Fiber And Supplements: How They’re Used And What They’re Good For

Fiber and superfoods: do they mix?

Fiber is a well known ingredient that’s very beneficial to your health.  For this reason and a few others it’s commonly found in different supplements either as a primary ingredient or as an addition.

We all know fiber is good for us, but the truth about fiber’s different health benefits and its many forms is both simple and complex.  This is especially true when it comes to supplements because there are a lot of different ingredients with a lot of different claims made about them which cloud the truth about what fiber actually does for you, or the different effects different fibers have on your body.

What Fiber Is And Why It’s Good For You

Fiber is a plant carbohydrate that your body doesn’t digest.  That’s it.  Different sugar molecules linked together that for whatever reason your body can’t break down into its individual components to be used for energy.

The important distinction to be made here is that it’s not digested.  This is what makes fiber different than any other carbohydrate your body uses.

For this reason fiber has the following health benefits:

  • It takes up space in your stomach and gut, which makes you feel more full
  • It slows digestion of your food, which lowers blood sugar levels after a meal
  • It cleans your colon, and thus helps with some bowel/digestion disorders like irritable bowel syndrome
  • It binds with other compounds in your gut and bloodstream and takes them out of your system, and thus helps “detoxify” the body

Soluble Vs. Insoluble Fiber

Some fiber just sits there in your body until you poop it out.  Other fiber gets fermented by bacteria and begins to breakdown in the body.  The latter type is called soluble fiber and has a few additional health benefits:

  • helps stimulate the growth of new bacteria.  This type of fiber is called a prebiotic (more about that here)
  • helps produce short chain fatty acids in the colon, which help reduce the incidence of colon cancer
  • reduces the rate of LDL cholesterol synthesis
  • reduces insulin secretion from the pancreas

For these reasons insoluble fibers are the most beneficial since they do more in your body than just take up space.

The Use Of Fiber In Greens Powders And Other Supplements

The use of fibers in health supplements can be a tad bit misleading.  This is mostly because there are a lot of ingredients that sound exotic but are actually just fiber.  These include but are not limited to chicory root, jerusalem artichoke, high lignan flaxseed, oat beta glucans, and several others.

These ingredients all have slightly different health benefits but are more remarkable for their similarities than their differences.

The Different Types of Fibers

So with that being said, here’s a list of the different types of fibers you can find in health supplements.

  1. Inulins – Inulins are a type of fiber that are formally called “fructo oligosaccharides” or F.O.S. for short.  They’re “prebiotic” which means they encourage the growth of probiotic bacteria in your gut.  The most common types of inulins are chicory root, yacon root and jerusalem artichoke.
  2. Pectins – Pectin is a polysaccharide that’s found in the cell walls of different plants.  It’s remarkable for its high level of solubility.  In supplements pectin is commonly made from the skin of apples and citrus fruits.  Apple fiber, apple pectin, citrus peel, lemon peel, and orange peel are all examples of pectin fibers.
  3. Bran solubles: For any seed crop like rice or wheat the bran is the part of the plant that contains the nutrients which are given to the seed embryo which allows it to grow into a mature plant.  It’s hard and grainy and is very dense in nutrients.  Rice bran solubles are the most common bran used in supplements
  4. Lignans – Lignans are soluble fibers that effect estrogen metabolism after being fermented by bacteria.  The fiber in flaxseed contains a high concentration of lignans and is the most common form of lignan fiber.
  5. Beta-Glucans – Beta glucans are glucose molecules linked together by a specific type of bond called a beta bond which your body can’t break.  The most common form of beta glucans in greens powders are oat beta glucans.  Oat beta-glucans is the fiber that’s found in oats and are responsible for many of their health benefits.  Some beta glucans are also derived from fungi or mushrooms.  In addition to the typical benefits of fiber beta glucans help stimulate the immune system.
  6. Vegetable Gums – Acacia fiber, cassia fiber, and guar gum are the most common types of these types of fiber.  To be honest, I’m not aware of anything notable about these ingredients.
  7. Arabinogalactans – strings of arabinose and galactose molecules linked together.  You don’t see this ingredient very often.  It’s in Green Vibrance but I don’t know of any other supplements that contain it.  It has mild antioxidant properties.
  8. Pea Fiber – A combination of soluble/insoluble fibers.  It’s not found too often.  Its most popular use is actually in dog food.
Is One Type of Fiber Better Than The Other?

