Dietary fiber isn’t always the most glamorous topic, especially because it usually leads to talking about bowel habits.
What Does Dietary Fiber do For Your Health?
Fiber from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can boost heart health, increase satiety, aid in weight loss, control blood sugar levels and help maintain normal bowel habits.
RELATED: Eating More Fiber for Heart Health
How Much Fiber do You Need?
It’s recommended to have at least 25 grams of dietary fiber per day (38 for men), but the average American only eats a measly 11 grams per day!
What if you’re not getting enough fiber?
Are you struggling with constipation, diarrhea, or a mix of the two? Looking for ways to hit your fiber goals? Try a dietary fiber supplement! The reality is, you may not always hit your fiber goal with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains alone. Dietary fiber supplements are usually inexpensive and easy to add to water or mix with food.
Fiber Fact: There are two types of fiber in plants, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is not absorbed in the intestine; therefore, it can help bind to things like cholesterol as it moves through the intestine, removing it from the body. This article focuses on soluble fibers.
Four Types of Soluble Fiber for Your Lifestyle
Here we review four popular types of soluble fiber:
Whether you’re looking for something to mix into food or beverage or if you are sensitive to cramping, we run through what’s great and not so great about each one so you can choose the best fit for your lifestyle.
Commonly found in Citrucel, methylcellulose is plant-based and acts as a bulking laxative. Methylcellulose is not naturally found in plants, it is made by altering the structure of plant matter to create a chain of cellulose molecules. This process creates a soluble fiber that attracts water into your GI tract to make stools easier to pass.
Most doses are 2 grams of fiber per scoop. Methylcellulose does not ferment in the large intestine, so you won’t experience bloating or cramping common with other fiber types. Common brands include flavored or unflavored options to add to your favorite beverages or foods.
The Good: Non-bloating or cramping!
The Bad: Added flavorings can be unappealing, man-made fiber.
Verdict: Give this fiber a try if you like the flavors.
Guar fiber is becoming more popular with emerging brands like RegularGirl and Sunfiber. Guar gum is commonly used in food as a thickener, but only recently has it gained popularity for its fiber content. Guar fiber comes from the seed of the guar plant and is processed into a white, tasteless powder. Guar fiber is soluble, meaning it dissolves in water and serves as food for good bacteria in your GI tract. So not only does guar help manage diarrhea and constipation, it serves as a prebiotic to fuel good gut bacteria too!
The Good: Guar fiber feeds good bacteria!
The Bad: It’s fermentable and can cause some GI distress like bloating, cramping.
Verdict: If you want to nourish your gut bacteria while helping keep regular, this may be the product for you!
If you frequent the fiber aisle (no, just me?) then you are probably very familiar with Psyllium. Psyllium is found in Metamucil and other store brands. Psyllium is plant-based taken directly from the husks of the blond psyllium plant. Psyllium is a soluble fiber and forms a gel, similar to methylcellulose, and draws water into your GI tract to bulk up your stool. Psyllium is also only partially fermentable by the bacteria in your intestine, so risks of bloating and cramping are low!
The Good: Very widely available, mixes well into beverages, low bloating or cramping risk.
The Bad: Added flavorings can be unappealing.
Verdict: This is a great intro fiber for a first timer. Many brands have several flavors that can be mixed into beverages and consumed daily.
Wheat dextrin is commonly added to food as a thickener. This dietary fiber is made directly from processing wheat, so it’s off limits if you have celiac disease or a confirmed gluten allergy. While processing takes most of the gluten out, some people still report sensitivities to this fiber. Like psyllium and guar, wheat dextrin is a soluble fiber that adds bulk to stool. Benefiber is a popular brand of wheat dextrin and is used frequently in the hospital setting due to its ability to be mixed with food without thickening. Wheat dextrin is not as versatile as the other dietary fibers, it is not used as a laxative.
The Good: Can be mixed into food like mashed potatoes, applesauce, yogurt without changing texture of foods!
The Bad: Contains gluten, avoid if you have Celiac disease or a confirmed gluten allergy.
Verdict: This fiber is less popular, but could be right for you if the thought of drinking your fiber makes you gag!
Our Favorite Pick for Psyllium
BALANCE Purify is packed with one of our favorite source of dietary fiber, psyllium husks, and is formulated with a combination of fennel seed powder to reduce bloat and probiotics and antioxidant compounds to support natural detoxification.
Caroline is a Clinical Registered Dietitian for MedStar Health and Hospital Systems in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her Masters Degree in Dietetics from San Jose State University and moved back to Charm City to be with her fiancee. When she’s not providing medical nutrition therapy to her patients, Caroline enjoys cooking, waterfront walks and crab-anything (crab pizza is the best!).