Fiber has been getting a lot of attention lately because of its countless health benefits, and no wonder. Studies have shown that fiber not only helps lower cholesterol and support healthy blood sugar, but that it can even help us lose weight safely and effectively while still enjoying the foods we love. One of the most important reasons our bodies need fiber, however, is still the one we all think of first: bowel regularity.

While many of us may overlook an occasional bout of constipation, if not addressed properly this symptom of impaired digestion may lead to a breakdown in overall health.

Defined by infrequent bowel movements and hard, dry stools that are difficult to eliminate, constipation slows down the movement of food through the intestines and allows putrefied food to remain in the colon longer. This in turn leads to a buildup of toxic material in the digestive tract, which allows harmful toxins to be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. There they can cause everything from gas and bloating to more serious—even chronic—health conditions.

The Fiber Connection

A healthy colon requires bulk in order to eliminate regularly. That’s because your colon is a muscle, and just like any other muscle in the body it needs to be toned and strengthened in order to function properly. What’s more, healthy colon cells thrive in the absence of harmful toxins, so removing those toxins is essential to good bowel function. The good news is that fiber helps with both of these things. Because fiber adds bulk to the diet, it gives the colon muscles something to push against. This in turn helps to move food through the intestines to encourage regular, healthy bowel movements.

Fiber-rich foods also work to absorb the harmful toxins that can build up in the digestive tract and lead to poor health. Not only that, but they help eliminate those toxins with each bowel movement. This prevents waste and contaminants from reentering the bloodstream and settling in the body’s cells and tissues.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?

The majority of health and nutrition experts recommend consuming at least 35 grams of fiber every day for optimum health. Unfortunately, the average American consumes less than half of that number. Why? Because for many people, getting enough fiber through diet alone is a challenge, especially when hectic schedules leave little time for preparing healthy meals and snacks.

The good news is that natural fiber supplements offer a simple solution for increasing your daily intake without all the fuss. A far cry from the gritty, hard-to-swallow supplements of yesterday, today’s fiber formulas are a convenient—and often great-tasting—way to get your fiber on the go. Flavor-free “table fibers” dissolve instantly in beverages and foods, while some powdered formulas are fruit flavored for a delicious addition to yogurt, shakes and smoothies.

Chewable fiber wafers are perfect for a quick fiber fix any time of day, and even fiber-rich shakes and bars can provide an added boost when time is of the essence. Ideally, your fiber supplement should include a healthy balance of soluble and insoluble fiber. This balanced fiber blend ensures optimum bowel function by stimulating peristalsis (the wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the intestines) and helping to strengthen and tone the muscles of the colon to support regular elimination.

In addition, soluble and insoluble fiber both provide significant health benefits for the whole body, including long-term weight management, improved cardiovascular function, and healthy detoxification. Keep in mind that organically grown flax-based or acacia fiber supplements are gentler on the stomach than many psyllium-based products—which can often cause uncomfortable gas and bloating.