The third supplement in my article series on the five supplements I think every adult should take is fiber. Fiber is commonly known for keeping people regular, but did you know that it also helps prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes? Fiber is best delivered naturally by eating plant foods, grains and legumes, but most of us don’t eat enough fiber and are deficient in this vital nutrient. It’s not only important to eat enough fiber, but to eat it at the right time as well.

Fiber is a carbohydrate that our body does not digest or absorb. Fat, protein and other types of carbohydrates are broken down and then absorbed, fiber passes through your stomach, small intestine, colon and ultimately out of your body, intact. There are two kinds of fiber necessary for healthy digestion: soluble, which means it dissolves at least partially in water, and insoluble, which does not dissolve in water.

Insoluble fiber helps with movement through the digestive system. It also increases stool bulk and can assist with regularity. Wheat bran, nuts, vegetables and whole-wheat flour are some sources of insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like material and helps to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Carrots, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, oats, barley and psyllium are examples of soluble fiber sources.

Fiber helps with regular bowel movements and in maintaining bowel health. Some evidence suggests that a high fiber diet can lower the risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular disease (when small pouches develop in your colon).

But fiber does more than just keep us regular; it also helps with weight loss and weight maintenance. It slows the absorption of sugar, which helps control blood sugar levels for those with diabetes and has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Fiber also helps with heart health by lowering cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure.

With all these great benefits, fiber is definitely something we should get more of. But many experts say we are a fiber-deprived nation. According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, men under age 50 need at least 38 grams of fiber a day and women of the same age need at least 25 grams. Men over age 50 need at least 30 grams a day, and women need 21. It’s important to note that recommendations are tied to overall caloric intake, so if your daily calorie intake is higher, you need more fiber. And overall, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, more fiber is better.

The typical American consumes 15 grams of fiber a day or less, so most of us have some catching up to do on our fiber consumption. Fiber levels vary significantly by food source, so it’s important to look at what you’re eating to assess how much more fiber you need to consume. Refined or processed foods have little fiber content because the process of grain refinement strips the outer coat or the bran from the grain. Taking the skin off fruits or vegetables will also yield less fiber.

Studies show that whole-grain cereal fibers such as wheat and oat bran have good amounts of fiber, but there’s less research seen on vegetables because it’s easier to brand an oatmeal product than a banana. We often think of bread or whole wheat as a good fiber source, but one slice of whole-wheat/whole-grain bread has only 1.9 grams of fiber, while whole-wheat spaghetti brings in 6.2 grams per cup.

A medium banana or orange yields about 3 grams of fiber, while a cup of raspberries contains 8 grams. A medium carrot contains 1.7 grams and an ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts) contains 3.5 grams. But the real bounty lies in vegetables and beans. A cup of peas comes in at 8.8 grams, a medium artichoke at 10.3 grams, a cup of black beans has 15 grams, lentils 15.6 grams and a cup of split peas packs 16.3 grams of fiber.

In addition to making sure you’re getting the correct overall level of fiber, it’s important to consume fiber with every meal to balance blood sugar levels and to inhibit weight gain. This occurs in several ways: Fibrous foods take more time to chew and so allow time for the signal to reach your brain indicating you are full and should stop eating. Fiber rich foods also tend to make you feel fuller longer, so you eat less.

Fibrous foods tend to have fewer calories by volume than non-fiber rich foods, so eating the same portion size of a food rich in fiber will likely mean you’re eating fewer calories than in a low fiber food. Any time you eat food with high sugar content in isolation, it’s more likely to be stored directly as fat than if it is eaten in the context of a balanced meal. If you eat on the run a lot and find it hard to eat fresh vegetables or beans with your meal, keep a fiber supplement handy and take it with your meal.

It’s important to keep in mind that some of the fiber sources listed above are also high in sugar content. Bread and pasta—even whole-wheat versions—are higher on the glycemic index, as are many fruits and even a few vegetables, meaning they will raise blood sugar level. While they are certainly better than empty calorie processed foods, it’s better to focus more on beans and vegetables, particularly green vegetables, as fiber sources. If you do eat a lot of bread or fruit, try consuming them in combination with vegetables, beans or a fiber supplement.

In America, we often drink our meals, whether it’s a smoothie, a rich coffee drink or alcohol, all of which are high in sugar content. If you’re having a liquid meal or drinking anything with high sugar content without an accompanying meal rich in fiber, take a fiber supplement along with your beverage to mitigate blood sugar spikes and to inhibit that sugar from being stored in your body as fat.

Every time I eat a meal or snack, or drink anything with sugar, I either eat or take in supplement form a small amount of protein, fiber and healthy fat, like omega-3s. I also keep extra fiber handy to supplement anytime I eat something not fiber rich. Ensuring that my body has that healthy combination of protein, fat and fiber helps manage blood sugar, keep hormones balanced, and maintain my weight, even if I indulge.

When possible, try to eat a diet rich in fiber from a variety of sources. We tend to eat the same foods over and over again — our go-to favorites — but variety in type and source of fiber, as with all nutrients, is important. So mix it up, but also supplement as needed with capsules or powder containing both soluble and insoluble fiber to ensure your meals and snacks are balanced.

Fiber pills are handy to take when away from home and easy to swallow along with whatever liquid you are consuming. I prefer fiber in pill form, as I can take my base dose in the morning with my other supplements and have additional pills on hand for any time my meal or snack is imbalanced.

Powder forms are another option, as they are readily available, inexpensive and they work fine when you mix them into a smoothie or a liquid you are already drinking.

One caveat: When increasing fiber consumption, do so gradually over the course of several weeks as overloading your body too rapidly can cause gastrointestinal distress. And to be most effective, fiber needs water, so be sure you adequately hydrate as you increase your fiber intake.

Click to read the next installment of the series: 5 Supplements Every Adult Should Take

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

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