Dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables is considered the best form of fiber. Cereal fibers (bran, oats) and whole grains are the next best forms. What makes these better is that the fiber "scrubbing" action (along the inside of the colon) is better with the nutrients found in high fiber foods, rather than just from the fiber only. Both types of fiber are beneficial for digestive health, weight control, building muscle, enhancing your immune system, bone health and a host of other benefits. However, most people only get about half of the recommended 20 - 35 grams per day of dietary fiber, so supplementation is sometimes necessary. Fiber supplementation is also a great way to lose weight without losing muscle mass.
- Determine the correct dosage based upon your own dietary deficiencies. If you are taking fiber for weight loss purposes, you might want to consider as high as 40 grams per day. You should attempt to divide the missing grams of fiber over the three meals per day, although some report supplementing heavier in the morning gives them the sensation of being "full" most of the day. If you have 5 to 10 grams of fiber rich foods per meal, and only a few grams prior to any exercise workout meal, then you greatly reduce the risk of disturbing your stomach by overdoing the fiber all at once.
- Determine what form of supplements to take. Fiber comes in capsules, powders, oils and supplements. It is safe to take fiber supplements, even powders such as Metamucil, daily as long as you have adequate water or general fluid intake. Some doctors recommend psyllium seed powder or psyllium husks (which can be found in health food stores) over taking fiber as a capsule or tablet since it acts more like regular food and requires less product to attain good results. If this is not feasible, a few options are available via powders or mixes often found in health food stores, or chewable fiber supplements like FiberChoice or FiberWise drinks or bars. A vitamin capsule can be found in the form of chitosan, which is natural marine fiber derived from shellfish. SlenderLean and Herbalife both make fiber supplements, too. Fiber powders from health food stores generally also include pectin and other nutrients that aid in absorption, such as Now Foods "Apple Fiber Powder." Rice bran powder and oils can be added as a supplement to your foods such as on your salads, and rice bran will sometimes show up in a multivitamin, but rarely in a significant level.
- Determine what accompanying supplement or nutrient is needed. While powders like Metamucil, Benefiber, and FiberCon are specifically geared toward regularity, fiber can have many other benefits, and often come with another supplement geared towards the intended goal. Generally health food stores carry fiber with additional nutrients geared towards diet, cholesterol health, colon cleansing, weight loss, muscle gain, building your immunity, and the many other health benefits. So if you are thinking of using a fiber powder, you need to look at the accompanying ingredients and nutrients to discern if that powder will accomplish your goals. For example, secondary ingredients are sometimes found in fiber powders, such as green algae, pectin, calcium or beneficial bacterias. Generally, the advantage of the additional nutrient is listed on the label, such as helping to improve immunity, digestion, bowel health, or for weight management. For instance, beneficial bacterias and green algae are generally added to fibers geared toward improving immunity as these nutrients assist in this process. Calcium paired with fiber is beneficial for weight loss. Health food stores and vitamin stores like GNC sometimes carry the brand EAS "Myoplex" which has 6 grams of fiber and other nutrients and protein that emulate getting fiber from real food; it is intended for athletes and those looking to build muscle and get a high protein intake. The brand FiberChoice is designed for weight management since it helps you feel full. If you are supplementing based on nutritional lacks (such as a cancer patient who needs nourishment or someone who is generally unable to take in and process whole foods), Boost and Ensure nutritional drinks each have a version with fiber in it of about 3 grams. Colon cleansing fiber powders are generally labeled as such and are used to detox the system.
Regardless of the form taken, it is mandatory that you drink lots of water with these supplements and in general during the day and with your other meals. Normally fiber found in foods such as fruit and vegetables would have a fair amount of water content with the fiber content. Since fiber requires water to perform its job, it will pull water from your system if you are not drinking enough of it, making you very uncomfortable.
- Determine any medication or health condition conflicts. Fiber supplements can decrease the absorption of certain medications and alter the effect of medications that are balanced by your body's fluid levels (such as blood pressure medications). For this reason, take fiber supplements two to three hours before or after other medications. Some of the most serious medications that can be affected by fiber supplements include medicines for congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms, aspirin, anti-seizure medications, lithium, and antibiotics used to treat urinary tract infections. While fiber can help diabetes, it will likely alter how insulin reacts in your body, so any fiber regimen should be designed with your diabetes doctor to work around your insulin treatment to maintain your blood sugar levels. Also, if you take a great deal of fiber supplements, they can block the absorption of iron, calcium and other minerals. Because of this, some supplements also include these nutrients in an attempt to compensate.
If you have allergies, be aware that some supplements contain starch, artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, sodium, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, dairy or yeast. If you are allergic to shellfish, you may want to avoid the chitosan form of fiber.
- Be on the lookout for side effects or contraindications. Reduce your dosage or stop your dosage if you already have or develop diarrhea, loose stools or abdominal pain. If you improve your fiber intake during only certain times of the year, such as when fresh fruit is available, remember to cut back on your fiber supplements accordingly. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor about whether or not using fiber supplements is a good idea. Fiber can cause dehydration until you find the right dosage. If you gain or lose weight, you may need to adjust your fiber intake accordingly.
As you've probably gleaned by now, you must have adequate fluid when taking these supplements. (Some supplements even warn that inadequate liquid may cause the fiber to swell in your throat and can cause choking.) But as long as you are getting adequate hydration, fiber supplementation can contribute to a long, healthy (and regular!) life.