or pain after being comfortable on a vegan diet for awhile, it may not be the fiber causing the problems and you should see a doctor.