According to the Journal of Nutrition, fewer than 10 percent of Americans get their daily recommended intake of fiber. Supplements like wheat dextrin and psyllium can help Americans close the fiber gap.
Psyllium and wheat dextrin are two popular forms of fiber supplements, which go by the brand names Metamucil and Benefiber, respectively. Each type of fiber offers unique benefits and potential drawbacks.
Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
When you eat any food, your body breaks down macronutrients, like carbohydrates and protein, so that you can absorb them. You also take in micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. However, fiber is the part of plant foods that the human body doesn't absorb. Instead, fiber passes through your body mostly intact.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber binds with water in the digestive system to form a gel that slows down digestion. Psyllium is a soluble fiber found in Metamucil. You can also find this nutrient in lentils, oat bran, nuts, barley and seeds.
Read More: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
Insoluble fiber does not attract water. Instead, it helps food pass through the digestive system quickly. This type of fiber is in wheat dextrin, as well as many other whole grains and vegetables.
Neither soluble nor insoluble fiber is more important. Instead, you need a healthy balance of both. Choose your dietary fiber supplements based on your unique nutrition goals and the health benefits of each type of fiber.
Compare Metamucil and Benefiber Benefits
The Cleveland Clinic asserts that high-fiber diets may help:
- Relieve constipation
- Improve cholesterol numbers
- Regulate blood sugar levels
- Control weight
A look at the most recent, controlled and comprehensive research finds that psyllium is more likely to lead to many of these benefits than wheat dextrin. In 2015, Nutrition Today published a comprehensive review of the evidence regarding the health benefits of different kinds of fiber. This paper concluded that psyllium is most effective in treating constipation, perhaps due to the fact that it does not ferment in the intestinal track.
A 2018 meta-analysis of 28 clinical trials in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that psyllium powder improves lipid markers, otherwise known as cholesterol levels. The effect is so strong that just increasing your soluble fiber intake by 5 to 10 grams per day can decrease your LDL cholesterol.
A 2019 meta-analysis in Diabetes Care, the journal for the American Diabetes Association, found that viscous fiber, including psyllium, improve markers for blood sugar. The researchers concluded that doctors should include viscous fiber in the treatment of patients with Type 2 diabetes. Because psyllium forms a gel in the stomach and slows digestion, it may also keep you feeling fuller longer, which can aid in weight loss.
Beware of Unwanted Side Effects
As with any supplement or medication, psyllium and dextrin fiber can give you unwanted side effects. Although fiber supplements are generally safe, they can cause side effects such as:
- Stomach pain
- Allergic reactions
Although increasing your fiber intake can have several health benefits, it is possible to get too much in your diet. Some of these side effects come from simply taking too much of the supplement. Other times, the discomfort comes from adjusting to the regimen. Slowly introducing fiber may curb side effects.
People with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance should avoid wheat dextrin because of its gluten contents. Furthermore, people with Crohn's disease or a history of intestinal blockages should consult their doctors before starting a fiber supplement. You should also check with your doctor or pharmacist before introducing a fiber supplement to ensure it does not interfere with any prescriptions.
- Journal of Nutrition: "Filling America's Fiber Intake Gap: Summary of a Roundtable to Probe Realistic Solutions With a Focus on Grain-Based Foods"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- MedlinePlus: "Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Improving Your Health With Fiber"
- Nutrition Today: "Evidence-Based Approach to Fiber Supplements and Clinically Meaningful Health Benefits, Part 2"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of Psyllium (Plantago Ovata) Fiber on LDL Cholesterol and Alternative Lipid Targets, Non-HDL Cholesterol and Apolipoprotein B: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cholesterol: Top Foods to Improve Your Numbers"
- Diabetes Care: "Should Viscous Fiber Supplements Be Considered in Diabetes Control? Results From a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- Mayo Clinic: "I Find it Difficult to Eat Enough Fruits and Vegetables. Is There Any Harm in Taking a Fiber Supplement Every Day?"