PHOTOGRAPH BY GARICK PROST/SHUTTERSTOCK
But they’re also important, since adequate fiber intake plays a role in everything from helping you manage your weight to lowering your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. Here, 5 signs to watch for. (Want to balance out your hormones and lose weight? Then check out The Hormone Reset Diet to start feeling and looking better.
Just because you’re not backed up doesn’t actually mean you’re getting all the fiber you need. If your bowel movements are small or hard, like pebbles, that’s a sure sign you’re falling short, says Robynne Chutkan, MD, founder of The Digestive Center for Women and author of The Bloat Cure. “A C-shape or a straight log is ideal,” she says.
Fiber takes up lots of space in your digestive tract, which is one of the reasons why it helps you stay satisfied longer. So if your stomach starts rumbling within an hour or two after eating, that’s a sign that you probably didn’t get enough fiber in your meal, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color. Next time, try starting off with a small side salad or a small bowl of vegetable-bean soup. (Or if you’re having a salad for your meal, add in ¼ to ½ cup of cooked beans.) All are easy ways to up your meal’s fiber content and help you feel fuller, she says.
It’s no secret that overdoing it on the roughage—especially if you aren’t used to it—can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. But eat too little fiber, and you’re stuck with the same problem. That’s because fiber keeps everything in your pipes moving at a smooth, steady pace. “Without enough fiber, the products of digestion often get stuck along the digestive superhighway, leading to backups and bloat,” Chutkan says.
You already know that eating a ginormous meal can make you sleepy. But if you regularly find yourself crashing after you eat, a lack of fiber could be to blame, too. Fiber plays an essential role in helping your blood sugar levels stay stable. But when you eat a low- or no-fiber meal, your blood sugar will spike more quickly—and soon come tumbling down. And that crash can leave you feeling sluggish or fatigued, Largeman-Roth says.
Try swallowing a forkful of corn kernels without chewing them and seeing how long it takes for them to come out the, uh, other side, recommends Chutkan. That will give you a good idea of whether food is passing through your digestive system at a healthy rate—and whether you’re getting enough fiber. If you spot the kernels in your stool within 18 hours, you’re good. If it takes longer than that, you probably need more fiber.
Women need 25 to 30 g of fiber daily. If you suspect that you aren’t getting enough, try gradually adding more fiber-rich foods into your diet—like whole grains, nuts, beans, fruit, and vegetables. Just keep in mind that if you go full throttle out of the gate, you may have to deal with gas, pains, and bloating, says Largeman-Roth.
And try to skip the fiber supplements. Unlike a pill or drink, fiber-containing foods deliver an entire package of beneficial nutrients. Plus, some people find that supplements make them extra gassy, says Largeman-Roth.