The Crucial Need for Fiber in Our Diets and How Fiber Powders Can Help

Medically reviewed by Mary Ahern MS, RDN, RYT February 19, 2024| Written by Zenda Nel

The Crucial Need for Fiber in Our Diets and How Fiber Powders Can Help

In these days of renewed interest in nutrition, it wouldn’t be improper to refer to dietary fiber as yet another superfood. After all, like other superfoods, dietary fiber is associated with several health benefits including heart health, weight maintenance, cancer prevention, stable blood sugar levels, reduced inflammation, low cholesterol levels, and astrong immune system.

What is dietary fiber precisely?

Dietary fiber is an essential nutrient that can be found in those parts of vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains that the human body can't digest. This indigestible roughage moves from the stomach to the small intestine and the colon - exiting the body relatively intact. 

After all, dietary fiber is a carbohydrate that is neither digested nor absorbed by the body.

Fiber is a vital aspect of human nutrition that has been all but forgotten. It’s because there’s a general focus on diets that limit sugar, carbs, and fat intake to combat the growing global obesity. Similarly, there’s a trend to seek diets that only fulfill our minimum daily need for protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and trace elements. 

As a consequence, we’ve lost sight of the importance of getting enough fiber. 

According to a recent study, only5% of men and 9% of women in the United States are eating the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber. The study revealed that for every 1000 calories consumed, the female participants consumed around 9.9 g of fiber while males ate around 8.7 g.

These figures fall short of the recommended fiber intake i.e. 14 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed. 

Overall, the researchers recommend a daily intake of 25 grams for women (assuming a 2,000-calorie diet) and 38 grams for men (assuming a 2,500-calorie diet). They emphasize that not consuming enough fiber raises the risk for chronic diseases, such as heart concerns and diabetes.

That said, certain medical conditions require a person to lower their fiber intake - but those diseases are rare and those diets are usually recommended for a short while.  

Two Kinds of Dietary Fiber

Fiber is classified into two categories:soluble and insoluble fiber.

1. Soluble Fiber 

Soluble fiber dissolves in water as well as in gastrointestinal fluids. The fluids affect the fiber by transforming it into a gel-like substance. This promotes the function of friendly gut bacteria and also helps maintain blood glucose and cholesterol levels. 

Plant foods like oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium are rich in soluble fiber.

2. Insoluble Fiber

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water or gastrointestinal fluids. In fact, it moves through the digestive system relatively intact. This is the type of fiber that most people are familiar with as it is responsible for forming the bulk of stools and moving them through the digestive system.

This is precisely why a shortage of dietary fiber in our diets is recognized by the discomfort of constipation. 

The best sources of insoluble dietary fiber are whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.

3. Resistant Starch as Soluble Fiber

Resistant starch is not technically classified as a fiber but acts like a fiber. These are starches that are resistant to digestive enzymes. Instead of being digested in the small intestine, these starches move onto the colon for fermentation by the microbiota. 

In the process, the fibers act as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria in the gut.

Resistant starch examples include:

  • Unripe bananas 
  • Peas and legumes, especially lentils
  • Whole grains, including oats and barley
  • Cooked and cooled rice, potato, and pasta

Research has shown that theeffects of resistant starch on gut microbiota and vice versa are complex.  However, they are optimistic about the promise resistant starch may hold for the prevention or treatment of diabetes, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases, and obesity. 

Wake-up Call

Have you noticed something common about the sources of dietary fiber? Yes! They are all plant-based. 

Those steaks, pulled pork, fried chicken wings, OceanBox seafood, and your Sunday morning fried egg all have no fiber in them.

If these are your staple foods and your diet doesn’t include plant-based components, then you may be in for some uncomfortable realities down the line.

What Are the Results of a Diet Low in Dietary Fiber?

1. Constipation

Insufficient fiber intake can cause constipation. A constipated person has difficulty passing stools and often has infrequent bowel movements. Hard stools are painful or difficult to pass. The frequency varies from person to person as some may experience constipation only once or twice a week. 

Around9%–20% of adults in the United States live with this condition. 

Constipation is a very common gastrointestinal complaint. It’s reported that around 2.5 million Americans consult their healthcare provider about constipation every year.

2. Complications Resulting from Constipation

A low-fiber diet often leads to constipation, resulting in straining during bowel movements, which can cause hemorrhoids or piles. 

There are two kinds of hemorrhoids based on where they occur i.e. inside or outside the rectum.

Internal hemorrhoids are usually painless but can cause bleeding. External hemorrhoids, on the other hand, can be extremely painful and uncomfortable to endure. They appear under the skin around the outside of the anal opening. 

How Did We Get Here?

