Psyllium is a soluble fiber produced from the Plantago ovata shrub. When exposed to fluids, the husk — from the outer portion of the seeds of the plant — swells up to create a gel. The powder has a finer texture than the husk, and is more commonly used in capsules. Both the husk and the powder provide a number of health benefits because of their high fiber content.
What's the Difference?
Psyllium husk can be made into psyllium powder in a spice grinder, although you can also purchase the powder in some health food stores. A 1-tablespoon serving of the husk produces 1 teaspoon of powder, both of which have 20 calories per serving and 5 grams of dietary fiber. Store psyllium husk and powder similarly -- in a sealed container away from moisture.
Psyllium is primarily used to manage constipation, especially if you, like most Americans, do not consume enough dietary fiber. A 1-tablespoon serving of psyllium husk, or a 1-teaspoon serving of the powder, will provide 17 to 24 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of fiber for adult women, and 13 to 17 percent of the RDA for adult men. In addition to alleviating constipation, psyllium can also lower your risk of heart disease and may help with glucose tolerance in people with diabetes.
Mix both the husk and the powder with liquid before consuming. You can mix 1 to 3 tablespoons of husk -- or roughly 1 to 3 teaspoons of powder -- with 8 ounces of liquid. Use any type of fluid, such as water, fruit juice or soup. Or add either the powder or the husk to cereals, sprinkle it on top of fresh fruit or combine it in smoothies and yogurt. For a smoother, less grainy texture in foods, use the powder rather than the husk.
What to Watch Out for
It is important to consume enough fluid with psyllium. To further avoid constipation, consume a full 8 ounces of fluid when taking the psyllium, and at least 6 to 8 glasses of water throughout the day. If you have trouble swallowing, consult a doctor before taking psyllium because it may lead to choking. In addition, if you are not used to high amounts of fiber in your diet, start with smaller servings of psyllium -- such as 1/2 teaspoon of husk or 1/8 teaspoon of the powder in 8 ounces of fluid -- then gradually increase your consumption.