Getting enough dietary fiber is beneficial for your digestive, cardiovascular and overall health. Dietary fiber from foods like beans, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts help lower your risk for disease and enable you to maintain a healthy weight. However, getting too much fiber can backfire and cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
When you eat plant-based foods, such as fruit, vegetables and grains, your body digests all of it except the fiber, a part of the plant that passes through your digestive system. Soluble fiber -- a type of fiber that interacts with water and is found in foods such as oats, peas and beans -- turns to a gel-like substance in the digestive tract, while insoluble fiber -- a type of fiber that does not complex with water, and is found in foods such as whole grain and many vegetables -- passes through nearly unchanged.
The Right Amount of Fiber
If you are used to eating a low-fiber diet, adding any kind of fiber may cause side effects such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adult men younger than 50 years old get about 38 grams of fiber each day, while men older than 50 only need about 30 grams. Women under age 50 should get about 25 grams of fiber, while women over 50 only need 21 grams. A slice of whole grain bread contains between 1 and 3 grams of dietary fiber, while a cup of kidney beans contains about 19 grams of dietary fiber.
Eating too much fiber or adding fiber to your diet too quickly can result in uncomfortable digestive conditions. While eating too much fiber won’t usually hurt you in the long run, you could be at risk for a bowel obstruction if you eat high amounts of fiber without adequate amounts of water. The most common complaints after eating too much fiber or adding fiber too quickly is flatulence, bloating, audible digestive noises, diarrhea or constipation, cramping and, in rare cases, malabsorption or intestinal obstruction.
If you experience digestive distress after eating products containing fiber, drinking more water can help. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, water helps dissolve soluble fiber for easier absorption. Water also helps move food and waste products through the digestive tract more quickly and can help alleviate some of the uncomfortable side effects of fiber, while preventing a potential obstruction.
Increase your exercise if you feel you have eaten too much fiber, because exercise encourages the movement of food through your intestines. Walking, biking, yoga and jumping on a trampoline can increase the action in your intestines and minimize side effects. If you experience severe symptoms, such as prolonged pain, fever or diarrhea, see a medical professional immediately.
Avoid Side Effects
To avoid the most troubling side effects of too much fiber, increase your fiber intake slowly. Start by adding in 2 to 3 grams per day, about the amount in a slice of whole wheat bread. If you can comfortably tolerate a few grams, slowly add a few more each day or every other day. Drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.