In modern society, it's simply not a viable option for most people to keep a vegetable garden, an orchard, and chickens. We have become dependent on what is sold in the supermarkets, and much of it is processed.

Processing removes or destroys nutrients. For instance, the peeling of fruits and vegetables removes several critical plant nutrients and fiber. Similarly, milling grains like corn, wheat, and rice removes the outer bran and germ of the grain.

Though bran is mostly fiber, germ is the most nutrient-dense part of the grain. And so, processing grains doesn't just remove the fiber but it also removes many nutrients, leaving mostly the carbohydrate content. 

Extraordinary Health Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet

1. Overall Health-promoting Effects

Fiber plays an integral role in general health. A recentsystematic review of 243 studies about the effects of dietary fiber on health found that higher dietary fiber intake has numerous positive health outcomes, including lower body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. 

The scientists also found that higher intake of dietary fiber offers protection against heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal and breast cancer.

These positive effects were brought about by a daily intake of dietary fiber between 25 g and 29 g.

2. Supports the Immune System

The benefits of dietary fiber intake include supporting the immune system. Research has shown that a high-fiber plant-based diet (i.e. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) supports the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes. 

Some of these microbes break soluble fibers down into short-chain fatty acids, andshort-chain fatty acids have been shown to stimulate the immune system.

Aside from that, these short-chain fatty acids beneficially interact with gut cells. These also help with conditions like gut inflammation and digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

3. Helps with Weight Maintenance

Fiber-rich food makes one feel full and satisfied quickly, so you stop eating sooner. The full feeling also lasts longer. This is precisely why eating a slice of whole wheat bread will keep you full for longer than eating a few crackers or a bag of chips.

One study shows that people lose more weight if theyincrease their total fiber intake, especially if they eat more fruit and vegetables.

4. Promotes Bowel Health

As discussed earlier, a diet high in fiber promotes regular bowel movements, lowering the risk of developing complications like hemorrhoids. It also prevents diverticular disease in which small pouches in the colon become inflamed. 

Scientists also suggest that a high-fiber diet may lower the risk ofcolorectal cancer

5. Lowers Cholesterol Levels

Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed, and oat bran becomes a thick gel in the intestines, which slows digestion and the absorption of fats. This ultimately leads to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood. 

6. Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels

Eating a meal high in fiber content can help control blood sugar levels. The body can't break down and absorb fiber,  slowing down digestion and decreasing the blood sugar spike induced by refined carbohydrates.

This mechanism can also help people with diabetes manage their sugar levels in order to prevent serious diabetes-related complications.

7. Protects Against Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. Could something as simple as adding fiber to our diets help to reduce the number of heart disease cases?

The effect of fiber on the diet has been the subject of many studies. A systematic review of studies from 1980 to 2017 found that those consuming the highest amounts of dietary fiber had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

The scientists speculate that these positive effects may be because fiber reduces total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is known to be a risk factor for heart disease.

Tips To Get More Fiber in Your Diet! 

Instead of trying to remember a long list of fiber-rich foods so you know what to include in your meals and snacks, simply remember what you should avoid, it's a shorter list.

Food not fit for a high-fiber diet includes refined grains like white rice and white flour. That includes pasta, biscuits, cakes, pancakes, etc. unless you use wholegrain flour to make these items or buy items made from wholegrain flour.

Remember, animal sources of food like meat, fish, eggs, and milk products don’t contain fiber. That doesn't mean you have to avoid these foods, just remember to include high-fiber foods in all your meals.

Food sources that are high in fiber include vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.

How to Get More Fiber in Your Meals

  • Replace processed flour and flour products with whole grains. Instead, buy unprocessed rice, quinoa, and whole wheat flour. Try whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta instead of white bread and regular pasta.The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends making half of your daily grains whole!
  • Start adding lentils and other beans to your meals instead of meat or fish. Lentils and beans are a great protein substitute, and they are packed with fiber. There is a huge range of beans and there are loads of recipes to help you create stunning dishes.
  • Add at least one serving of vegetables to every meal. Again, vegetables are easy to turn into tasty dishes, you just need to take the time to discover some great recipes.
  • Eat whole fruit rather than sipping sugary fruit juice that lacks fiber.
  • Snack mindfully. Choose fruit, nuts, unflavored popcorn, olives, and whole-grain crackers to snack on. You can make high-fiber dips from cooked vegetables and beans – find recipes online!

Supplementing Your Fiber Intake with Fiber Powder

You can buy fiber supplements in different forms, including capsules, powders, and pills. They are made from various types of fiber, including inulin, psyllium, methylcellulose, or polycarbophi.

a. Is it Safe to Take Fiber Powder Daily?

