Are you getting enough fiber? How to tell if you should be taking a fiber supplement

Anika Nayak,Samantha Cassetty
·4 min read
fiber supplement
Fiber supplements can be found in powder, pill, or even drop form. globalmoments/Getty Images
  • Fiber supplements can help you reach your recommended daily fiber intake of 28-35 grams.

  • Fiber supplements can ease constipation, improve gut health, and may even help you lose weight.

  • The best fiber supplements for constipation are those that consist of mostly insoluble fiber.

  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Getting adequate amounts of fiber is essential for overall health as it can normalize bowel movements, manage weight, and improve heart health. However, only 5% of Americans consume enough fiber - 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams for men.

While dieticians recommend eating fiber through a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you can also boost your fiber intake with a fiber supplement. Fiber supplements come in many forms including capsules, gummies, powders, or even crackers.

Here's what to know when shopping for the right fiber supplement and some side effects that may be unavoidable, depending on your choice.

What's the best fiber supplement for you?

When shopping for fiber supplements, it's important to note that there are two types of fiber you may see: soluble and insoluble.

Types of fiber

  • Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber helps maintain blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It also creates a gel-like substance in the colon which can improve digestion.

  • Insoluble fiber: Insoluble fiber increases stool bulk, which helps it move through the digestive tract, thereby easing constipation.

You can purchase supplements that contain one or both types. Some examples of fiber supplements include:

  • Metamucil: Contains both soluble and insoluble fiber

  • Konsyl: Contains both soluble and insoluble fiber

  • Citrucel (methylcellulose): Contains mostly insoluble fiber

  • Benefiber: Contains mostly soluble fiber

  • FiberCon: Contains mostly soluble fiber

Note: Fiber supplements with mostly insoluble fiber are best for constipation and soluble fiber supplements are more likely to cause gas and bloating.

Most people who take fiber supplements are dealing with a digestive condition, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). If you are considering taking a fiber supplement, speak with your doctor to determine which kind and how much is best for you.

Benefits of fiber supplements

Both soluble and insoluble fiber come with a myriad of health benefits. For example, a 2021 review of 41 studies found that fiber supplements have laxative-like effects, adding bulk to stool thereby reducing chronic constipation.

"Fiber can also aid in weight loss efforts alongside healthy lifestyle changes, such as a nutritious diet and exercise," says Disha Narang, MD, a board-certified endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.

Note: While it's best to consume your fiber through whole foods as they contain other beneficial vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, iron, and calcium, you may want to choose a fiber supplement to boost your intake.

Here are four more benefits of consuming adequate fiber:

  1. Maintains a healthy gut

  2. Reduces blood sugar spikes

  3. Decreases risk of cardiovascular-related illnesses

  4. Reduces risk of colorectal and other digestive related cancers

Fiber supplement side effects

If your body isn't used to getting enough fiber, then taking a supplement may throw your digestion for a loop resulting in some uncomfortable side effects. Here's what to expect as your body adapts to getting adequate fiber:

Moreover, if you take too much fiber (via supplements or food), you can increase the duration and severity of the above symptoms, says Kari Pitts, a registered dietitian at Preg Appetit.

That's why it's important to follow the instructions on the supplement's label. You may even want to consume less than the recommended dosage and gradually work your way up.

While a tolerable upper intake level for fiber has not been set yet, experts recommend getting 25 to 38 grams per day.

Important: "Most fiber supplements are safe to take daily. While there is no particular time of day to take them, it's important to take each dose with a glass of water to stay hydrated," Pitts says. Since fiber absorbs water, this will allow it to pass stool and food effectively.

Narang says you should consult a healthcare provider before taking a fiber supplement if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Bowel obstruction

  • Crohn's disease

  • Ulcerative colitis

  • Other gastrointestinal problems, such as bloating or chronic diarrhea.

Insider's takeaway

Fiber boasts a variety of benefits, including improving digestion and assisting with weight loss. While it is recommended to meet your dietary fiber needs by eating fibrous plant-based foods, fiber supplements may help you meet your daily recommended intake. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if fiber supplements are the right fit for you.

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