Fiber has become a buzzword in health and wellness, and for good reason — it can really do some good in your body. The nutrient can keep your digestive system healthy and is equally important for heart health and preventing diabetes. Plus, it can even help you achieve your weight-loss goals.
You should get your nutrients from whole foods whenever possible, but getting extra fiber from supplements may help you feel full, which can help with appetite control. To be clear, though, fiber supplements are not weight-loss supplements and should not be used to induce a laxative effect to lose weight.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that women get 25 grams of fiber per day and men get 38. Here's how to know whether you're getting enough, if you should consider a supplement and, if so, how to choose the right one.
What Is Fiber?
Dietary fiber, aka roughage or bulk, is a plant-based nutrient. Most of the fiber we eat comes in the form of carbohydrates, so if you've been hating on carbs, it's time to show some love to fiber. What makes fiber so beneficial to our bodies is that we don't digest it. (It may sound strange, but this is actually a good thing!)
Fiber is classified into two categories and they are both equally important for health.
- Soluble fiber is just like it sounds: soluble (or able to be broken down) in water. This type of fiber helps absorb water during digestion and helps you feel full. Soluble fiber is also essential for heart health because it helps to pull LDL ("bad") cholesterol out of the body.
- Insoluble fiber doesn't break down in your body — it's the same coming out as going in. It helps absorb water in your large intestine and provide bulk and easy passage for your stool, to support healthy digestion and help keep you — ahem — regular.
Since all plant foods — and only plant foods — contain fiber, if you're eating plants, you can be sure you're getting some fiber. Since most plant foods contain a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber, it's not important to try to eat them separately or distinguish which type of fiber you're eating. Rather, the goal should be to get the recommended total amount in your diet.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
How Fiber Can Help With Weight Loss
If you've been told to increase your plant foods (read: fruits and veggies) to lose a few pounds, fiber is one of the big reasons why. According to research published April 2018 in Eating Behaviors, as fiber in the diet increased, body mass index (BMI) decreased significantly over a period of six months in African-American women.
If you are looking for consistency in health recommendations, look no further than fiber for weight loss and maintenance. According to a July 2018 review study published in Nutrients, nine large studies concluded that a higher fiber intake was associated with weight management. That means researchers found that fiber intakes over 20 grams per day (per 2,000-calorie diet) were better for weight management and prevention of weight gain.
It's worth noting that most studies have evaluated the effects of fiber from food, so the same benefits can't necessarily be attributed to fiber supplements. Plus, getting your fiber from a supplement means you're missing out on the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that fiber-rich foods provide, per the Mayo Clinic.
However, people who have certain dietary restrictions, such as a gluten intolerance, or who find it difficult to incorporate enough plant-based foods into their diet may benefit from a fiber supplement.
Fiber supplements can interact with some medications. Make sure to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before deciding to incorporate a supplement into your weight-loss plan.
What to Look for in a Fiber Supplement
The first thing you need to know if you're considering a fiber supplement is that you should never drastically increase the amount of fiber in your diet all at once, since this can cause bloating and gas, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you feel the need for a supplement, or if your medical provider has recommended one, start slow and ramp up your water intake, too, to help alleviate digestive woes.
There are many different fiber sources, such as wheat bran (insoluble), inulin (soluble), psyllium (soluble) and beta-glucan (soluble), to name a few. It's important to have a conversation with your doctor to determine the best type for your specific health conditions and goals.
For people with inflammatory conditions such as Crohn's disease or colitis, for example, choosing the wrong supplement could make the condition worse. In addition, some fiber supplements are sourced from wheat, so those who have celiac disease or who otherwise need to eat a gluten-free diet should be careful.
If you're thinking that fiber tastes better when it's sweeter, then you should consider getting your fiber from fruit instead of a supplement. Many supplements add sugar to their fiber to make it taste better. The American Heart Association recommends that women should not have any more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar in a day and men should keep it below 9 teaspoons per day. Some fiber supplements have up to 4 teaspoons of added sugar per serving, and especially if you have weight loss as a goal, you don't need additional sugar in your diet.
