All about fibre supplements

If you’re not getting enough fibre in your diet, it may be time to consider a supplement to boost your intake of this digestive powerhouse. Here’s how to tell if you need a fibre supplement and how to pick one that meets your needs.
Why we need fibre in our diet

Dietary fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. There are two types of dietary fibre; soluble and insoluble. They have different effects in the body, but both are important for supporting a healthy digestive system. Soluble fibre is found in foods such as lentils, beans, oats, apples, and citrus fruits. It plays a role in softening stool, which makes elimination easier, and helps to lower cholesterol and control blood glucose levels. Insoluble fibre is found mainly in whole grains and whole grain products (breads, cereal, pasta), wheat bran, fruit skins, and vegetables. It helps to bulk up the stool and promotes regular bowel movements.

The low down on fibre supplements: do you need one?

If you’re not consuming a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you may not be meeting your daily fibre requirements. The recommended daily intake of fibre is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. However, most Canadians consume less than half of this amount on a regular basis. A lack of dietary fibre can contribute to constipation and other digestive issues. And that’s when it may be time to reach for a fibre supplement.

While it’s best to try and meet your fibre needs through food first, fibre supplements are a simple and convenient option to boost your intake. Supplements may contain either soluble or insoluble fibre, or a mix of both. They come in a variety of formats, including capsules, chewable tablets, wafers, and powders.

Fibre supplements can provide short-term relief from constipation and improve the regularity of bowel movements. You can also reach for a fibre supplement to help with lowering cholesterol, managing blood sugar levels, and supporting weight management efforts, because fibre helps you feel full and satisfied for a longer period of time after eating.

Fibre supplements: how to choose one that meets your needs

There are many different fibre supplements on the market. The main difference between them is based on the type (or types) of fibre they contain, because each one will have different health effects. Here is a look at the key ingredients of some common fibre supplements you can choose from and their main benefits:

Psyllium

Psyllium (also known as psyllium husk) is derived from the seeds of the Plantago ovata plant. Its fibre content is made up of approximately two-thirds soluble fibre and one-third insoluble fibre. Psyllium seeds have powerful gelling properties, which makes it effective for bulking up stool and trapping cholesterol.

Best for: Improving bowel irregularity (constipation and diarrhea); helps lower cholesterol levels to promote heart health; supports healthy blood sugar levels; helps to temporarily suppress appetite when taken prior to a meal.

Side effects: Too much psyllium may cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, and intestinal blockages. Be sure to consume with plenty of water.

Inulin

Inulin is a soluble fibre found in a variety of plants, and for the purposes of supplements, it is commonly derived from chicory root. Inulin is considered a prebiotic which means that it increases the presence of good bacteria in the colon, and helps to block out bad bacteria that can contribute to inflammation.

Best for: Promotes overall digestive health. Also slows digestion, which helps boost nutrient absorption and increases the feeling of fullness.

Side effects: May cause digestive discomfort, such as loose stools.

Acacia fibre

Acacia fibre, also known as acacia gum and gum arabic, comes from the sap of the Acacia sengal tree and is rich in soluble fibre. Acacia also has prebiotic properties, which means that it helps promote the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

Best for: Promotes overall digestive health. Reduces gas and bloating by slowing down fermentation (a process of nutrient breakdown) in the colon.

Side effects: Higher doses may cause mild diarrhea, gas and bloating.

Partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG)

Partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG) is a soluble fibre that is derived from the seeds of the guar bean. It is processed to reduce its thickening properties and make it easier to digest. PHGG helps to bulk up stool and also has prebiotic properties.

Best for: Supports bowel regularity to relieve occasional constipation and diarrhea; supports overall digestive health.

Side effects: May cause mild abdominal discomfort, gas, and bloating.

Often, additional fibre-based ingredients will be added to supplements to help support overall digestive health and provide relief from constipation or bowel irregularity. If you check the ingredient list, some of these other fibres may include brans (i.e. oat bran, wheat bran), peels and pulp (i.e. apple peel) and polydextrose.

Here are some important tips to follow if you are planning to incorporate a fibre supplement into your daily routine:

  • Start low and go slow. Fibre supplements can cause digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating, so give your body time to adjust with a lower dose before increasing to the recommended daily dosage.
  • Drink lots of water to boost the effectiveness of a fibre supplement and reduce the chance of side effects from occurring.
  • Talk to a pharmacist if you are taking any medications, because fibre can reduce their absorption. You may be advised to separate your medications from your fibre supplement by one to two hours.
  • If you are taking a fibre supplement to support with weight loss or weight management, it is most ideal to consume the supplement before meals, because it increases the feeling of fullness.