It may hurt to hear this, but fiber supplements are not a simple answer to decreasing carb intake. They can't replace the nutritional value of healthy carbohydrates from whole-food sources, and while they may slow carb absorption, you'll get the same effect from high-fiber foods. The good news is that carbs aren't as bad as you think. They're necessary for brain function and numerous other body processes, and help fight diseases. The key is to pick the right carbs instead of eating junk food or depriving yourself altogether.
Believe it or not, fiber is a carbohydrate. However, your body doesn't break down fiber so it does not provide calories. Soluble fibers such as gum and pectin make food travel more slowly through your digestive tract. Insoluble fibers such as cellulose and lignin add bulk to your stool, fighting constipation. Fiber also helps lower blood glucose and fills you up, reducing food cravings. A few studies indicate that fiber supplements may have appetite-curbing effects similar to fiber from food, although it is not clear how this might affect carb intake.
Don't be afraid of carbs in your diet -- instead of trying to decrease them, go for healthy carbs, which are full of nutrients and fuel your brain. Good carbs come from nutritious foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fruits are well known for their soluble fiber content, while whole grains such as wheat, rye and quinoa tend to have more insoluble fiber. Beans and vegetables have both types. These natural goodies also contain phytochemicals, which provide health benefits that science is still uncovering. As a rule of thumb, the more processed your food is, the less fiber and other nutrients it contains.
Fiber supplements range from laxatives to weight-loss bars, and researchers are still catching up on all of the ways they may affect the body. Consuming too much fiber may inhibit absorption of important nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, both of which help build strong bones. Unlike fiber-rich foods, isolated fiber supplements don't have the mineral content to balance out this effect. Supplements may also interfere with some medications, and they don't provide the broad range of compounds that make whole foods so good for you. Since most supplements only use a single fiber source, they may also limit your fiber variety.
The vast majority of Americans fall short in fiber consumption. Deficiency may cause digestion issues and more, so don't let this happen to you. Women younger than 50 years need 25 grams of fiber per day, while those past 50 need just 21 grams. Men younger than 50 need 38 grams daily, while older men need 30 grams. Ensure proper fiber intake by choosing whole grains over refined versions and consuming produce and legumes at each meal.
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.