By Dr. Mercola
In today's world it's harder than ever to keep your weight under control, as evidenced by the fact that two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children and teens are either overweight or obese.1
Weight management is a concern for most people, and many struggle to determine what they're doing wrong. Even exercising regularly can fail to make a dent for some people.
It is important to understand that while exercise is certainly part of the formula for success, the foods you choose to eat are three times more important for controlling your weight than your exercise.
It's very easy to sabotage yourself with processed foods and sweetened beverages. Many also do not get enough fiber, which research suggests may be another key component for effective weight loss.
Simply upping your fiber intake may actually help you achieve results rivaling more complicated diets. Previous research has demonstrated that fiber has appetite-suppressant qualities that helps you feel more satiated2,3,4,5 thereby preventing unhealthy snacking.
It's also been shown to improve metabolic markers such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar. Fiber also helps protect your heart6 and cardiovascular7 health, and appears to reduce mortality from all causes.8,9,10,11
High-Fiber Diet Rivals Calorie Restriction for Weight Loss
In the most recent study on fiber, the researchers12,13,14, enrolled 240 people with signs of prediabetes, randomly assigning them to one of two eating plans:
- The American Heart Association15 (AHA) diet, which involves reducing daily calorie intake and limiting saturated fat
- A plan that simply called for adding a minimum of 30 grams of fiber per day from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
No exercise recommendations were provided. After one year, both groups lost about the same amount of weight. The mean weight loss for those on the AHA diet was 2.7 kilos, compared to 2.1 kilos for the high-fiber group.
Like those on the AHA diet, the high-fiber group also improved their cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and inflammation markers, although far more people proceeded to develop diabetes in the high-fiber group compared to the AHA diet—a total of seven, compared to just one in the AHA group.
Still, the researchers are encouraged by the results, which suggest that adding more fiber to your diet is a simple measure that can significantly improve your diet and health status. As noted by Time Magazine:16
"[Study author Dr. Yunsheng] Ma notes that while dietary guidelines to lower the risk of various diseases have been around for decades, obesity, heart problems and diabetes remain the most common conditions affecting Americans.
"Very few people reach the goals that are recommended," he says. Asking them to focus on eating more of a certain food—rather than telling them what not to eat—may help people to think more positively about changes in their diet, and make the goals more achievable.
From there, it might be easier to make the other changes, such as those included in the AHA diet. '[Adding fiber] might be one new idea for how to get people to adhere to a diet,' he says. That's the first step, and perhaps most important, to eating healthier."
Are You Getting Enough High-Quality Fiber?
Dietary guidelines call for 20-30 grams of fiber per day. I believe an ideal amount for most adults is around 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. Most people, however, get only half that, or less—despite the fact that most eat a diet high in grains.
What many fail to realize is that grain-based fiber is far from ideal as the grains that accompany it can actually promote insulin and leptin resistance. Processed foods are also a poor source of beneficial fiber. So what is fiber and where do you find the good stuff? There are basically two types:
- Soluble fiber, found in cucumbers, blueberries, beans, and nuts. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer, which can help with weight control
- Insoluble fiber, found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery, and carrots, does not dissolve and helps add bulk to your stool. This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination
Many whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, naturally contain bothsoluble and insoluble fiber. This is ideal, as both help feed the microorganisms living in your gut. These beneficial bacteria in turn assist with digestion and absorption of your food, and play a significant role in your immune function.
The same cannot be said for grains (including whole grains) and processed foods, as the carbohydrates found in both can serve as fodder for microorganisms that tend to be detrimental to health. Gliadin and lectins in grains may also increase intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut can cause digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal cramps, as well as cause or contribute to many others symptoms such as fatigue, skin rashes, joint pain, allergies, psychological symptoms, and more.
So, to maximize your health benefits, focus on eating more vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Following is a small sampling of foods that contain high levels of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Psyllium seed husk, flax, and chia seeds Berries Vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts Root vegetables and tubers, including onions, sweet potatoes, and jicama Almonds Peas Green beans Cauliflower Beans
A simple tip to increase the amount of fiber and biodense nutrients in your diet would be to add sunflower sprouts to your meal. They work great in salads but can also be added to virtually any dish to radically improve its nutrition.
Organic whole husk psyllium is another effective option. Taking it three times a day could add as much as 18 grams of dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble) to your diet. Opting for an organic version of psyllium will prevent exposure to pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, as conventional psyllium is a very heavily sprayed crop. I also recommend choosing one that does not contain additives or sweeteners, as these tend to have a detrimental effect on your microbiome.
Boost Your Health and Weight Loss Efforts by Eating More Fiber
There's little doubt that fiber is an important part of a healthy diet. According to a report17 by the Council for Responsible Nutrition Foundation (CRNF), if American adults over the age of 55 with heart disease took psyllium dietary fiber daily, it could reduce health care costs by nearly $4.4 billion a year. These savings would primarily be related to reductions in heart disease-related medical events. The report estimated that it costs a mere 30 cents per day to take psyllium fiber at "preventive intake levels," noting that it also helps support healthy cholesterol levels by inhibiting its absorption in your intestine.
Just keep in mind that all sources of fiber are not created equal. Fresh whole vegetables are among the best. And while many recommend whole grains, I caution against whole grains if you're already struggling with insulin and leptin resistance—and half of all Americans are—as whole grains will raise your insulin and leptin levels, thereby exacerbating your condition.
Moreover, processed grains and processed foods boasting added fiber are more or less worthless, and will not provide you with the health benefits you're looking for. If you still fall short of the recommended 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed, consider adding organic psyllium husk and/or sprouted sunflower seeds to your diet, both of which can help bring you closer to this ideal amount, along with plenty of high-fiber vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. To learn even more about how you can optimize your health through diet, please refer to my free online nutrition plan.