Getting to Know Fiber: Supplements

How are you feeling about fiber these days? Do you have a better understanding of what insoluble[1], soluble[2], and functional[3] 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:

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:

Three other points:

More on fiber supplements next week!

  1. insoluble:
  2. soluble:
  3. functional:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.