Weight Loss: Counting Calories and Nutrients, or Is There Another Way?

Earlier this year, a group of scientists and physicians reported the results of a weight-loss study in the Annals of Internal Medicine (a peer review journal publishing high-quality research). Participants in the study were overweight adults with at least one symptom of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar). Individuals with these symptoms have higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

The study randomly divided participants into two groups. One group followed the American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines. The other group followed only one instruction—to consume at least 30 grams of fiber each day. At the end of one year, the “restrictive diet” group and the “high-fiber” group had BOTH achieved an encouraging amount of weight loss (an average of 6 and 4.6 pounds respectively). On average, individuals in both groups improved their blood sugar and blood pressure numbers as well.

This is an encouraging result if you are like a majority of surveyed Americans who “find doing their own taxes simpler than improving diet and health.” (from 2012 Nutrition and Health Survey by the International Food Information Council)). When we talk to you in the office about healthy eating, many of you express the same frustration with changing diet recommendations and the difficulty of knowing what to believe.

So is the high-fiber diet just another weight-loss fad that will come and go? We can tell you that increasing the amount of fiber in your diet will always be a sensible approach to healthy eating. Women should consume at least 25 grams of fiber each day, and men about 38. The average American manages to get only about 15 grams.

Why is fiber so important?

Your diet includes two types of fiber—soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in your digestive tract and is absorbed into your body. It can lower bad cholesterol, help control blood sugar, and therefore reduce your risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Studies suggest that soluble fiber improves the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Insoluble fiber is not digested and is not absorbed by the body. But, as it passes through the digestive system, it prevents constipation and reduces your risk for developing diverticular disease (small sacs in the wall of the colon).

Foods rich in soluble fiber include oat bran, beans, peas, lentils, apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, nuts and seeds. Insoluble fiber comes from whole grains, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. Refined grains like white flour and white pasta don’t contain much fiber.

How does fiber help weight loss?

High-fiber meals help you to feel full faster and longer! And filling up with fiber-rich foods leaves less room on your plate for the bad things The high-fiber diet is also a very simple instruction that people find easy to understand and follow every day. It doesn’t involve much counting or measuring. Simplicity is always a good ingredient for long-term success.

Try it!

The instruction is simple, but actually increasing your dietary fiber will take a little experience. You are probably like most people, only getting about half of what you need right now. Here is a Fiber Food Chart from the National Fiber Council to help you get started. Including the fiber “super-foods” each day (bran cereal, beans, raw fruit) will get you to 30 grams fairly quickly. Think “fiber” when you choose snacks (almonds, air-popped popcorn, raspberries, a pear, a bran muffin, a banana smoothie with a hand full of flax seed thrown in). It adds up!

We do not suggest that a high-fiber diet makes portion control unnecessary—just easier! And regardless of your weight-loss goals, fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet.