Why is it so hard to lose weight? Why can some people eat what they want and never gain an ounce, while others gain weight just by seemingly looking at a piece of cake? The mystery behind weight control has yet to be fully unraveled. But if you’re one of the millions of people who are struggling to drop a few pounds (and maybe improve blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol at the same time), a new study published last week may offer some encouragement.
A new weight-loss medication? A device that sucks out excess fat? No, guess again. It’s an answer so simple that you probably wouldn’t think of it: fiber. Yes, fiber. Not quite a revelation, but perhaps something that’s doable for most people.
On February 17, a study was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine entitled “Single-Component Versus Multicomponent Dietary Goals for the Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Trial.” In this study, 240 adults with metabolic syndrome (a condition that increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes) were assigned to follow either the American Heart Association’s (AHA) guidelines, which involves cutting back on calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, or a high-fiber diet. So, one group of people was told to follow a restricted diet while the other group was told to consume 30 grams of fiber per day. Period.
The results? After one year, both groups lost weight. The AHA diet group lost an average of 6 pounds, while the high-fiber-diet group lost 4.6 pounds. Both groups also lowered their blood pressure and their insulin resistance. One might argue that the folks who limited their intake of calories, saturated fat, and sodium did “better” and therefore, that eating plan is superior to merely eating more high-fiber foods. But, as we all know, diets that are restrictive are challenging to follow, especially long-term. Wouldn’t it be easier to follow a “permissive” eating plan that actually tells you to eat more of something?
Fiber isn’t exactly exciting, to be sure. But the results of this study might be something to get excited about. Most of us think of fiber as something that keeps us “regular” in terms of digestion. And that’s definitely true. Fiber is only found in plant foods, and can be generally grouped into two types:
Insoluble. Promotes regular bowel movements, prevents constipation, lowers the risk for colon cancer. Sources include wheat bran, whole wheat bread, corn bran, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
Soluble. Lowers blood cholesterol and blood sugar, and slows digestion. Sources include oats, beans, barley, psyllium, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Both types of fiber can increase the feeling of fullness and possibly help you to eat less. Finally — an eating plan that helps you lose weight without feeling hungry! Of course, this is just one study, and a small one, at that. However, other studies indicate that fiber plays a key role in weight control. The added bonus of a high-fiber diet is that, besides the fiber, you’re eating healthful foods that contain other important nutrients that promote health and fight disease, as well.
A high-fiber menu
So what does a 30-gram fiber diet look like? It’s likely more than what most people consume. On average, most Americans take in just 15 grams of fiber each day, although the Institute of Medicine recommends that women get at least 25 grams per day and men, 38 grams per day. Here’s an example of how those 30 grams can fit into your eating plan:
Breakfast: Fiber grams
1/2 cup cooked steel-cut oats: 4
10 almonds: 1
3/4 cup blueberries: 3
4 ounces low-fat milk: 0
2 slices whole wheat bread: 4
3 ounces turkey breast : 0
1 slice Swiss cheese: 0
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard: 0
Green leaf lettuce and tomato: 1
1/2 cup carrot sticks: 3
1 small pear: 5
6 ounces Greek-style yogurt: 0
1/2 cup raspberries: 4
4 ounces broiled salmon: 0
1/3 cup brown rice: 1
1/2 cup black beans: 8
1 cup green beans: 4
2 teaspoons butter: 0
2 clementines: 3
1 string cheese: 0
Total: 41 grams
There you have it: 30 — actually, 41 — grams of fiber, and you can see that it’s really not that hard to fit in. Plus, no fiber supplements were involved! A few words of caution about fiber: Eating a lot of fiber all of a sudden can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, gassiness, bloating, and diarrhea, so it’s important to increase your fiber intake gradually to allow your digestive tract time to adjust. Drink plenty of water, as well, to prevent constipation. And finally, talk with your doctor or dietitian about the best — and safest — way for you to lose weight.