Fiber: Your body needs it to decrease bad cholesterol, keep blood sugar stable, and aid with digestion. While it's common to keep track of protein, carbs, and calories, fiber tends to fall by the wayside—most women aren't getting enough. "The average woman needs about 25 grams of fiber a day, and only half of women reach that requirement," says Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian in Syosset, New York.
So should you turn to supplements for your fiber fix?
Probably not, Ansel says. First, there are two different kinds of fiber that your body needs. Soluble fiber, found in foods like beans, oats, barley, apples, and citrus fruits, helps keep your blood sugar in check. Insoluble fiber, found in certain whole grains like whole wheat flour and bran, helps keep your digestive system running smoothly. "Fiber supplements may only supply one type of fiber," Ansel adds. ("Most major brands, like Metamucil, are soluble," she says.)
Additionally, consuming supplements can cause digestive troubles if you don't drink enough water when taking them. They can also wreak havoc on your stomach if you don't take them consistently.
On the flip side, if you look to food to top off your daily fiber quota, there are added perks. "Fiber-rich foods are packed with other important nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants," Ansel says. "And fiber-filled foods take a long time to chew, which slows you down when eating and may help with weight loss."
If you don't eat a lot of plant foods, though, a fiber supplement may be right for you. (But come on, give greens a go, will ya?) Just make sure you drink plenty of water as you add the supplement to your routine (or, ahem, you'll run into constipation problems). Slowly increase your daily intake by three to four grams every three days until you reach your targeted goal. And never take more than 40 grams, as it can interfere with your body's ability to absorb other vitamins and minerals.