When you’re trying to lose weight, cutting calories and carbs is most likely your top priority. But you should also focus on consuming more fiber. “Fiber is the best food you can eat when you’re trying to lose weight,” says Gay Riley, RD, a nutritionist based in Dallas. The rough stuff is a type of carbohydrate, yes but it’s different from those that low carb dieters avoid or that make bagels your enemy. In fact, fiber can actually help lower your overall carb intake. Case in point: if you’re noshing on cereals with 44 grams of carbs per serving, but 10 of those come from dietary fiber, your body will only absorb the 34 grams of nonfiber carbs.
There are two basic types of fiber. First is insoluble fiber – the kind you’ll find in wheat bran, nuts, and many vegetables. It’s usually found on the outside and skins of foods, giving them a chewy, tough texture. Since insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, it contributes zero calories and speeds through your digestive system, giving fiber its bowel-stirring reputation. On its way out, it may bind to other foods, helping hustle calories out of your body. “With a very high-fiber diet, say 60 grams a day, you might lose as much as 20 percents of the calories you consume,” says Wanda Howell, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Arizona. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that a high-fiber diet leaves roughly twice as many calories undigested as a low-fiber diet does, while USDA research revealed that people who consume 24 grams of fiber per day earn a 90-calorie free pass. And fewer calories mean less flab.
The second type is soluble fiber, which tends to hide in foods. It’s found, for example, in the flesh of apples and inside a grain of rice. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gummy gel in your GI tract. This slows the rate at which food exits your stomach (so you feel full and satisfied longer) and puts the brakes on the absorption of sugar and carbs into your bloodstream (so you feel energized without a crash). As a result, it doesn’t raise your blood sugar like starch or sugars do. Unlike insoluble fiber, a gram of soluble fiber contributes about 4 calories.
Why do all of these matters? Simple: People who add fiber to their diets lose more weight than those who don’t. In a Brigham Young University study, women who ate an additional 8 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they consumed lost nearly 4 ½ pounds. The reverse is also true: Taking in less than 25 grams a day raises your risk of being overweight by up to 80 percent, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Not only does fiber keep you fuller longer, it also requires more chewing than fiber-free foods, notes Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota. And the more you chew, the fuller you feel, the less food you eat, and the more calories you burn!
The only bad thing about fiber is that we don’t eat enough of it. According to Institute of Medicine recommendations, the average man should eat 38 grams of fiber per day, and the average women 25 grams. Unfortunately, most of us take in a measly 15 grams. Ready to fill your fiber void? Get your fix from a mix of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, since different types of fiber have different benefits. Caution: Up your intake gradually, as a drastic increase can leave you bloated and gassy.
Eat Fiber At Every Meal
To keep hunger pangs from derailing your day, work fiber rich foods into every meal. “Fiber is the secret to losing weight without hunger,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The F-Factor Diet. That’s because the nutrient slows down digestion, so you’ll feell fuller longer. Shoot for at least 5 grams of fiber per meal.
Boost Your Bean Count
Beans are cheaper than almost any supermarket staple – and they’re filled with weight-loss friendly fiber, says certified nutrition specialist and weight-loss coach Jonny Bowden, PhD. In fact, research shows that bean eaters have smaller waists and a 22 percent lower risk of obesity than folks who don’t eat the legumes. Don’t confine your beans to chili: Add them to a salad, toss them with whole-grain pasta, make them a base for soup, or eat them as a meat substitute.
Choose The Right Cereal
Fiber is the building block of a healthy cereal – it’s what helps keep you full throughout the morning, and it is also a mark of whole-grain cereal. So before you toss that box into your cart, check the label to make sure it contains at least 3, but ideally 10, grams of fiber per serving. This will help balance out the effect of any sugar it may contain (although no amount of fiber justifies more than 8 grams of sugar per serving), while boosting the satiety of your morning meal. Shredded wheat cereals are usually a good start, or if you prefer something hot, make it oat bran or steel-cut oatmeal, which contains beta-glucan. This type of fiber can dampen your appetite for up to 4 hours. On the go? Throw a packet of instant oatmeal into your bag.
Embellish Your Eggs
A plain omelet is an excellent source of protein. But why stop there? Fold in diced veggies, such as peppers, broccoli, or onions, for a hit of much-needed fiber with your breakfast. If you’re short on time in the a.m., do your prep work ahead of time: Chop up enough veggies for a week and store them in a refrigerator.
Load Up On Whole Grains
Refined carbohydrates – those that have been stripped on their fiber – spike your blood sugar and awaken your appetite. But whole grains, which still have their natural fiber intact, are extremely satiating and fight off hunger pangs. They can also blast fat: in a Penn State study, dieters who opted for whole grains shed two times as much as those who stuck with refined carbs. The study authors say the extra fiber found in whole grains helps you cut calories and keeps your blood sugar steady.
Unfortunately, not many of us are making the whole-grain grade: a 2010 Louisiana State University study reported that less than 5 percent of adults consume three or more servings of fiber-filled grains per day. Make the switch: Choose 100 percent whole-grain bread, pasta, even frozen waffles (they make them!) over their refined-carbs alternatives. And remember, unless “whole-grain flour” or “whole wheat flour” is the only flour on the ingredient list, it isn’t 100 percent whole grain. A sign of a true whole-grain food: at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Eat Juicy Fruits
Foods that contain both fiber and water are superfilling and usually low in calories. This makes them a key weight-loss weapon. A medium-size grapefruit, for example, boasts 3 grams of the rough stuff, plus 320 grams of water (nearly 11 ounces). This makes the fruit extremely satisfying – and may explain why it can help you lose weight, according to the Journal of Medicinal Food. Just make sure to eat the thin skin between grapefruit segments, where most of the fiber is found. Grapefruit isn’t the only food in the water/fiber combo. You’ll also find it in oatmeal, brown rice, tomatoes, raw veggies, and broth-based soups.
