Types of Fiber and Their Health Benefits

Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 30, 2020
photo of foods high in dietary fiber

There are several types of fiber. Each works differently in your body and gives you distinct health perks. You may be familiar with the terms "soluble fiber" and "insoluble fiber," but within each of those labels are many different kinds of the nutrient.

All types of soluble fibers slow digestion, so it takes longer for your body to absorb sugar (glucose) from the foods you eat. This helps prevent quick spikes in your blood sugar levels -- an important part of managing diabetes. Soluble fibers also bind with fatty acids, flushing them out of the body and helping to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Insoluble fibers help hydrate and move waste through your intestines. That's one thing it does that helps prevent constipation and keeps you regular.

Most of us get both types of fiber from foods and supplements. You can get the nutrient from fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and grains. “Functional” fiber is extracted from its natural sources, and then added to supplements or fortified foods and drinks to boost their fiber content.

Most nutritionists say to get fiber from whole foods because they're healthy in other ways, too. But if you don’t get enough from your diet, fiber supplements can help fill in the gap. And evidence shows that most of us aren’t getting enough. The average person only gets about half of the fiber needed daily. Women 50 and younger should try to get 25 grams a day, and men should shoot for 38 grams.

Aim to eat a wide variety of different types of fiber. This chart shows the most common types of dietary and functional types and explains where they come from and how they can keep you healthy.

Types of FiberSoluble or InsolubleSourcesHealth Benefits
Cellulose, some hemicelluloseInsolubleNaturally found in nuts, whole wheat, whole grains, bran, seeds, edible brown rice, skins of produce."Nature's laxative": Reduces constipation, lowers risk of diverticulitis, can help with weight loss.
Inulin oligofructoseSolubleExtracted from onions and byproducts of sugar production from beets or chicory root. Added to processed foods to boost fiber.May increase "good" bacteria in the gut and enhance immune function.
LigninInsolubleFound naturally in flax, rye, some vegetables.Good for heart health and possibly immune function. Use caution if you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant.
Mucilage, beta-glucansSolubleNaturally found in oats, oat bran, beans, peas, barley, flaxseed, berries, soybeans, bananas, oranges, apples, carrots.Helps lower bad LDL cholesterol, reduces risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Use caution if you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant.
Pectin and gumsSoluble (some pectins can be insoluble)Naturally found in fruits, berries, and seeds. Also extracted from citrus peel and other plants boost fiber in processed foods.Slows the passage of food through the intestinal GI tract, helps lower blood cholesterol.
Polydextrose polyolsSolubleAdded to processed foods as a bulking agent and sugar substitute. Made from dextrose, sorbitol, and citric acid.Adds bulk to stools, helps prevent constipation. May cause bloating or gas.
PsylliumSolubleExtracted from rushed seeds or husks of plantago ovata plant. Used in supplements, fiber drinks, and added to foods.Helps lower cholesterol and prevent constipation.
Resistant starchSolubleStarch in plant cell walls naturally found in unripened bananas, oatmeal, and legumes. Also extracted and added to processed foods to boost fiber.May help manage weight by increasing fullness; helps control blood sugars. It increases insulin sensitivity and may reduce the risk of diabetes.
Wheat dextrinSolubleExtracted from wheat starch, and widely used to add fiber in processed foods.Helps lower cholesterol (LDL and total cholesterol),and may lower blood sugar and reduce risk for heart disease; more research is needed. Avoid if you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant.

Show Sources


"Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010," U.S. Health and Human Services.

Slavin, J. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008.

Slavin, J. Journal of International Medical Research, January 2009.

Higbee, J. Nutrition and Metabolism, 2004.

WebMD Feature: “Fiber Today’s ‘It’ Ingredient.”

USFDA: “Nutrition Labeling Guidelines.”

Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, National Academies Press, 2005.

Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center.

MedicineNet: “Fiber.”

International Food Information Council (IFIC): “Fiber Fact Sheet."

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