Being overweight is associated with
heart disease, some types of cancers, type 2 diabetes (noninsulin-dependent),
stroke, arthritis, breathing problems, and depression. A diet high in fiber
can help you control certain medical conditions by helping you control
your weight, but fiber can also benefit you as it travels through your
digestive system. Dietary fiber is the part of whole grains, vegetables,
fruits, and nuts that resists digestion in the stomach and intestines and,
depending on the type of fiber ingested, can help to control certain health
How does fiber help you lose
Fiber alone contains no calories,
and it provides the bulk to your diet that gives you the satisfaction of
chewing, plus the feeling of a full stomach. There are 2 types of fiber:
water-insoluble and water-soluble. Water-insoluble fiber, found in vegetables
and whole grain breads and cereals, adds bulk to the diet. Water-soluble
fiber, found in fruits, legumes, seeds, and oat products, exits the stomach
more slowly and helps your stomach feel full longer. Fiber has several
additional benefits that can help you to control your weight. For example,
foods containing fiber take longer to eat, which means your stomach feels
full sooner and you eat less. Foods with fiber are also satisfying so you
don't feel hungry between meals.
What are the other benefits
of a high fiber diet?
A high fiber diet and weight loss
(through reduced calorie intake and exercise) can reduce your risk of certain
medical conditions. The type of fiber you digest determines your benefits.
For example, a diet consisting of insoluble fibers may reduce your risk
of colon cancer. Insoluble fiber passes through the body quickly carrying
cancer-causing substances through the digestive tract quicker. Additionally,
insoluble fiber helps to prevent or relieve constipation because it exits
the body quickly. On the other hand, a diet rich in soluble fiber can help
to reduce your risk of stroke, control diabetes, prevent some cancers,
and avoid gastrointestinal disorders. Soluble fiber can also help lower
your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease.
Soluble fiber absorbs fluids as it moves through your digestive track.
During the process, the fiber dissolves, thickens, and forms a gel. This
gel binds itself with acids made from cholesterol from the liver and then
carries it out of your body through your waste. Your body is left to pull
the cholesterol from your blood stream, reducing your blood cholesterol.
The gel moves slowly through the digestive system. It slows the release
of sugar and slows sugar absorption, thereby moderating blood glucose levels.
The gel also creates softer and bigger stools, which means fewer hemorrhoids
and fewer bouts with constipation.
Adding fiber to your diet
The National Cancer Institute recommends
a daily intake of 20 to 35 grams of fiber. However, most Americans only
eat between 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day. A floating stool and easy
passage indicates that your diet has enough fiber. Do not consume fiber
until it causes many loose stools a day because important nutrients can
be lost and vitamin deficiencies can occur.
Fiber is not the cure all for weight
control. However, combined with a nutritious diet, fiber can help you lose
weight. You should begin by adding fiber slowly to your diet to avoid bloating
and gas. In addition, drink plenty of fluids. Eight glasses of liquid are
recommended a day because fibrous foods draw water from the intestines.
Eat a variety of high-fiber foods to receive the benefits from both the
water-insoluble foods and the water-soluble foods, including raw vegetables
and fruits with the skins. When possible, consume high-fiber carbohydrates
such as an apple instead of low-fiber carbohydrates found in apple juice.
Shopping for fiber
Shopping for good, nutritional
foods is an important part of adding fiber to your diet. Keep a shopping
list and only buy what you need. Also, do not shop on an empty stomach.
Studies indicate that hungry shoppers are less discriminating and buy more
Controlling your weight is more manageable
with fiber and a nutritious diet. Fiber will not solve all your weight
control problems, but it is a step in the right direction. A regular daily
intake of fiber has many advantages that can help you even if you are healthy
and at your ideal weight.
Shop for fresh produce twice a week.
Many vegetables lose their nutrients during prolonged refrigeration.
Avoid wilted vegetables and bruised
Choose small, young vegetables.
Select whole grain products for greater
nutritional content instead of "enriched" breads.
Visit larger stores or health food
stores for whole-grain flours and hard-to-find nuts and seeds.
Jan McBarron, MD