The average American consumes only 14 grams of fiber per day. However, depending on how many calories you consume, you should be shooting for between 20 and 38 grams of fiber daily. We do not always have the time to buy, prepare and eat that much high-fiber food. This is where fiber supplements come in. While you should aim for five to nine servings of fruits and veggies per day plus beans, nuts and grains, this is not always realistic.
Unlike many supplements which are touted by marketing agencies as miracle drugs for weight loss or rejuvenation, fiber supplements are a safe, healthy and effective way to increase the amount of fiber you get in your diet. You can buy them in forms ranging from gummies to capsules and from powder to liquid. Today we will teach you what they are, the difference between different types, and nine reasons why you should consider taking them on days you struggle to meet the FDA-recommended amount of fiber.
What Are Fiber Supplements?
Fiber supplements can be made in a lab or extracted from natural sources. Manufactured fibers include maltodextrins, polyols, and polydextrose. Natural fibers extracted from plants include:
- Lignin from plant cells
- Cellulose; sugar found in plant cells
- Pectin from berries and other fruits
- Gum from seeds
- Psyllium from the husk of Plantago plants
Psyllium is the only known supplemental fiber which reduces levels of bad cholesterol.
What to Consider
When talking to your doctor or licensed nutritionist about incorporating fiber supplements into your diet, discuss any concerns you have about side effects. Certain supplements may cause gas while others may cause cramping or bloat in the short-term.
Stay well-hydrated while taking these supplements to ensure there is enough water in your digestive tract for the fiber to absorb and to help things move as smoothly as possible. Take smaller doses of supplements at first, and build up your dosage gradually to give your body ample time to adjust to the extra fiber. This mitigates the risk of any side effects no matter which supplement you choose.
Do not consume over 50 grams of fiber daily between your supplements and the rest of your diet. This can affect how your body absorbs nutrients from your food. Take over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen at least an hour before taking fiber supplements as absorption rates can be affected. Talk to your doctor about taking fiber supplements if you are on medication for high cholesterol, seizures, heart conditions, diabetes, depression or thyroid disorders. Since fiber slows down digestion, it can decrease the rate at which certain medications are absorbed.
Types of Fiber Supplements
The three types of fiber supplements you will find sold over-the-counter are psyllium, polycarbophil, and methylcellulose. Speak to your general health practitioner before taking any supplement to find out which is the best for your needs.
Psyllium is probably the fiber supplement you are most familiar with and is sold under the popular brand name Metamucil. Other brand names include Serutan, Perdiem, Konsyl, Hydrocil, and Fiberall. It bulks your stool up, so it is easier to pass. It is great at mitigating the risk of hemorrhoids. Your doctor is likely to recommend it if you have symptoms of IBS, constipation or diverticulosis. It can reduce your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels by 10 to 15% and contains only four calories per gram. The only side effect you have to worry about is gas. Beano is great for preventing this.
Methylcellulose sells under the brand name Citrucel and is derived from plants' cell walls. It is non-fermentable, non-allergenic and safe to take every day. However, it is important to try your best to get adequate fiber from a healthy, balanced diet. As it does not ferment, it does not cause gastrointestinal distress such as flatulence.
Take this supplement two hours before or after the rest of your medications. Chew wafers thoroughly and swallow. Bowel movements should occur within 12 to 72 hours. If you are taking the powder form of this supplement, make sure you are combining your powder with a full 8 ounces of liquid. It will absorb the liquid and form a gel. If you do not drink it immediately, it may become too thick, so you may need to add more water. This supplement is recommended for those suffering from constipation, diverticulosis, diarrhea caused by dehydration, and IBS.
Polycarbophil is sold under the brand names Mityrolan, Equalactin, Fiber-Lax, and Fibercon. It is not absorbed by the body and is derived from plants. It will not cause long-term bloating. In fact, it will make your stool bulkier, softer and easier to pass so that you will feel less bloated. To prevent the interference of absorption, do not take within two hours of taking other medications. Do not take this if you have difficulty swallowing. Because it makes stools much easier to pass, this is a great choice if you are on narcotic painkillers after surgery and find yourself unable to pass stool from the analgesics.
