“Fiber supplements may help, but they’re not a license to skip veggies.”
In an ideal world, everyone would get their share of fiber from huge, crunchy salads and snacks of fresh fruit. But Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, who has studied fiber and was on the committee that researched the 2010 federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, knows that’s not going to happen.
Most people get only about half the recommended intake of at least 25 grams of fiber a day, a bigger shortfall than with most nutrients, says Slavin, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition, in St. Paul. That’s why she recommends some friends take supplements to help make up the difference. “You still need to eat
fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes,” Slavin says. “But if you can’t swap these for what you normally eat, a supplement can help you get what you need.”
Fiber—plant substances that the body doesn’t easily digest—lingers in the GI tract, where it nourishes good bacteria and slows digestion. It may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers. Although much of what’s known about fiber’s healthimpact comes from studies of overall dietary patterns, clinical studies based on isolated fiber like that found in supplements also reported important benefits, like lowering cholesterol.
“Not all dietary fibers are alike,” Slavin says. For example, studies suggest that psyllium (used in liquid supplements like Metamucil) and wheat bran are effective at promoting regularity; inulin can increase healthy bacteria in the gut; and oat bran and barley bran have been shown to lower cholesterol.
So should you take a supplement?
First try to boost fiber intake by tweaking your diet. If you still fall short, take 3 grams of fiber once a day to start (to avoid gas and bloating). If you tolerate the change after three days, increase to 3 grams three times a day. Check with your doctor if you have diabetes or take certain drugs, since fiber can lower blood sugar and reduce absorption of some meds.
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