If nutrients were The Avengers, fiber would be Jarvis.
Hear us out.
Fiber isn’t oversized like the Hulk (who would be … protein?), oft-misunderstood like Thor (fat?), or small-but-mighty like Ant-Man (vitamin B-12, for sure).
Fiber is soft-spoken, steadfast, and kind of holds the whole team together. Just like Jarvis.
And if you decide that maybe fiber isn’t important to you, well, then you suffer the nutritional equivalent of Age of Ultron.
Fiber (and Jarvis) are important.
You see, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies can’t digest. (Yes, this marks the end of our tortured Jarvis metaphor.) While the nutrient doesn’t actually provide energy, vitamins, or minerals, fiber has a slew of health benefits.
Soluble fiber, which dissolves into a gel in water and is found in foods like oatmeal, nuts, and beans, helps keep blood sugar in check and can lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber, which remains intact in water and is found in wheat, rice, and many fruits and vegetables, keeps things moving through your digestive system and prevents constipation.
Consuming enough fiber overall might reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, diverticulitis (inflammation of the small intestine that’s common among older adults), and some cancers.
Now, the bad news: Only about five percent of men and nine percent of women are regularly consuming the recommended daily amount of fiber, about 38 grams (g) and 25g per day, respectively. That’s no real surprise when you consider that 90 percent of American adults fall short of getting five fruits and vegetables (both a great source of fiber) per day.
Of course, it’s always best to consume your nutrients from food. “Fiber-rich foods have additional components that provide added benefits to gut and overall health,” says Sharon Puello, R.D., a certified diabetes educator based in Yonkers, New York.
“These include prebiotics, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.” In other words: You’ll take in far more nutrition from an apple or a bowl of lentil soup than you will from a scoop of fiber powder in your water.
Are fiber supplements good?
While it’s possible to consume all the fiber you need from whole, plant-based foods, fiber supplements exist to fill in the gaps.
“Fiber supplements can be a great way to help get in adequate fiber while you’re learning how to add more fiber from foods to your diet,” Puello says.
Fiber supplements can be helpful for people with chronic diarrhea, since they contain soluble fiber to draw water into your colon and thicken your stools. They can also help ease the symptoms of digestive health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.
What to look for in a fiber supplement.
“When looking for a fiber supplement you want to look for one free of artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, as well as any ingredients you may be intolerant to,” Puello says. “Ideally, you want to choose a supplement that contains prebiotic fiber as well,” she says, as this type of fiber feeds probiotic bacteria in your gut to support overall health.
And don’t overdo it. “I recommend no more than one-fourth of your fiber coming from supplements daily,” Puello says. For men, that’s about nine grams.
If you’re in the market for a fiber supplement to boost your daily intake, here are five that we recommend.
“Sunfiber is a good, gentle option that gives you soluble fiber along with prebiotics,” Puello says. It packs six grams of fiber per serving and contains no other ingredients. Plus, it dissolves easily in hot or cold liquid.
Just a teaspoon of Now Foods Certified Organic Inulin delivers 2.5 grams of inulin, a type of soluble prebiotic fiber. In addition benefits like better digestion and a more regular bathroom schedule, inulin has been shown to support a healthy gut microbiome.
Psyllium husk contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, which makes it a great choice if you’re dealing with constipation (since most supplements only contain soluble fiber, which draws water but doesn’t sweep things through your digestive tract).
Organic India Psyllium Herbal Powder contains 4 grams fiber per tablespoon, and it is best used blended into smoothies or stirred into oatmeal, since it takes on a gummy texture in water.
Made with wheat dextrin, Benefiber contains only soluble fiber and delivers three grams per two-teaspoon serving. It doesn’t thicken in liquid the way many other fiber supplements do, so you can add it to sauces and drinks without messing with the texture.
Metylcellulose, a semi-synthetic fiber made from treated wood pulp, is a soluble fiber found in many over-the-counter supplements. It’s non-fermentable, meaning that it’s less likely to cause gas than some other types of fiber. Two caplets of Citrucel methylcellulose with Smartfiber will give you 1 gram of fiber, and you can take up to 12 caplets per day.
You’ve heard about it for a reason. Metamucil’s psyllium fiber, derived from the psyllium husk, can help add bulk to your stool and eliminate waste from your digestive tract. This product from their line contains no added sugar, which is just a bonus.