You’ll often see different types of fibers put in supplements, but in my opinion the presence (or lack thereof) shouldn’t be the primary reason you buy one or the other.

It’s important to remember that all fibers overlap quite a bit in their health benefits.  They slow digestion, promote satiety, aid in detoxification, and can help reduce cholesterol.  On the margin different types of fibers might do something else but these effects are usually fairly modest.

So all fibers are more alike than they’re different.

So with that said, the fibers I like best are those that provide the most additional benefits.  In my opinion there are three types of fibers that fit the bill :

  1. Bran solubles: rice bran solubles are extremely nutrient dense and have a lot of naturally occurring nutrients that help plant embryo’s grow.  They’re a particularly good source of protein, essential fatty acids, and highly bio available vitamin E.
  2. High lignan/flaxseed:  In addition to being a source of fiber flaxseed is also rich in omega-3’s and protein.
  3. Prebiotics/Inulin/Chicory root – The combination of probiotics and prebiotics is a good combination for a greens powder that contains both fiber and probiotics.
The Real Reason Fibers Are Used In Supplements

Fiber is very good for you and the different fibrous ingredients can all provide unique health benefits.  However, there’s a less talked about benefit of including fibrous ingredients in supplements: they take up a lot of space and don’t cost very much. 

In almost any mixture the use of fibers is used to help keep the cost of the mixture down.  This isn’t necessarily bad, so long as it’s priced accordingly.  Therefore I think it’s a bad idea to pay top dollar for a supplement that contains a lot of fibrous ingredients. 

If you go to a bulk food store you can buy a bag of flaxseed for $5.  Why pay $75 for a supplement that contains it in trace amounts?  If you want a large helping of beta glucans you can simply eat a bowl of oatmeal!

To be more specific, I’d be hesitant to pay more than $50 for a supplement that contains more than 1,000-1,500 milligrams of fibrous ingredients per serving.

A Useful Table To Compare the Different Types of Fibers And Their Use In Supplements

If the wide variety of fibers and their different uses in supplements confuses you, here’s a handy table that lists all the different types of fibrous ingredients and their use in different supplements.

I hope this is helpful and if you have any comments or corrections please let me know!

Type of Fiber Soluble/Insoluble Prebiotic Additional Benefits Found In
Pectins highly soluble no additional solubility helpscholesterol reduction
  • Apple Pectin
 Amazing Grass Green Superfood, Athletic Greens, Macro Greens, Incredible Greens, Greens Plus, ProGreens
  • Citrus Peel
  • Lemon Peel
  • Orange Peel
Inulins highly soluble yes promotes additionalproduction of probioticbacteria
  • Fructooligosaccharide (F.O.S.)
 Amazing Grass Green Superfood, Green Vibrance, ProGreens
  • Chicory Root
 CytoGreens, Athletic Greens, VegaOne, PHion Greens,
  • Yacon Root
Shakeology, VitaMineral Earth,
  • Jerusalem Artichoke
Vegetable Gums soluble no none that I know of
  • Acacia Fiber
  • Cassia Fiber
  • Guar Gum
Lignans soluble no phyto-estrogens
  • Flaxseed
good source of EFA’s,protein Vitamineral Earth, Amazing Grass Green Superfood, CytoGreens, Athletic Greens, MacroGreens, VegaOne, ProGreens,
Beta Glucans soluble no stimulates immune system  Advanced Bionutritionals, Trader Joe’s Greens Powder
  • Oat Beta Glucans
 ORAC Energy Greens, Catie’s Organic Greens, Trader Joe’s Greens Powder,
  • Mushroom/fungi Beta Glucans
Bran Solubles soluble no excellent source of vitaminE, EFA’s, protein, othervitamins
  • Rice Bran Solubles
 Athletic Greens, Incredible Greens, Greens Plus, Green Vibrance
  • Oat Bran Solubles
Arabinogalactans soluble no antioxidant  Green Vibrance
Pea Fiber both no none Shakeology

Greens Powders Without Any Fibrous Ingredients

I believe the inclusion of fibrous ingredients is fine, but for someone who prefers a greens powder without any fibers added here are some brands that don’t contain any (And FYI all are very good products):

5 thoughts on “Fiber And Supplements: How They’re Used And What They’re Good For”

  1. “…For these reasons insoluble fibers are the most beneficial since they do more in your body than just take up space….”

    is the above supposed to be ‘soluble fibres are the most beneficial’ ?


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