Fiber. Its something that we know we are supposed to have in our diet, but most of us don’t really worry about it or put a whole lot of thought into. But fiber is SO important for your health & it can really help with your weight loss! So for #WellnessWednesday lets learn about fiber and some interesting new research that has come out about it affects on weight loss!
What is fiber though? Dietary fiber, also known as roughage, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs, fiber isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through and out of your body.
Fiber is commonly classified as soluble (it dissolves in water) or insoluble (it doesn’t dissolve):
- Soluble fiber.This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
- Insoluble fiber.This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.
Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eating a wide variety of high-fiber foods is best.
A high-fiber diet has many benefits, which include:
- Normalizes bowel movements.
- Helps maintain bowel health.A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease). Some fiber is fermented in the colon. Researchers are looking at how this may play a role in preventing diseases of the colon.
- Helps feed the good bacteria: While we all know the traditional explanation for fiber’s benefits, that it has the ability to lower blood cholesterol, recent studies suggest fiber may actually help feed the good bacteria that live in your intestine. The more fiber you eat, the more bugs your body produces to keep your metabolism and body healthy, including your heart!
- Lowers cholesterol levels.Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that fiber may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
- Helps control blood sugar levels.In people with diabetes, fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Aids in achieving healthy weight.High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, so you’re less likely to overeat. Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time. And high-fiber diets also tend to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
- Filling up on fiber may actually save your heart: The more total, insoluble, and fruit and vegetable fiber that you consume, the lower your risk of both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease, a UK study reports.
So how much fiber do you need each day? The Institute of Medicine, which provides science-based advice on matters of medicine and health, gives the following daily recommendations for adults:
|Age 50 or younger||Age 51 or older|
|Men||38 grams||30 grams|
|Women||25 grams||21 grams|
If you aren’t getting enough fiber each day, you may need to boost your intake.
Good fiber choices include:
- Whole-grain products
- Beans, peas and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
Refined or processed foods, such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads and pastas, and non-whole-grain cereals, are lower in fiber. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fiber content. Similarly, removing the skin from fruits and vegetables decreases their fiber content.
Need ideas for adding more fiber to your meals and snacks? Try these ideas:
- Mix it up.Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.
- Get a leg up with legumes.Beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fiber. Add kidney beans to canned soup or a green salad. Or make nachos with refried black beans, lots of fresh veggies, whole-wheat tortilla chips and salsa.
- Eat fruit at every meal.Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are good sources of fiber.
- Make snacks count.Fresh fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat popcorn and whole-grain crackers are all good choices. An occasional handful of nuts or dried fruits also is a healthy, high-fiber snack — although be aware that nuts and dried fruits are high in calories.
High-fiber foods are good for your health. But adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change. Also, drink plenty of water. Fiber works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky.
Now as I said before, fiber can help with weight loss because fibrous meals can take more time to eat. Therefore your stomach can signal your brain sooner to tell you to slow down. But there is new research done that shows that only focusing on increasing your fiber in your diet will help you lose weight!
A group of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School zeroed in on fiber, since previous studies have shown it can help people feel more full, eat less and improve some metabolic markers like blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. They recruited 240 people who showed signs of prediabetes and randomly assigned them to the American Heart Association (AHA) diet, which is currently recommended for those at risk of developing diabetes, or to eating more fiber. The AHA group focused on decreasing their daily calorie intake in order to lose weight, and they were provided with goals to limit saturated fat. The fiber group was simply asked to eat more foods rich in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to reach a quota of at least 30 grams of fiber per day. Neither group was told to change their exercise habits.
After a year, both groups lost about the same amount of weight. Even more surprisingly, the people in the study also showed similar drops in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation. “By changing one thing, people in the fiber group were able to improve their diet and lose weight and improve their overall markers for metabolic syndrome,” says study author Dr. Yunsheng Ma.
While he’s not yet ready to say that people at risk of developing diabetes should ditch the AHA diet and focus just on eating more fiber, Ma’s study does suggest an alternative way of getting healthier. “I think we have to change the paradigm about recommendations,” he says. “Telling people to reduce this or reduce that is just too hard to do.”
Ma notes that while dietary guidelines to lower the risk of various diseases have been around for decades, obesity, heart problems and diabetes remain the most common conditions affecting Americans. “Very few people reach the goals that are recommended,” he says. Asking them to focus on eating more of a certain food—rather than telling them what not to eat—may help people to think more positively about changes in their diet, and make the goals more achievable. From there, it might be easier to make the other changes, such as those included in the AHA diet. “[Adding fiber] might be one new idea for how to get people to adhere to a diet,” he says. That’s the first step, and perhaps most important, to eating healthier.
This week, try to focus on the fiber content of your meals. And see how that changes your eating habits this week and beyond!