Digestive Health: FAQs
Your digestive health questions answered.
Pictured Recipe: Brazilian Black Bean Soup
Why is fiber so important for digestive health?
"Fiber enhances intestinal activity and improves regularity," says Amy Foxx-Orenstein, D.O., a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "In general, a poor diet that is low in fiber and high in fat can lead to intestinal irregularity, symptoms of gas and bloating and disordered stool patterns." Fiber absorbs fluid in the intestine, making stool softer and easier to pass. It improves the body's elimination of natural waste (including toxins). There's some evidence to suggest that fiber may improve our ability to metabolize fat and can help curb appetite. Aim to get 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day, from natural sources like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
When should you consider a fiber supplement?
Nutrition experts recommend getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily and, "if you're having trouble meeting this intake, taking a supplement [like Citrucel] may be an ideal way to up your intake," says Amy Foxx Orenstein, D.O., a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Before you resort to taking such a supplement, aim to increase your intake of fiber-rich whole foods, as they provide beneficial nutrients-vitamins, minerals and antioxidants-in addition to fiber. Here are a handful of tips to get you started getting more fiber: Choose whole-grain cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking fruit juice. Replace white rice and bread with brown rice and whole-grain products. Snack on raw vegetables, and substitute legumes, such as beans and lentils, for meat two to three times a week.
Is it just me or do artificial sweeteners cause gastrointestinal distress?
"Artificial sweeteners can cause diarrhea in some people," says Amy Foxx-Orenstein, D.O., a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "And carbonated diet beverages can be double whammies because they provide artificial sweetener and gas via carbonation. Caffeinated varieties may also cause intestinal irritability." Since drinking diet soda certainly isn't necessary for good health (in fact, replacing it with water is probably a good idea overall), try going cold turkey for a week and see if your symptoms improve. If they don't, talk with your health-care provider.
Related: High-Fiber Diet Center