Getting to Know Fiber: Supplements

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How are you feeling about fiber these days? Do you have a better understanding of what insoluble, soluble, and functional fibers are? And most importantly, do you think you’re getting enough fiber in your diet?

That’s really the question, isn’t it? Remember that the average person gets about 13 grams of fiber each day. Yet we all need more than that (14 grams per 1,000 calories) and only 10% of Americans get the amount of fiber that’s recommended. Dietitians will tell you that it’s best to get your fiber from food sources. Why? Because high-fiber foods offer other health and nutrition benefits, of course! So, your diet should include whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.


Yet, as is the case with many nutrients, sometimes we fall short. It’s during these times when it seems so much easier to be able to pop a pill or gulp down a drink that gives us what we need. And just as there are pills and supplements for vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, there are supplements that contain fiber. Are these any good? Do they actually contain fiber? Are they harmful in any way? Let’s look.

Fiber Supplements
Stroll down one of the aisles of any drugstore and you’ll see fiber supplements. They’re often in powder, pill, or even wafer form. They seem appealing, especially to the person who dislikes whole wheat bread, bran flakes, or the skin of an apple. And why not take one if you can’t get enough from food? Here’s a rundown of some of the more popular types of supplements.

Psyllium. Psyllium is a natural (as opposed to synthetic) type of soluble fiber that offers the following benefits:

  • Promotes regularity
  • Relieves constipation
  • Lowers blood cholesterol
  • May lower blood glucose

Metamucil. Metamucil is a psyllium-based supplement that has been around for years. The powder version comes in different flavors (including sugar-free) and textures (smooth or coarse). One teaspoon of Metamucil powder contains 3 grams of fiber and the manufacturer recommends that you take Metamucil (mixed into your favorite beverage) three times daily, which gives you a total of 9 grams of fiber. That’s a start for meeting your fiber quota, but you still have a ways to go.

Metamucil also comes in a capsule, either regular or with calcium added. Capsules sound great until you realize that the serving size is up to 6 capsules, one to three times per day (6 capsules of the regular version contain just three grams of fiber!). What about the Metamucil wafers? They actually taste pretty good and come in two flavors: Apple Crisp and Cinnamon Spice. The serving size is 1 packet (2 wafers), which contain 100 calories, 16 grams of carbohydrate, and 4.5 grams of fat. The fiber content is 5 grams for two wafers. You’d be munching a lot of those wafers to get enough fiber, and that comes at a cost of calories, carbohydrate, and fat, not to mention that a box of 12 two-pack wafers costs $5.99 at Walgreens.

Konsyl. Konsyl is similar to Metamucil in that it too is a psyllium-based fiber supplement. And like Metamucil, it can promote regularity, and help lower cholesterol and blood glucose. Konsyl is available as a powder, both regular and sugar-free. A one-teaspoon dose contains 6 grams of fiber, including 3 grams of soluble fiber (compared to 2 grams of soluble fiber in a dose of Metamucil). And just like Metamucil, Konsyl offers fiber capsules, each one containing 0.5 grams of fiber. The directions on the Web site advise adults to take 2 to 6 capsules up to three times per day day for increasing fiber intake. That’s a lot to swallow. The cost of the capsules on Konsyl’s Web site is $9.50 for a bottle of 100 and the powder ranges from $14 to $19, depending on the size of the package.

Psyllium-based fiber supplements are generally regarded as safe, but possible side effects include:

  • Abdominal fullness
  • Bloating
  • Allergic reactions (hives, chest pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, facial swelling)

Three other points:

  • Metamucil and Konsyl powder and capsules are gluten-free but if you are following a gluten-free diet you should always double-check the ingredient list for changes in formulation.
  • You need to take any kind of fiber supplement with plenty of liquid to prevent the product from swelling in your throat and possibly causing choking.
  • Psyllium is also found in Kellogg’s All-Bran Bran Buds cereal. One-third of a cup contains 70 calories, 1 gram of fat, 24 grams of carbohydrate, and 13 grams of fiber. All for under $5 per box. You can mix Bran Buds with another type of cereal or stir it into non-fat Greek yogurt for a protein-and-fiber-rich treat.

More on fiber supplements next week!

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