Why Does Fiber Make You Poop?

Nearly every health expert agrees that dietary fiber is an important pillar of wholesome nutrition. In fact, the fiber factor is a big reason the Mediterranean diet is successful at promoting overall health and longevity, according to University of Michigan Health. Why is this the case? Because fiber keeps us regular (aka pooping consistently), prevents constipation, and ensures our digestive tract is functioning optimally. Therefore, a big clue as to whether or not you're getting enough fiber may come from the quantity and quality of your poop. A few telltale signs that a lack of fiber may be contributing to constipation include: having less than 3 bowel movements per week, or stool that's difficult to pass and dry, hard, or lumpy. If this sounds all too familiar, you're not alone. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 16% of Americans under 60 struggle with constipation. The rates of constipation for those over 60 climb to 33%. So, why is fiber the solution and how much do we really need?

What happens in the body when you eat fiber?

First, it's important to note there are two different kinds of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. While they both contribute to optimal health, they perform different functions in the digestive tract. When soluble fiber's ingested, it dissolves and converts into a gel-like substance, helping to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar, according to Mayo Clinic. Great sources of soluble fiber include oat bran, nuts and seeds, berries and apples, via Medline Plus.

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, doesn't dissolve and moves through the digestive tract as indigestible material. This means it absorbs fluid and other intestinal byproducts, essentially sweeping away waste material and helping to efficiently move stool through our intestinal tract by adding bulk to it. And greater bulk in this context is a very good thing as it helps prevent constipation and other gastrointestinal diseases, and maintains regularity, via Medical News Today. Great sources of insoluble fiber are whole grains, vegetables, and wheat bran (via Medline Plus).

How to promote regularity through food

The amount of fiber you eat can greatly impact the frequency and quality of your stool. Mayo Clinic recommends that women should aim for 21-25 grams of fiber per day, and men should aim for 30-38 grams. For women, you could achieve your daily goal at breakfast by adding 1 ounce of chia seed, ½ cup of blackberries, and ½ cup of raspberries to a cup of cooked oats (totaling roughly 23 grams of fiber). For men, in addition to the oatmeal, add ½ avocado, smashed, to a slice of whole grain toast and you'll hit your daily goal with a total of roughly 31 grams of fiber. For those still struggling to hit their fiber goals, it's possible to get some benefit from fiber supplements, like Metamucil and Citrucel, but most healthcare professionals caution against using supplements over whole foods high in fiber, which also contain high amounts of important nutrients and vitamins, according to Mayo Clinic.