Most people only get about half the amount of fiber that experts recommend for health. Fiber is most abundant in unprocessed, plant-based food. Animal-based foods and ultra-processed fare contain little or no fiber, and packaged foods make up 60% of the American diet. We can do better! What is fiber and why do people get so little of it?
Dietary fiber, a type of complex carbohydrate, is made up of indigestible parts of plants – primarily cellulose, the main component in plant cell walls and pectin. Fiber falls into two main classes: soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fibers (found mainly in whole grains and legumes) add bulk to the diet with few calories but aid digestion by increasing the bulk and water content of the stool. But it’s soluble fiber that has the strongest link with health outcomes, like lower cardiovascular risk, while insoluble fiber supports bowel regularity.
What are the health benefits of soluble fiber? Studies show consuming soluble fiber may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Soluble fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, oats, barley, nuts, and seeds) reduces the rise in blood sugar after a meal and lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. However, these benefits would be even greater if Americans got enough soluble fiber.
Another perk of fiber is it helps tame your appetite, so you eat less and gain less weight. In fact, studies link diets high in fiber with better weight control. Although all fiber has some benefits, they’re not all equivalent in terms of appetite control.
Viscous Fiber and Its Effect on Appetite
The form of fiber that makes you feel fuller and helps you eat less is soluble fiber, the type that helps regulate your blood sugar after a meal and lower your LDL-cholesterol. But soluble fiber comes in various forms too, and the one most closely linked with appetite control is viscous fiber.
What makes viscous fiber distinct is it forms a thick gel when you add it to water. It’s this gel-like material that slows down movement of food through the digestive tract. It curbs appetite and the tendency to overeat by keeping food in your stomach longer, creating a stretch that suppresses appetite.
Insoluble fiber and fiber that isn’t viscous has less ability to suppress appetite since it doesn’t coalesce and form a gel in your digestive tract and delay the passage of food as effectively. So, to feel less hungry, add a more viscous form of fiber to your plate. How can you do this? The best forms of viscous fiber include psyllium, pectin, glucomannan, beta-glucans, and guar gum. How much of this fiber are you eating?
First, you must know where it comes from. Pectin is abundant in the outer skin of oranges and lemons, while apple, including the flesh, is also rich in pectin. You may have noticed that you feel full after eating an apple, and the pectin is one reason you feel full and satisfied after snacking on an apple. Pectin also helps tame the blood sugar response you get in response to eating that apple.
Get a jumpstart on your fiber as soon as you wake up. Enjoying a yummy bowl of unprocessed oatmeal in the morning is an excellent way to get beta-glucans, another viscous fiber that subdues appetite. Mushrooms are rich in beta-glucan too. How about psyllium? You can buy psyllium husks at most health food stores and natural food markets. One way to get its benefits is to add psyllium husks to baked goods.
You can also get viscous fiber by eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes. For example, beans, lentils, asparagus, flaxseed, chia seeds, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts all contain substantial quantities of viscous fiber for better appetite control. So, just increasing the number of plant foods you eat will have an impact. Plus, beans and lentils are excellent sources of protein too. Consuming foods with both protein and fiber is ideal for appetite control since both help subdue hunger. Also, make sure you’re avoiding low-fiber carbohydrates that cause blood sugar spikes and contribute to hunger and weight gain.
The Bottom Line
Not all fiber reduces appetite and makes you feel fuller. Soluble fiber that is highly viscous is the best for keeping you full and satisfied. Plus, there are other health perks to getting more viscous fiber, including benefits for blood sugar and blood lipids.
Like other forms of soluble fiber, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that viscous fiber, like that found in oats and barley, lowers blood sugar levels by slowing absorption of carbohydrates from the digestive tract. That’s an extra perk that’s good for your health.
How about cholesterol? Viscous fiber binds with cholesterol in your digestive system and takes it out of circulation Soluble fiber is important for your heart because it helps reduce bad cholesterol while increasing your good cholesterol.
Plus, some viscous fiber, including pectin and guar gum, has prebiotic properties. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the digestive system. Prebiotics are the “food” that gut-friendly bacteria feed on and that’s a boon for digestive health.
The take-home message? Add more viscous fiber to your plate if excessive hunger is an issue for you and if you’re trying to lose weight. Take it slowly though. Adding too much fiber to your diet too quickly can cause digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal cramping. Add more fiber a little at a time and give your body a chance to adapt before adding more.
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- Clark MJ, Slaving JL. The effect of fiber on satiety and food intake: a systematic review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2013;32(3):200-11. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2013.791194. PMID: 23885994.
- Weickert MO, Pfeiffer AF. Metabolic effects of dietary fiber consumption and prevention of diabetes. J Nutr. 2008 Mar;138(3):439-42. doi: 10.1093/jn/138.3.439. PMID: 18287346.
- com. “Experts: Americans Only Getting Half Dietary Fiber They Need”
- “Dietary fibres in the regulation of appetite and food ….” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21115081/.
- “How Viscous Fiber Can Help with Weight Loss – HealthiNation.” 10 Jan. 2019, https://www.healthination.com/health/viscous-fiber-weight-loss/.
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