In my work with weight-loss patients, I often tout the benefits of fiber, especially its ability to impart a feeling of fullness, which can aid in weight loss. But is fiber all it's cracked up to be?
I first learned about the benefits of fiber in one of my undergraduate nutrition classes at the University of Rhode Island, and I couldn't believe my good fortune when I learned that, as far as humans are concerned, it has no calories! It seems that humans lack an enzyme that would allow us to absorb the calories in fiber and use it as energy.
Wow, that was a happy day! I was going to make sure my diet was super high in fiber so I could always feel full, even when I wasn't eating much food! I soon learned, however, that there are two different kinds of fiber, and that, in order for them to be effective for weight loss, they both need to be part of a lower-calorie, balanced meal plan.
How do you tell which kind of fiber is best for weight loss? And why do you want both kinds in your diet? Well, in that same nutrition class, our instructor told us to think about what would dissolve in a glass of water. Take an apple. The peel won't dissolve in water, so it's an example of insoluble fiber, which helps prevent or relieve constipation, since it goes through the body quickly.
On the other hand, the fleshy pulp of the apple dissolves in water, so it's an example of soluble fiber, which has been linked to lowering the risk of stroke, controlling diabetes, and helping to prevent some cancers and gastrointestinal disorders. Soluble fiber might also lower cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.
The American Cancer Society recommends that we aim for about 25-30 grams of fiber a day, which is more than double what the average American gets.
Here are some things to think about as you increase your fiber intake:
If your daily fiber intake is low (less than 10 grams), be sure to increase your fiber intake slowly, to minimize discomfort, such as gas or constipation. Don't try, for example, to begin doubling your fiber intake while you're on a camping trip.
Be sure to drink plenty of water (about 6-8 glasses a day, or until your urine is clear, unless your doctor has you on a fluid restriction) to help make sure the fiber passes through your body rather than just sitting there (sorry for the visual!)
Decrease your fiber intake if you notice you're having a lot of loose stools or diarrhea.
I often recommend these delicious high-fiber foods:
Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries (1 cup provides up to 1/3 of your goal of at least 25 grams of fiber per day)