By Dr. Sandra Gelbard, M.D.
At this time of year, many people are trying to lose weight and get healthier before swimsuit season arrives. While overhauling your entire diet can be effective, it can also be overwhelming.
Luckily, there is one small, simple change that can go a long way toward helping you meet your weight loss goals, while also improving your overall health: adding more fiber to your diet.
How Fiber Affects Weight Loss
It is a common misconception that weight loss is a simple equation: eat less; weigh less. This method often fails because it leaves the dieter hungry and dissatisfied. In truth, it’s not just how much you eat, but what you eat that can determine the sensation of fullness and help you maintain your weight loss.
Foods that are high in fiber take longer to chew, which means your brain has time to get the hormonal message that you’ve had enough to eat. High-fiber foods also take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, which keeps your blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day. This causes a decrease in the secretion of insulin, nicknamed “the hunger hormone,” which cuts down on cravings.
So, the equation looks more like this: Eat more fiber, feel full longer on fewer calories.
In 2009, a study in the journal Appetite compared the fullness factor of consuming apples, applesauce, and fiber-enriched apple juice before lunch. The people who ate an apple before their meal consumed 15 percent fewer calories than those who ate applesauce or drank apple juice. This suggests that the fiber in the whole apple was most filling, even when compared to the juice that had added fiber. It also suggests that eating foods that are higher in fiber helps a person feel more satisfied and ingest fewer calories.
Beyond the Scale: How Fiber Can Improve Your General Health
While fiber can help manage appetite, there are also many health advantages of increasing your fiber intake besides weight loss.
It is recommended that the average American woman consume about 25 grams of fiber a day (21 grams if you are over the age of 50). However, most people are consuming only 15 grams per day. Here are some ailments that come from consuming too little fiber:
• Constipation: This is one of the most common problems for people who lack fiber in their diets, as too little fiber can cause bowel movements to become less frequent and stools to become hard and dry. When resolving this issue, it is important to increase fiber intake slowly, while drinking plenty of fluids and getting regular exercise.
• Changes in blood sugar: Lack of fiber can result in larger fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which cause fatigue and a lack of energy. Since fiber delays the absorption of sugar, it helps stabilize sugar levels, avoiding those peaks and valleys of energy throughout the day.
• Cholesterol and cardiovascular health risks: During the digestive process, your body secretes bile acids that contain cholesterol. Normally, these bile acids get reabsorbed into the body, but when you eat fiber, the cholesterol you consume binds to the bile acids and removes them from your body, thereby leading to lower cholesterol levels. In fact, fiber’s effect on cholesterol is so potent that the FDA allows companies to advertise this fact on products like oatmeal.
Fiber may also reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. Over a dozen major studies demonstrate that baseline levels of CRP are highly predictive of future risk of heart attack, stroke, sudden cardiac death, and peripheral artery disease. Individuals with elevated levels of CRP have a risk about two to three times higher than those with low levels.
Simple Ways to Get More Fiber
With all the benefits associated with eating fiber, I’m often asked the best ways to incorporate more into my patients’ diets. Contrary to what you might think, it can be much more pleasant than mixing Metamucil into your orange juice, like your grandfather did!
Here are a few delicious, fiber-rich foods that are easy to eat:
• Apples: A medium apple contains four grams of fiber, while a large apple has five grams. Apples also offer a bit of vitamin C and potassium.
• Green beans: One cup, boiled, boasts four grams of fiber, plus a healthy dose of vitamin C.
• Sweet potatoes: A medium-sized baked sweet potato, skin included, offers four grams of fiber at just 103 calories.
• Raspberries: Raspberries are a great source of fiber — some of it soluble in the form of pectin, which helps lower cholesterol. One cup of raspberries has eight grams of fiber, antioxidants, and Vitamin C.
• Fiber One cereal: This is one of my favorites because one serving contains a whopping 14 grams of fiber! Most of my patients eat a bowl of this every morning for breakfast. If they don’t like the taste, I suggest they mix it with low-fat Greek yogurt.
If you’ve made a commitment to lose weight or improve your health, remember that the key may be as simple as increasing your fiber intake. It’s easy, it’s delicious, and you’ll be able to see and feel results — inside and out!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Sandra Gelbard, M.D., is the Chief Medical Advisor of Selvera, a provider of personalized weight management solutions. Led by a team of experts in nutrition, activity, and lifestyle, Selvera works one-on-one with each client to tailor a unique program focused on establishing healthy living habits that can lead to a lifetime of weight management success.