Is a Fiber Supplement Just as Good as Fiber From Food?

Experts explain what fiber supplements can and can’t do for your health.

Q: I take a daily fibre supplement, but I’m not sure if it has the same health advantages as meals high in fibre. Is taking a supplement equivalent to gaining fibre?

It depends on how you define “good,” according to Mayo Clinic integrative medicine specialist Dr. Denise Millstine. Fibre supplements, according to her, can frequently be helpful if your aim is to enhance your bowel movements or lessen certain digestive problems (like constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, or cramps).

However, she pointed out that they won’t provide the same vitamins, minerals, and other healthy ingredients as foods high in fibre.

One vitamin that our digestive systems are unable to process is fibre. This lowers cholesterol and lessens blood sugar rises by slowing the passage of food through the digestive system. Additionally, it thickens and softens our stools, reducing the likelihood of constipation.

According to Dr. Millstine, taking a fibre supplement only results in the consumption of fibre on its own. However, she also mentioned that consuming fibre from a meal also provides additional nutrients. For example, one cup of blueberries has four grammes of fibre, potassium, magnesium, B and C vitamins, and more.

Nicola McKeown, a nutrition research professor at Boston University, stated that these and other essential nutrients found in foods high in fibre work together to reduce inflammation and lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Additionally, foods high in fibre “maintain a healthy gut,” according to her.

For this reason, experts advise consuming as much fiber-rich food as you can to meet your daily requirements, which typically range from 21 to 38 grammes per day, depending on your age and sex. Fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains are a few of these.

Including a fruit or vegetable in every meal is one method to make sure you’re hitting your daily goal, according to Julia Zumpano, a dietician with the Centre for Human Nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic. Alternatively, she suggested adding flax or chia seeds to smoothies or muesli to increase their fibre level.

However, doctors advise taking supplements in the form of powders, candies, and capsules if you’re still having trouble getting enough fibre. However, there are several crucial things to remember.

How to Maximise the Benefits of Supplemental Fibre

Before taking any fibre supplements, it’s best to speak with a physician or dietitian if you have a digestive condition like diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or irritable bowel syndrome (which causes tiny pouches to form in the colon that can become inflamed or infected). Megan Rossi is a research fellow in nutrition at King’s College London.

Proceed cautiously when including extra fibre into your diet, advised Ms. Zumpano.

Common types, such as chicory or inulin, which are frequently found in processed foods like energy bars and granola, “can be pretty rough” on the digestive system, according to Dr. Millstine. Some get painful cramps and loose or urgent faeces.

Ms. Zumpano suggested fibre supplements in the form of powders, such as inulin, psyllium, and wheat dextrin. These can be mixed into liquids like water, coffee, juices, or milks to provide the added advantage of hydration. They are frequently marketed without other additives.

Gummies and fibre tablets can also assist you in reaching your daily objective, but they may have disadvantages, according to Ms. Zumpano. Sometimes the amount of fibre in each dish is so low that you have to eat a lot of them to meet your daily goal. Should they incorporate additional substances (such as sugar, artificial sweeteners, flavours, or dyes), you may be ingesting a higher than desired amount of those components.

In other cases, she continued, the amount of fibre in each meal is so high that it could result in unpleasant side effects like bloating, gas, or cramping in the stomach.

Ms. Zumpano advised choosing a fibre supplement that offers roughly three to five grammes of fibre per serving when incorporating it into your diet. You should be able to accept more without experiencing any adverse effects after your body has adapted to that quantity.

Dr. Millstine added that it’s crucial to stay hydrated when taking any kind of fibre supplement. Ironically, she continued, taking it with insufficient liquids can actually make you constipated. And be sure they don’t include any additional additives you might be seeking to avoid by carefully reading the labels.

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