Snack On Fiber
You should, of course, work fiber into every meal. But have you considering adding it to your snacks? As one of the most satisfying nutrients, fiber will stave off any hunger pangs between major meals, helping you avoid a binge once you do sit down for lunch or dinner. This is especially important if you’re eating a late dinner or going out for drinks – fiber wards of hunger and helps absorb alcohol. In between meals, pick up a fresh piece of fruit or half a Thomas’ 100% Whole Wheat Mini Bagel. Pair it with a little protein, such as a tablespoon of peanut butter or a spring cheese.
Start With Salad
Unlike the complimentary breads in restaurants, your predinner salad isn’t a waste of stomach space. In a Penn State study, people who ate a 100-calorie salad as an appetizer consumed 12 percent fewer calories during the meal – without even trying to control their intake. The reason: Leafy greens are full of fiber, which helps stamp out appetite.
Eat Whole Fruit
Drinking a glass of orange juice is not the same as eating an orange. Consider the nutritional stack-up: A cup of OJ contains 122 calories, 21 grams of sugars, and less than 1 gram of fiber, while a medium orange has 62 calories, 12 grams of sugars, and 3 grams of fiber. Fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar into your body, thus blunting a dangerous spike in blood sugar. This makes whole fruit a smarter choice than any juice on the shelf, even if it’s 100 percent juice. Prioritize fruits that are higher in pectin, a type of soluble fiber known to promote weight loss. Apples, apricots, grapefruit, and citrus fruits are all good source of the stuff.
Drink Lots Of Water
When you increase your finer consumption you need to drink more water to avoid digestive problems. Aim to drink at least one glass with every meal or snack. If you still experience discomfort, consider taking Gas-X or a supplement like Beano, which contains enzymes that help your body break down complex carbohydrates.
Add Avocado To Your Diet
Avocado is perhaps best known for its heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. But it’s also an incredible source of fiber. Half an avocado contains nearly 7 grams! Guacamole isn’t the only way to fold the green fruit into your diet. You can also add avocado slices to a sandwich, chop it up and up in homemade salsa (add corn, another great source of fiber), or toss it into your salad.
Load Up On Vegetables
Focusing on veggies may be ultimate diet cliché – nut it works. In a study of 2,000 low-carb dieters those who ate four servings of nonstarchy vegetables per day lost the more weight. That includes virtually any vegetables of your choice, other than potatoes and corn. One explanation: eating more produce increases the amount of finer in your diet, which helps keep you full.
Although nuts are usually praise for their protein, they’re also an excellent source of fiber. Almonds, pistachios, and pecans all contain 3 grams of fiber per ounce – as much as an entire grapefruit! Take the edge of your appetite by eating a handful (¼ cup) per day. According to Loma Linda University research, the trio of nutrients – fiber, protein, and healthy fats – in nuts makes them especially filling.
Replace Rice With Quinoa
White rice is nothing more than a sticky glob of refined carbs. Instead, eat quinoa, a South American grain with more fiber and fewer carbs than most other whole grains (including brown rice). You can find it in the rice aisle or the health food section of most supermarkets. To prepare your quinoa, rinse it well, add a serving to boiling water, turn the heat down to low, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the water and allow the quinoa to cool it in bulk, then store it in an airtight container in your refrigerator to eat throughout the week. Try this tasty combination: Toss quinoa with roasted peppers, cubed mozzarella, and chopped basil. Quinoa also makes a great alternative to oatmeal or can even be used to make a creamier version of rice pudding.
Swap In Popcorn
Craving something salty? Grab a bowl of popcorn instead of potato chips. You’ll enjoy the salt and crunch of chips. You’ll enjoy the salt and crunch of chips while adding a significant dose of fiber to your snack. Choose either oil-free microwave popcorn or a variety popped in goof-for-you oil, such as olive or canola. You can also opt for plain, lightly salted popcorn, such as Orville Redenbacher’s Natural Simole Salted.
Drink Your Roughage
If you struggle to work enough fiber into your day, add a fiber supplement to your morning coffee. It’s not as gross as it sounds: Fibersure, a supplement from the makers of Metamucil, dissolves flavorlessly into your drink, contributing 4 grams of fiber per teaspoon. You can also stir it into a smoothie or add it to a glass of milk.
Add Fiber To Dessert
It’s your cheat day. So what do you do? Grab a piece of chocolate cake, naturally. But before you dive in, sprinkle it with a few fresh raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries. Berries are among the most fiber-rich fruits – raspberries lead the pack with 8 grams per cup – which means they can help control the blood sugar spike you would normally experience when downing a dessert. Better yet, fill a bowl with a cup of berries and top them with low-fat yogurt and toasted wheat germ, a great source of fiber. You may find you don’t need that cake after all.
Go For The Garbanzo Bonanza
You probably think of fruit first when you think of fiber. But garbanzo beans (aka “chickpeas”) – the legume that hummus is made from – are also an excellent source of roughage. (Half cup of chickpeas contains 17 grams of fiber!) Whip up your own homemade hummus or for fiber on the fly, toss some canned garbanzo beans into a Mediterranean-inspired salad, soup, or stir-fry.