The bulky part of food that is not broken down by enzymes in the small intestine, is called roughage or fiber. While it has little nutritional value, fiber’s bulk prevents constipation and minimizes intestinal disorders such as diverticulosis. People with a high-fiber diet may have lower cancer rates and lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.
Fiber helps to keep our bowel movements regular and ward off certain diseases. Carcinogens in our intestines bind to it and move through our colon more quickly than they otherwise would, reducing our risk for colon cancer. Fiber also helps transport cholesterol out of our body, reducing our risk for heart disease.
How Dietary Fiber Helps Weight Loss
Studies show that most people eat about the same weight of food each day, says Barbara Rolls, PhD, author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. If you choose high-fiber, water-rich foods such as broth-based vegetable soups, salads, fruits, and vegetables instead of foods without fiber and water, you can eat the same weight of food but feel full on fewer calories.
A 2009 study in the journal Appetite compared the satiety or fullness factor of apples, applesauce, and apple juice with added fiber before lunch. People who ate an apple before lunch ate 15% fewer calories than those who ate the applesauce or drank apple juice. This suggests that the fiber in the whole apple was more filling even when compared to the juice that had added fiber.
Beyond the fiber content, crunching and chewing a whole piece of fruit stimulates your senses and takes longer to eat. So psychologically, it may also be more satisfying than beverages or soft foods. Chewing also promotes saliva and the production of stomach juices that help fill the stomach.
Fiber at Breakfast Is a Healthy Weight Loss Habit
In its tracking of the eating habits of successful dieters those big losers who have kept weight off for years the National Weight Control Registry has found that most eat breakfast regularly. And cereal is one of their morning rituals.
In general, eating cereal especially high-fiber cereals is beneficial for weight loss, says fiber expert Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a professor at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul and member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. “Studies that look at what people eat show those who eat more carbs, more fiber, and cereal in general weigh less than those who eat less fiber, carbs, and cereal.”
Types of Fiber
Soluble fiber dissolves in water forming a gel-like substance helping to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Foods with this type of fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and psyllium seed husk which is an ingredient often found in high fiber breakfast cereals. Insoluble fiber does not break down and is roughage increasing stool bulk that moves material through the digestive system. Foods containing this fiber are whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, and many vegetables.
Finding Foods High in Fibre
Add fibre-rich foods to your diet and reap the benefits:
High Fiber Legumes
- Beans and tomato sauce, canned, 1 cup 20 g
- Black beans, cooked, 1 cup 13.0 g
- Lentils, cooked, 1 cup 9.0 g
- Chickpeas, cooked, 1 cup 6.1 g
- Kidney beans, cooked, 1 cup 6.7 g
- Almonds, 1/4 cup 4.1 g
High Fiber Cereals
- 100% bran cereal, 1/2 cup 12.0 g
- All-Bran Buds, Kellogg’s, 1/3 cup 12.0 g
- Corn Bran, 1 cup 6.3 g
- Red River Hot Cereal, cooked, 1 cup 4.8 g
- Oat bran, cooked, 1 cup 4.5 g
- Oatmeal, cooked, 1 cup 3.6 g
High Fiber Breads and whole grains
- Bread, High Fibre, 2 slices 10.0g
- Pita pocket, whole-wheat, 1 4.8 g
- Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked, 1 cup 4.8 g
- Flaxseed, ground, 2 tbsp 4.5 g
- Bread, 100% whole-wheat, 2 slices 4.0 g
High Fiber Fruits
- Figs, dried, 5 8.5 g
- Pear, 1 medium with skin 5.1 g
- Blueberries, 1 cup 4.0 g
- Prunes, dried, 3 3.0 g
- Apple, 1 medium with skin 2.6 g
- Apricots, dried, 1/4 cup 2.6 g
- Orange, 1 medium 2.4 g
High Fiber Vegetables
- Sweet potato, mashed, 1 cup 7.8 g
- Potato, baked, 1 medium with skin 5.0 g
- Green peas, 1/2 cup 3.7 g
- Brussels sprouts, 1/2 cup 2.6 g
- Carrots, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 2.2 g
- Broccoli, 1/2 cup 2.0 g
How Much Dietary Fiber Do You Need?
Most women should get at least 25 grams and most men 38 grams each day to gain all the health benefits of fiber, according to the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intake. The problem is that most Americans get only about half that when not on a diet and even less when dieting, especially on low-carb diets.
Tufts University researcher and professor of nutrition Susan Roberts, PhD, has shown that people who eat 35 to 45 grams of fiber a day are less hungry when losing weight and lose more weight than people who eat less fiber. (But beware of consuming fiber as a bulk laxative; it can sap your body of needed nutrients and vitamins.)
Use of Fiber
Try these tips for adding more low-calorie foods to your meal plan to boost fiber while keeping calories in check:
- Eat whole fruits instead of fruit juice.
- Snack on veggies.
- Make vegetables a main course.
- Add a filling vegetable salad instead of a starchy salad as a side dish with meals.
- Enjoy a bowl of vegetable-based broth soup before meals.
- Start the day with a high-fiber cereal topped with fruit and low-fat dairy.
- Eat more beans.
- Make all your grains whole and limit them to a few servings each day.
- Add nuts and seeds to your weight loss plan, but keep the portions small because they are high in fiber and calories.