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The Secret to Weight Loss and Weight Management

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What if I told you that you could maintain your weight or even lose weight by eating more of something?  It may sound too good to be true, but I promise you, it’s not.  The secret is out.  Eating more fiber-rich foods has been shown to play a significant role in weight management. 

The rates of overweight and obesity in the United States have been climbing over the past decade, making this the most pressing public health threat of the 21st century.  Obesity and overweight contribute to a host of serious health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.  Interestingly enough, a high fiber diet can help mitigate these issues by reducing blood sugar, reducing cholesterol and reducing calorie intake.  Admittedly it’s not a sexy topic, but research has shown that fiber can help to avoid unwanted weight gain and plays a role in helping with weight loss. 

At this point you may be thinking, how can increasing fiber be a cure all to the battle of the bulge or any of the complications that are secondary to carrying additional weight?  Before you dismiss the benefits of fiber outright, think about the Hippocrates quote, “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food” and read on.

Some of the interesting findings from studies that examined the role of fiber in weight management reveal:

  • People who eat high fiber diets tend to weigh less than those who don’t
  • Boosting fiber intake by 8 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed resulted in an average of 4 ½ pound weight loss
  • Women with the highest intakes of fiber were half as likely to experience major weight gain over a 12 year period, compared with those with the lowest intakes
  • An increase of dietary fiber is associated with a lower BMI in women and lower waist circumference in both men and women
  • Eating an additional 14 grams of fiber a day resulted in a 10% reduction in overall calories and a weight loss of approximately 4 pounds within three months, and these results were even greater in study participants who were most overweight

Sounds like fiber has magic powers!  The cause and effect between fiber and weight loss occurs because:

  • Fiber takes longer to chew and digest which slows down the amount of time it takes us to eat. This allows us to get full long before we finish all the food our plate, meaning we end up consuming fewer calories. 
  • Fiber also absorbs fluid, as much as 15 times its own weight, so it swells or expands in the stomach and intestines. This effect helps us to feel full, or as I like to say, it fills you up without filling you out.
  • Fiber-rich foods have fewer calories than low fiber foods

There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.  Soluble fiber, like the name suggests is soluble in water.  This is the type of fiber that absorbs water and forms a gel.  Soluble fiber is what helps to make you feel full and can also help to reduce cholesterol levels and maintain steady blood sugar levels by reducing the spike in blood sugar that happens naturally after eating carbohydrates.  Examples of this type of fiber are apples, blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, sweet potatoes, oat bran, oatmeal, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Insoluble fiber as you may have guessed, is not soluble in water.  This kind of fiber acts like a sponge, expanding in size and absorbing more than its weight in water.  It provides bulk, helping to promote fullness.  Insoluble fiber can also speed up the movement of food through the digestive system which helps with bowel regularity.  Some examples of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole wheat bread and brown rice, as well as vegetables like cauliflower, green beans, and zucchini.

Current recommendations for fiber for adults is to aim for 25-35 grams daily.  However the standard American diet falls very short of these recommendations, with average intake being about 15 grams a day.  The good news is it isn’t difficult to boost your fiber intake at every meal and doing so can have far reaching health benefits beyond weight control.  Here are some simple ideas to help you.

Breakfast:

  • Add vegetables such as peppers, spinach and mushrooms to your morning omelet
  • Choose steel cut oats
  • Add chopped fruit, nuts or seeds like flax or chia to whole grain cereal, oatmeal or yogurt
  • Sprinkle wheat germ over oatmeal or yogurt
  • Make a smoothie loaded with berries
  • Choose whole grain bread for toast

Lunch:

  • If you like a sandwich for lunch, choose whole wheat bread and add more vegetables, think beyond lettuce, try adding spinach, raw carrot coins, sliced cucumbers as well as a few slices of tomato
  • Use hummus as a spread on your sandwich in place of mustard or mayonnaise
  • Try adding nuts to your salad for extra crunch in place of croutons
  • Add a scoop of chick peas or other beans to your salad
  • Choose a bowl of veggie soup or a bean soup

Dinner:

  • Make half of your dinner plate vegetables
  • Add fruit like strawberries or raspberries to your salad
  • Make a stir fry, loaded with vegetables
  • Use whole grain bread crumbs in your recipes or mix plain bread crumbs with ground bran cereal
  • Add beans to soups, stews and casseroles
  • Choose brown rice in place of white rice or try a different whole grain like farro, barley or quinoa  

Snacks:

  • Popcorn
  • Fruit
  • Hummus with vegetables
  • Whole grain crackers like Triscuits
  • Salsa or bean dip with baked tortilla chips
  • Nuts with dried fruit

Content submitted by Janyce Gately MS, RD, LDN, HC