Trendy weight loss diets come and go. For a while, low-fat dieting was popular and then low-carb became THE diet. Now, reincarnations of low-carb like Paleo are all the rage. The problem with diets, in general, is they restrict too many foods. Not only can overly restrictive diets lead to nutritional deficiencies – they’re hard to stick with. For example, the Paleo diet restricts dairy products, legumes, and many whole grains along with stuff that’s not good for you like sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Ask yourself this. How easy is it to stick to an overly restrictive diet long term? A better approach is to skip the “diet” and adopt a sustainable eating plan – one you CAN live with.
Small Changes Matter
According to a new study, you may not have to adopt a restrictive diet to lose weight. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed something as simple as eating more fiber is an effective weight loss strategy. In this study, 240 overweight people were asked to follow one of two diets: an American Heart Association Diet that restricted calories, sugar, sodium, and saturated fat or a high fiber diet supplying 30 grams of fiber daily.
Over six months, one group ate the standard American Heart Association Diet while the second simply added more fiber to their diet – a total of 30 grams a day. Although the first group lost more weight (6 pounds), the permissive, high-fiber diet group wasn’t far behind. They lost 4.6 pounds of body weight WITHOUT consciously cutting their calories or restricting the types of foods they ate.
Admittedly, neither group lost an enormous amount of weight, about a pound per month, but they were also not exercising. What this study suggests is making a positive dietary change like consuming more fiber may have weight loss benefits that nearly equal those of diets that are more restrictive. The participants on the fiber-rich diet also enjoyed another benefit – their insulin levels dropped as insulin sensitivity improved. In other words, their metabolic health was enhanced by the health benefits of fiber.
Focus on Fiber
Fiber is an under-appreciated dietary component. Rarely, do you see diet plans that focus on fiber, the indigestible portions of plant-based foods. Usually, diets are built around eliminating certain foods and cutting calories. A fiber-rich diet has the advantage of increasing satiety. When you eat fiber-rich foods, the fiber delays stomach emptying so you feel fuller. Unfortunately, most people aren’t enjoying these benefits because the average American consumes only about half the amount of recommended daily fiber – 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
What are the Health Benefits of Fiber?
The health benefits of fiber go beyond appetite control and weight loss. Two large studies carried out by Harvard showed fiber-rich diets reduce heart disease risk by 40%. That’s substantial! One way eating fiber lowers heart disease risk is by decreasing LDL-cholesterol, but even more compelling are the effects fiber has on metabolic health. When you eat foods containing fiber, it lowers the glycemic response to a meal so you don’t get a rapid rise in glucose and insulin. Research shows high fiber diets improve metabolic health and lower the risk for metabolic syndrome, a major risk factor for heart disease and type 2-diabetes.
Fiber is good for digestive health too. Insoluble fiber, found in seeds and skins of fruit, not only help keep you regular, it lowers your risk for diverticulitis, a very common condition where outpouchings form on your intestine, which can become inflamed. Eating lots of fiber may also lower colon cancer risk, although not all studies agree on this.
Here’s another health benefit of fiber you may not have considered – fiber is a “prebiotic,” meaning it’s a food source for gut-friendly, probiotic bacteria that support digestive tract AND immune system health. You eat yogurt for the active probiotic cultures – why not give them something to feed on?
How to Add More Fiber to Your Diet
By eating more plant-based foods, you’re naturally adding fiber to your diet. Did you know a cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber? By eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day you’ll make quite an inroad into meeting your daily fiber needs. You’ll get even more fiber when you leave the skins and peels on the fruit you eat. If you do this, buy organic or soak fruit in three parts water to one part vinegar to remove traces of pesticides.
The other easy way to increase your fiber intake is to buy 100% whole grain, high-fiber bread and substitute fiber-rich whole grains like quinoa for rice and pasta. Making small changes like these are the key to painlessly increasing your fiber intake.
Here’s another food you don’t want to ignore – beans. A cup of black beans has an impressive amount of fiber – 19 grams! In fact, most beans, including chickpeas, navy beans, lima beans, and kidney beans are all rich in fiber. Plus, beans are a good source of plant-based proteins and antioxidants.
For snacks, reach for a handful of nuts. Most nuts have between 2 and 4 grams of fiber per ounce. Don’t forget to grind flaxseed and place a tablespoon on your morning oatmeal to really ramp up the fiber content. An ounce of flaxseed has 8 grams of fiber. Plus, flaxseed has compounds called lignans that may lower breast cancer risk.
Fiber for Appetite Control
The reason fiber is so helpful for weight loss stems partially from its ability to suppress appetite – but not all fiber satiates appetite equally well. Research suggests that “viscous” fiber, the type that forms a jelly-like substance in your digestive tract is best. One of the best sources of viscous fiber are beta-glucans, abundant in oatmeal, barley, and mushrooms. Another good source of viscous fiber is pectin, a fiber in apples and citrus fruit.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to eat an overly restrictive diet to lose weight. As this study shows, small changes like adding more fiber to your diet can have benefits over time. Enjoy all of the health benefits of fiber and eating healthy!
Annals of Internal Medicine. 17 February 2015, Vol 162, No. 4.
Harvard School of Public Health. “Fiber”
Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:370-6.
Medscape.com. “The Health Benefits of Fiber: Fiber’s Health Benefits”
Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 10 No. 7 P. 28.