The Best Fiber Supplements
If you aren't following a healthy diet, it's unlikely that taking a fiber supplement is going to have much of an effect on your weight loss. However, if you are working toward your goals in a healthy way and can't seem to get enough fiber in your diet, here are some trusted supplements that you can speak with your medical provider about.
Metamucil 4 in 1 Fiber
This powdered supplement is made from psyllium, which is mostly a soluble fiber. Two tablespoons of the stuff will give you 6 grams of fiber and no added sugar and no artificial sweeteners. According to research published April 2017 in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, psyllium fiber can have a stool-normalizing effect, which means that it can firm up loose stool and loosen constipated stool.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $25.44
Naturemade Adult Fiber Gummies
If you can't stomach pills or powder, a gummy supplement might be your next choice. These gummies have 2 grams of added sugar per serving and will give you 6 grams of fiber from inulin. Inulin is a prebiotic fiber, which means it can help aid in growing and keeping your gut bacteria healthy. According to March 2018 research in Current Developments in Nutrition, inulin from food sources can help support digestive health. In addition an October 2015 study published in Nutrition and Metabolism concluded that inulin supplementation could help promote weight loss.
Naturemade is a company that is well known for producing quality supplements with a large number of their products containing the USP Verified Mark, which ensures you are taking what the label states. Currently there are no fiber supplements on the market with a USP seal, so going with a trusted company is your best bet.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $27.18
Best on a Budget
Up&Up Fiber Therapy Supplement
Each type of fiber supplement is usually available in a store brand, and if you are concerned with price, that's usually a good option. Turn the name brand and the store brand products over to compare the labels to see if everything is the same and if so, the store brand will usually be less expensive.
This fiber supplement from Target's Up&Up brand line is comparable to Metamucil for about half the cost.
Buy it: Target; Price: $9.99
Citrucel Fiber Therapy
If it's necessary that you avoid gluten, then choosing a gluten-free fiber supplement is a must. Citrucel is fiber from methylcellulose, made from plant cellulose, and is free of gluten. While many fiber types, such as psyllium (Metamucil) are technically gluten-free as well, if the packing doesn't specifically state its gluten-free status, then it still may contain traces of gluten from the manufacturing process.
Citrucel powder can be mixed with water and contains 2 grams of fiber per tablespoon, which is the serving size. It does contain 60 calories per tablespoon, mainly from sucrose and maltodextrin. A benefit from methylcellulose is that it's typically well tolerated, as this fiber type does not ferment in the colon, causing less gas and bloating.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $9.94
Best Natural Fiber Supplement
Bob's Red Mill Wheat Bran
It's not a pill and you can't mix it into your morning coffee, but adding wheat bran to your daily meals might be the next best option to getting your fiber from fruits and veggies. One-quarter of a cup will give you 6 grams of insoluble fiber, which can help you feel full and keep your digestive system moving along. There is no added sugar in wheat bran and it can be cooked into foods or mixed into oatmeal or smoothies.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $2.43
The Bottom Line on Fiber Supplements and Weight Loss
If you are currently on a weight-loss plan or considering it, fiber should be part of your diet. Whether it comes from food or from supplements, it is clear that fiber is helpful for weight loss and maintenance, but it's not a magic bullet. If you are worried about a fiber supplement interfering with or exacerbating a current condition, speak with your medical provider or registered dietitian to help you choose one that is right for you.
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Micronutrient Information Center: Fiber"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Easy Ways to Boost Fiber"
- Eating Behaviors: "Associations Between Fiber Intake and Body Mass Index (BMI) Among African-American Women Participating in a Randomized Weight Loss and Maintenance Trial"
- Nutrients: "Dietary Fibre as a Unifying Remedy for the Whole Spectrum of Obesity-Associated Cardiovascular Risk"
- Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners: "Fiber supplements and clinically proven health benefits: How to Recognize and Recommend an Effective Fiber Therapy"
- USP: "Dietary Supplements and Herbal Medicines"
- Current Developments in Nutrition: "Health Effects and Sources of Prebiotic Dietary Fiber"
- Nutrition and Metabolism: "A randomized controlled trial: "The Effect of Inulin on Weight Management and Ectopic Fat in Subjects With Prediabetes"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fiber supplements: Safe to take every day?"