9 Reasons to Use Fiber Supplements
There are many reasons to use fiber supplements to improve your health. Here are the best-researched:
Blood Sugar Control
Fiber supplements decrease the rate at which your body breaks down carbohydrates and absorbs sugar. If you are genetically predisposed to diabetes, try eating a little more fiber every day.
There is a negative correlation between fiber consumption and heart disease. Specifically, those who ate a high-fiber diet had a 40% reduced risk of having a heart attack. With heart disease causing more deaths each year than all cancers combined (635,260 versus 598,038), there is no reason not to add fiber supplements into your diet to mitigate this risk.
Stroke, or cerebrovascular disease, killed 142,142 people in America in 2016. Each year, over 795,000 people suffer from strokes, and tens of thousands are permanently disabled. Research shows that if you increased your fiber intake by seven grams per day, you could reduce your risk of stroke by seven percent.
People commonly thank fiber for their successful weight loss because it kept them satiated on fewer calories. The key to weight maintenance is learning how to consume the number of calories your body needs and no more regularly. You cannot just go back to unhealthy eating habits once you have hit your goal weight. Fiber supplements play a major role in weight maintenance because they keep you full which reduces your urge to snack out of boredom, sadness or stress. Fiber also plays a great role in slowing the metabolism of carbohydrates.
The psyllium husk flushes fungus and yeast from your body preventing rashes, acne and other forms of skin irritation. If you live in a dry climate and seem to suffer from eczema year-round, try taking Metamucil to see if it helps.
Diverticulitis is a condition caused by an inflammation or infection of diverticula, abnormal pouches, on the wall of your large intestine. Consume insoluble fiber to mitigate your risk of this painful condition by 40%. Symptoms include nausea caused by abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fever or bloody stool. If you frequently suffer from bouts of diverticulitis, your doctor may recommend expensive surgery, so take antibiotics if you have this condition now but prevent it from recurring by adding fiber supplements to your diet.
If you suffer from constipation, you probably strain while trying to have a bowel movement. This straining can lead to hemorrhoids. Symptoms include bloody stool, a swollen anus, a sensitive or painful lump near your anus known as a thrombosed hemorrhoid, pain, discomfort and itching or irritation around your anus. Taking fiber supplements and drinking plenty of water makes it easier for you to pass stool meaning you no longer have to strain, and the risk of hemorrhoids caused by trying to force bowel movements is eliminated.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Each year, between 25 and 45 million Americans suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. If you suffer from IBS-D, or IBS with diarrhea, take soluble fiber supplements. This will draw water from your digestive tract which reduces the frequency and severity of your diarrhea. If you suffer from IBS-C, or IBS with constipation, consume lots of insoluble fiber to add bulk to your stool and help things move along.
Kidney Stones and Gallstones
As mentioned previously, fiber supplements regulate your blood sugar which mitigates your risk of developing kidney stones or gallstones. Gallstones are severely painful, hard, small masses formed in the bile ducts or gallbladder from calcium salts, cholesterol, or bile pigments. Kidney stones are painful, hard masses formed in the kidneys. They are typically made of insoluble calcium compounds.
Fiber supplements are a safe, healthy and effective way to improve your diet. Most Americans lack adequate fiber in their diets, and over 1.2 million die each year from the preventable diseases of heart attack and stroke. The risk of both can be reduced by seven to 40% just by adding a marginal amount of additional fiber into your diet.
Supplements come in many forms—from chewable tablets and gummies to liquids, gels, and capsules. The three main types of supplements are all derived from plants and psyllium specifically is the only one proven to reduce your levels of LDL cholesterol and improve skin clarity.
Always talk to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet. Talk about which type of supplement best suits your needs and how you can take it safely by increasing your dosage gradually, staying hydrated and not taking it within an hour or two of other medications. Remember, small changes can add up to a big difference in your health and quality of life.