Dietary fiber may seem like a straightforward topic in nutrition. After all, it’s just the roughage in plant-based foods that we never really digest and absorb in the way we do, say fats and carbohydrates. Fiber is what keeps things moving along, right? When we get constipated, we’re told to eat more fiber. In other words, we should eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to get things moving.
Well, fiber does promote regularity and for some of us, consuming a more fiber-rich diet is enough. However, there are times when a fiber supplement is beneficial. When determining whether a fiber supplement is right to you, it’s important to consider your goals and to understand what your options are.
In this article, we will discuss health conditions that may improve with fiber supplementation. We will then look at the best supplements on the market for each of these conditions.
How Much Fiber Do We Need per Day?
As previously mentioned, changes in diet can increase an individual's fiber intake. Including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at each meal can bring an individual into the recommended range for dietary fiber: 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.
The recommendation decreases after the age of 50, to 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men.
These levels are challenging for most adults to reach, especially for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. IBS sufferers often need to avoid foods that are high in FODMAPs, a group of fermentable carbohydrates, many of which are found in high fiber foods. For those who do not tolerate these types of foods and for those who have some of the conditions we’ll discuss below, a fiber supplement can be key in addressing their symptoms and improving health outcomes.
Types of Fiber
There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, creating a gel-like substance in the intestines, which then traps unwanted substances, such as cholesterol, fats, and some sugars. Thus, this type of fiber can potentially lower cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar, and aid in weight loss. As a result, soluble fiber is considered beneficial for the following conditions (1):
High Cholesterol and Heart disease
Overweight and obesity
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, does not dissolve in water, but rather adds bulk to stool and decreases transit time, in other words speeding up bowel movements. Thus, this type of fiber can be beneficial for those struggling with constipation. There is also evidence that insoluble fiber improves other GI related conditions. It is likely that these improvements are related to a reduction in constipation. For these reasons, insoluble fiber is recommended for the following conditions:
Of course, many supplements contain a combination of soluble and insoluble fibers. In fact, certain conditions, particularly constipation, benefit from a combination of these fibers. However, it helpful to keep in mind the different types and their respective functional roles.
In addition to the type of fiber, each supplement will be sourced from unique ingredients, which may possess additional benefits. For instance, chia and flax are sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which work to reduce inflammation in the body. Some other fiber supplements may contain derivatives of other plants, which provide sources of polyphenols, antioxidants, mucilaginous herbs, and more.
Always read the label, including the list of ingredients, and buy from a reputable source. In my practice, I utilize FullScript, which provides affordable pricing, reliable shipping and the highest quality. If you would like to take advantage of this dispensary, you can set-up a free account by clicking below.
Below are my top recommendations by health concern.
For Constipation, GERD and Hemorrhoids:
This source of fiber contains a unique blend of soluble and insoluble fibers to address intestinal motility. It also dissolves easily into water or your favorite beverage.
This prebiotic fiber will absorb water in the digestive tract to slow things down.
For High Cholesterol, Diabetes and Weight Management:
This blend of acacia and fruit fibers supports healthy blood sugar levels while promoting cholesterol elimination and contributing to fullness.
For Gut Health:
Whole Fiber Fusion contains a blend of chia and flax for omega 3s, spore-forming probiotics to improve gut microbiota, and naturally occurring digestive enzymes from papaya.
Best Capsule Form:
If mixing a powder into a drink isn’t appealing, this encapsulated formula provides an ideal blend of psyllium husk and oat bran fibers along with viscous fibers that will effectively trap toxins and promote regularity.
Compare with other popular fiber supplements
If you’ve struggled with some of the above-mentioned health concerns for some time, you may be familiar with some of the products listed below. Here, I provide a summary of the most popular fiber supplements as a comparison to the products recommended above. Please review this section if you are wondering why you shouldn’t grab a fiber supplement at the pharmacy or grocery store and be done with it.
This popular product uses psyllium husk as the source of fiber. However, many versions of Metamucil contain artificial sweeteners, food dyes and flavorings. There is an unflavored version available; however, this version still contains additives. For these reasons, I recommend pure psyllium husk powder, as listed above.
This fiber supplement uses a manufactured chemical compound, methylcellulose, as the source of fiber. It is touted as being non-allergenic. If you suspect that you have a food allergy or sensitivity, I recommend working with a dietitian and/or doctor, rather than choosing a manufactured substance over a food-based product. In addition, Citrucel uses food dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners.
Many products from Benefiber are free from additives. In fact, their “Original” formulation contains only one ingredient: Wheat Dextrin. Because the dextrin is isolated, this product is gluten-free. However, as sensitivities to wheat are common, and often go undetected, I recommend opting for a wheat-free formulation from my list above instead.
Supplemental fiber can improve outcomes for individuals with: high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight, obesity, constipation, diarrhea, GERD, and more. If you choose to supplement with fiber, choose a formulation that is free from additives, especially artificial sweeteners. Both soluble and insoluble fibers play unique roles in the digestive tract. Consult your doctor or dietitian if you have questions about whether a fiber supplement is right for you.
1. Michopoulos, V. (2017). Fiber to the rescue?. Science translational medicine, 9(385).
2. Yang J, Wang HP, Zhou L, Xu CF. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(48):7378-7383. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378
3. Selling J, Swann P, Madsen LR 2nd, Oswald J. Improvement in Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms From a Food-grade Maltosyl-isomaltooligosaccharide Soluble Fiber Supplement: A Case Series. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2018;17(5):40-42.
4. Garg P, Singh P. Adequate dietary fiber supplement and TONE can help avoid surgery in most patients with advanced hemorrhoids. Minerva Gastroenterologica e Dietologica. 2017 Jun;63(2):92-96. DOI: 10.23736/s1121-421x.17.02364-9. PMID: 28150480.
5. Carabotti, M.; Annibale, B.; Severi, C.; Lahner, E. Role of Fiber in Symptomatic Uncomplicated Diverticular Disease: A Systematic Review. Nutrients 2017, 9, 161. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9020161