Increased fiber intake helps promote regular bowel movements.
Fiber is recommended as part of a healthful diet, as it helps create a bulky stool that moves more easily through your digestive tract. This, in turn, can help prevent constipation and promote overall health in your bowels. Increasing your fiber intake is often as simple as eating more fruits and vegetables, but it's best to gradually increase your intake to avoid any gastrointestinal issues such as gas or bloating -- a common side effect of increased fiber intake. If, however, you are taking medication, consult your doctor before adding more fiber to your diet to ensure no potentially harmful interactions exist.
Fiber is often referred to as one substance, but there are actually two types of fiber that people consume: soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are present in the plants that you eat, but some plants have more of one type of fiber than the other. Neither type of fiber is digested in the intestinal tract, but soluble fiber does break down in water, so it tends to create a stool that is more like a gel. Insoluble fiber remains relatively intact in the digestive tract and creates a bulkier, more solid stool than soluble fiber.
Food travels through your digestive tract and is broken down into smaller components so that your body can fully absorb the nutrients and dispose of the waste products. Because neither type of fiber is digested, it adds to the bulk of the waste products and helps create a bulkier stool. A bulkier stool helps because when the muscles of the intestine move in a wavelike motion to push out waste -- an action known as peristalsis -- the walls of the intestine have something to press against, which helps the stool move more easily through the intestines. In addition to a smoother, easier bowel movement, increased fiber intake can promote more regular movements.
Children and adults need to consume between 20 grams and 30 grams of fiber to get the full health benefits, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The best way to get fiber in your diet is to eat whole foods, such as grains, fruits and vegetables. Most whole foods have a mix of both types of fiber, but foods such as oatmeal, lentils, nuts and beans, as well as most fruits, tend to be higher in soluble fiber, and foods such as wheat, whole grains, brown rice and most vegetables tend to be higher in insoluble fiber. Over-the-counter fiber supplements are also available.
Taking fiber, particularly fiber supplements, can cause complications with certain medications, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, so consult with your doctor before increasing your fiber intake. Adding too much fiber to your diet too quickly can cause gas, cramps and bloating, so it's best to gradually increase your intake over several weeks to give your body time to adjust. Beans and legumes tend to cause the most gas, but soaking them overnight before cooking them may help prevent any problems. Drinking plenty of water is also recommended -- up to six to eight glasses a day, particularly when you are taking supplements.