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Does Fibre cause Bloating?

Posted 5 years ago by Brendan

It helps fight heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity but many find dietary fibre can also make you bloated. High fibre foods known to cause bloating, constipation and flatulence like beans, rice and bread are often avoided by bloating sufferers not willing to knowingly cause themselves discomfort. So if dietary fibre is so good for you why do some people find it such a problem?

Dietary fibre

Dietary fibre is the general term for plant parts the human digestive system is unable to breakdown. We don’t produce the digestive enzymes required to split apart the carbohydrate based, cell walls and structural components found in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds – good healthy food. So this material passes through the digestive system relatively unchanged. This ability to resist digestion is what makes dietary fibre one of our most important nutrients. There are two main types of dietary fibre:

Insoluble fibre

Insoluble fibre absorbs water swelling in size considerably, adding bulk and softening the contents of the gastrointestinal tract. This slows the process of eating, helping you feel fuller sooner, satisfied for longer and better able to control your appetite. Fibre supplementation appears to significantly enhance weight loss [1]. Extra bulk within the gastrointestinal tract also makes it easier for peristalsis to facilitate the transit of food through the digestive system. A larger, softer stool is easier to pass helping to prevent constipation, diverticulitis and problems associated with straining such as pain and haemorrhoids. High fibre diets are associated with a lower incidence of bowel and other cancers [2]. Good sources include whole grains, bran, seeds, leaves (kale, cabbage) and roots (carrots, beets etc).

fibre

Soluble fibre

Soluble fibre also absorbs water but dissolve somewhat forming a gel or paste. This sticky gel binds certain substances including glucose and bile acids, slowing their absorption from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. This helps prevent rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels while helping to lower the amount of circulating cholesterol, both of which offers protection against diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Research suggests those on high fibre diets appear to have a lower risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, stroke, insulin resistance and diabetes [1]. Good sources include apples, strawberries, citrus, oats, barley, beans and seaweed.

Potential dietary fibre problems

We mightn’t be able to chemically breakdown the type of sugars that make up dietary fibre but the bacteria living within our digestive system can to some extent. Unfortunately, the by-product of our their ability to do so, is extra gas that can be a cause of bloating, flatulence and discomfort, particularly if there is an imbalance in the number of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria living in our gut. It’s also important to remember fibre acts somewhat like a sponge soaking up water, so without plenty available, fibre can feel as though it’s just sitting in your gut or bowel making you sluggish and constipated. The type of fibre may also be an issue for some people, particularly those with digestive issues like IBS. Most tend to find soluble fibres like oats and psyllium less aggravating than the more robust insoluble fibres like wheat bran.

Avoiding problems

The best way to avoid dietary fibre induced problems is to introduce fibre slowly and be sure to drink at least two litres of water each day. A healthy digestive system and healthy gut flora will quickly adapt to increased dietary fibre and symptoms bought on by high fibre foods should ease over a few weeks. If problems persist get it checked out.

Most of us are eating round 18g of fibre. However, government policies recommend that adults should increase thier fibre intake to up to 30g of fibre. If not and bloating, flatulence and cramps continue despite a gradual introduction and plenty of water, it may be worth trying some of these natural remedies for the digestive system or talking to a professional about it. 

References
Anderson, J., et al, 2009, “Health benefits of dietary fiber”, Nutrition Review, 67(4):188-205.

Fibre Foundation UK, 2011, “The F Word Report”, http://www.fibrefoundation.co.uk/downloads/f-word.pdf

Tell us about it if you find dietary fibre or fibre supplements a problem for you and how you manage it. 

About Brendan O'Loughlin

Brendan is a integrative naturopath, nutritionist and yoga teacher. He has completed training in Naturopathy, Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Yoga, Iridology and Live Blood Analysis.

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