The subject of weight loss is constantly talked about across all different kinds of media platforms, from the cover of fashion magazines to pins on Pinterest. These types of trends are no surprise, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over one-third of the adult population in the United States is obese, with millions more considered overweight.
Weight problems have led to a market saturated with weight loss diets that promise dramatic results in short periods of time, but not all claims can be trusted. However, one aspect of your diet that can help boost your weight loss is something you already consume, fiber.
Knowing what it is and how it works can help you better adapt your overall diet to achieve your weight loss goals.
Fiber is found in two main forms through the foods you eat, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in foods like peas and nuts. It’s considered soluble because when it mixes with water in the digestive system, it dissolves into a gel-like substance. This gel is capable of slowing down the digestive process.
Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber remains largely intact in the digestive system. Found in foods like vegetables and wheat bran, insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and passes more quickly through the digestive tract than insoluble fiber.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber can assist with your weight loss efforts in different ways.
The gel formed by soluble fiber slows down the digestive system, which can leave you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. The longer you feel full, the better chance you’ll consume less overall calories throughout the day.
Soluble fiber also slows down the rate your body absorbs sugars and fats. This beneficial side effect helps balance blood sugar levels, reducing cravings and preventing that mid-afternoon energy slump that leads you to the vending machine.
Because insoluble fiber does not break down as much in the digestive system, higher amounts of this type of fiber help you feel full faster, as well as help you feel full longer. This allows you to eat more of high fiber foods like vegetables that have relatively lower calories, providing a more satiating meal.
Dietary fiber and disease prevention go hand in hand in your diet. In fact, many chronic diseases have ways in which fiber reduces your risks of developing them, or can even treat them.
Along with decreasing cravings, soluble fiber’s ability to slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream helps regulate blood sugar levels. This added regulation benefits those with glucose issues from diabetes, or those at risk for developing diabetes.
Soluble fiber also reduces the risks off developing heart disease. This benefit is performed through decreasing bad LDL cholesterol and increasing good HDL cholesterol levels. Increasingly more studies are also showing that higher fiber intake can lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation, which are both contributing factors to the development of heart diseases, heart attacks and strokes.
While more research is needed, diets high in fiber may help protect men from developing colon cancer, one of the most common solid cancers in the United States. When you consume fiber, natural bacteria in the gut produce a fatty acid called butyrate as the fiber ferments in your colon. Butyrate has shown promise to help keep epithelial cells of the colon healthy, preventing cancer cells from forming.
Along with preventing colon cancer, regular fiber intake ensures optimal bowel health. For example, fiber can help reduce your risks of developing hemorrhoids, as well as other bowel issues like diverticular disease. Insoluble fiber helps add bulk to your stool, which both normalizes bowel movements and can soften stool, reducing your bouts of constipation.
How much fiber you need on a daily basis varies based on your age and gender. For women under the age of 51, 25 grams of fiber a day is recommended. Women who are 51 and older only need 21 grams per day. Men under the age of 51 should consume at least 38 grams of fiber a day. Men 51 and older should aim for at least 30 grams.
When considering your fiber intake, it’s important to utilize a varied diet rich in whole foods in order to get adequate amounts of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Foods that are rich in both include berries, peas, almonds, flax seeds and chia seeds.
Root vegetables like onions, jicama and potatoes are also excellent sources of fiber, along with vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and Brussels sprouts. Many people also choose to supplement with natural products like Psyllium husk for added fiber benefits.
However, if you follow a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you’ll most likely not need to use supplements to reach your daily goal.
If you have difficulty reaching your fiber goals, consider options such as a high fiber cereal in the morning, popping a bag of low-fat popcorn for a snack, or sneaking fiber into foods like soups through adding a can of beans or throwing in extra fiber-rich vegetables. Choosing whole grain breads and pastas and brown rice over their white counterparts can also help boost your fiber numbers.
While a varied, healthy diet typically removes the need for supplementation, there are certain cases where your doctor may recommend supplementing with fiber products like Citrucel or Metamucil. Typically, this is due to diseases or conditions that can benefit from the added fiber, such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic constipation.
If you’re diet is currently low in fiber intake and you want to increase your fiber, make sure to do so slowly. It takes time for your body to acclimate to higher fiber amounts, and consuming too much too fast can result in bloating and constipation.
To help prevent these side effects, ensure you drink plenty of water to help maintain the efficiency of your digestive tract.
Fiber should always play an integral role in your diet, especially if you’re trying to lose weight and improve your general health. Once you reach your goal weight, fiber will also continue to benefit your body through it’s amazing disease prevention benefits, as well as will help you maintain a healthy weight.
Take small steps today to increase your fiber intake and improve not only the length of your life, but the overall quality of life as well.