Taking fiber supplements daily is generally recognized as safe, but they should not be used as a permanent replacement for fiber from food.

It is always preferable to increase the amount of fiber in your diet by eating foods naturally high in fiber, like fruits and vegetables. It's okay to bolster your low-fiber diet from time to time with a supplement or to use it to get relief from constipation, but it should not become a permanent habit.

Also, while you are taking fiber powder, increase your fluid intake so you stay hydrated. 

b. Who Should Take Fiber Powder?

Most people use fiber supplements to ensure regular bowel movements. People who are constipated or older people who have a poor appetite and irregular eating habits takefiber powder to prevent constipation. 

Fiber supplements can be used to get relief from diarrhea, as soluble fiber absorbs water, helping to make stools firmer. Fiber supplements are also useful for people withirritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Fiber supplementation can also be beneficial fordecreasing bleeding from internal hemorrhoids. The soluble fiber in the supplement can help soften stool, make it easier to pass and so reduce the pain.

Additionally, several studies have been conducted on the effect of psyllium seeds on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Spanish researchers conducted a study on IBD patients suffering from ulcerative colitis. They found that patients who received psyllium seedsresponded the same as those who received the prescription drug mesalamine (Rowasa).

In other words, both medication and fiber-rich psyllium seeds reduced the reappearance of the disease in similar patterns.

c. Is it Better to Get My Daily Fiber Requirement From Food or Fiber Powder?

It is always preferable to get your daily fiber requirements from the food you eat. Most healthcare providers urge patients not to rely on supplements exclusively to provide adequate fiber in their diets. 

A comprehensive literature review has found that clinical evidence supports the conclusion that most fibers in supplementsdo not provide the same health benefits associated with a high‐fiber diet. 

d. What Should I Know When Choosing Fiber Powder?

It is vital to look out for fiber supplements with ingredients that have undergonerigorous clinical evidence of one or more clinically meaningful effects. When looking for a fiber supplement, keep in mind that most of the beneficial effects of fiber relate to its ability to form a sticky gel.

It is also important to know what the source of the supplement is, as different types have different effects. Different types of fiber may be more beneficial for specific conditions. 

For example, Psyllium husk can help lower cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, Acacia fiber acts as a prebiotic that supports gut health and digestion.

That said, it’s crucial not to overconsume a high-fiber supplement and stay within the recommended daily dosage of 25-30 grams. This means taking into consideration what you are eating and if your meals are contributing to your fiber intake. 

Therefore, when taking a fiber supplement, it is recommended to  stick to the labels for dosage. 

A good idea is to consult your healthcare provider, especially if you are already on medication as the fiber supplement may interact with your prescribed medications. For instance, certain fiber supplements can lower blood sugar levels which may be detrimental for someone using insulin daily. 

e. What Should I Avoid When Choosing Fiber Powder?

Always check product labels. Make sure the product doesn't have added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or unnecessary additives. Also, look for products that have been minimally processed and have more than one fiber source. 

Top 3 Best Fiber Powder Supplements

1.Plant-Based Fiber Complex

This fiber supplement is formulated using a variety of plant-based sources, including psyllium husk, flaxseed, and inulin. The product uses both soluble and insoluble fibers to provide complete digestive health support. 

The supplement is made from quality ingredients, which are all tested during the manufacturing process. The finished product is also subjected to quality control.

In addition to the fibers, other ingredients include nutrient-rich whole foods, probiotics, and digestive enzymes. The product is formulated to promote regular bowel movements, healthy digestion, and the elimination of toxins.

Plant-Based Fiber Complex has no sugar or artificial ingredients and is gluten-free and non-GMO.

2.Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Organic Fiber

Several nutrition experts endorse this supplement. The product is made from 15 raw and certified organic foods including sprouted seeds, grains, legumes, flax, quinoa, chia, acacia, orange peel, cranberry, and more. No fillers are used and the product is sugar-free and unflavored.

Each serving provides 8 grams of protein, probiotics, and Omega-3 fatty acids. It is promoted to provide superfood fiber, bring constipation relief, and help with toxin elimination.

3.Metamucil Premium Blend Sugar-Free Orange Powder

Metamucil is promoted as the leading brand containing natural psyllium fiber. Metamucil Premium Blend is sweetened with stevia and its orange color is derived from natural sources. 

Metamucil is promoted as being able to make users feel lighter and more energetic, helping with appetite control, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, and supporting heart health by lowering cholesterol.

The product is sold in other forms as well to appeal to a wider consumer base. You can buy Metamucil gummies and thin crackers if you prefer.

I hope this article answered all your queries regarding fiber, fiber supplements, and how to increase your fiber intake!