It may be tempting to down a dose of fiber supplement to get your recommended daily allowance, but as is often the case, the drug store can't compete with the grocery store when it comes to providing complete dietary nutrition. Whole grains are chock-full of fiber as well as scores of other nutrients that don't necessarily come in a plastic bottle. Simply put, it's more important to eat a varied diet that includes fiber-rich foods than it is to take a fiber supplement. Unless your doctor recommends otherwise, skip the pills and powders and get your fiber from whole grains and other food sources.
Found in fruits, veggies and grains, fiber is a carbohydrate that your body can't break down. Fiber is vital for healthy digestion, and if you don't get enough, you're at risk of constipation. Fiber can also help control blood sugar, high cholesterol, hemorrhoids and gastrointestinal illnesses. Unfortunately, most Americans don't get all of the fiber they need through their daily diet. Fiber supplements such as bran pills and psyllium are available, but they are not necessary if one gets enough fiber from their meals. Get 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day from a variety of food sources.
About Whole Grains
Whole grains are the "real food" versions of white grains, which have been milled to remove the outer bran and germ. Although the result is a lighter, fluffier product, milled grains lack much of the fiber their whole counterparts have. Whole grains are also natural sources of B-vitamins, some of which are added to make enriched flours. Unrefined grains also contain numerous phytochemicals, which scientists suspect have health benefits yet to be discovered. Find whole grains in foods such as whole-wheat and whole-rye breads, brown rice, quinoa and whole-wheat noodles.
Whole Grain Benefits
It's a no-brainer -- whole grains win over isolated fiber. Their awesome content of phytonutrients helps prevent diseases in a way that supplements simply can't. Whole-grain consumption is inversely related to diabetes, diverticulosis, coronary heart disease and even digestive cancers. That's why the U.S. Food and Drug Administers urges all Americans to eat at least three ounces of whole grains every day. There is no such recommendation for fiber supplements.
If you want to take supplements, speak to your doctor before you do. This is especially important if you take any medications, since fiber can affect their absorption. Always take fiber supplements with a full glass of water -- if you don't, the fiber could expand in your throat and choke you. Drink water regularly throughout the day. Fiber supplements are considered unsafe if you have a narrowing or an obstruction of the esophagus. They're also off limits if you suffer from impacted stool, which sometimes occurs with severe constipation.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.