Fiber is one of the most effective ways to lose weight without feeling deprived. Foods high in fiber can help us shed a few pounds with minimal effort. Eating less food isn’t necessary to weight loss, but changing the type of food can help us attain that goal. Even if losing weight is not the priority, there are plenty of other health benefits in a fiber rich diet.
The fiber in foods has no nutritional benefit on its own. Fiber adds calorie-free bulk to foods which keep us full and gives the added benefit of chewing to feel satisfied. The amount of fiber regularly eaten can make a difference in future health issues as we age. When a high fiber diet is consumed, the chances of weight gain decrease as does the chance for high blood cholesterol.
Fiber is like a sponge in our systems to absorb things that aren’t healthy. As fiber is making its way through our digestive tracts, it absorbs carbohydrates, fats, and sugars as it goes. Fiber also takes longer to digest which helps to keep us feeling full much longer.
The easiest way to start including more fiber in the diet is by replacing low fiber foods with the high fiber version. Americans eat an average of only 9 to 11 grams of fiber per day. The dietary needs for fiber vary with age and gender. Women should get at least 21 to 25 grams per day. Men need 30 to 38 grams of fiber per day according to the Mayo Clinic. The instant reward of including this much fiber in the diet is not feeling as hungry. Fiber is very filling and foods that have a high fiber content are almost always much lower in calories as well.
Here is another great benefit to eating a high fiber food. The amount of fiber on the content label of food is included in the total carbohydrates on the label as well. Fiber is not digestible, so it can be deducted from the total carbohydrate amount.
This is an example of a box of cereal I currently have in my pantry. The total carbohydrate amount of this high fiber cereal is 23 grams and the fiber is 10 grams for a one-half cup serving. The 10 grams of fiber get to be deducted from the 23 grams of carbohydrates. Now the digestible carbohydrate count is suddenly reduced to 13 grams. This is the reason this particular brand of cereal gets to boldly advertise on the front of this cereal box, “Only 13 grams of net carbs.”
When this high fiber cereal is compared with another low fiber cereal, the results are quite different. There is a popular cereal that states it is now made from whole grains. The total carbohydrate count on the label is 26 grams and the fiber is just 1 gram. Therefore, the total carbohydrate intake for that cereal is 25 grams.
High fiber carbohydrates also give the added benefit of more energy . The food is digested more slowly, so there is slower and more even amount of carbohydrates entering the bloodstream. Fiber can help avoid the energy crash that happens when the carbohydrate content of a food is high but the fiber content is not. The food is digested too quickly and causes a rapid rise and fall of the blood sugar level.
Protein and fiber work especially well together to help maintain energy all day. Protein is also digested slowly. Eating a combination of protein and fiber at small meals throughout the day can keep the blood sugar at a steady level. This will also supply a steady amount of energy all day.
Dietary fiber is listed in two categories, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and insoluble does not. Both kinds of fiber are healthy and should be included in the diet. Soluble fiber includes more bulk as it passes through the digestive tract. Wheat bran, whole wheat flour, nuts and many vegetables are some sources of insoluble fiber.
The fibers that are soluble dissolves in water and becomes much like a gel. These help to lower glucose levels and blood cholesterol. Soluble fiber is in such foods as oats, barley, citrus fruits, beans and peas.
The amount of fiber and the type of fiber (soluble or insoluble) can vary with food sources, but all fiber is plant based. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are examples of plant foods. The best way to be certain the diet contains enough fiber is to eat a variety of foods with both types of fiber. The foods that contain the highest amounts of fiber also happen to be among the most nutritious foods we can eat.
The best ways to reap the benefits of healthy plant-based foods are to choose the ones with the least amount of processing. The more processed a food is, the less fiber it has. Fresh fruit is high in fiber while fruit juice doesn’t contain any. Fruits and vegetable with the skins on have higher fiber than peeled ones.
The same is true for any grain product. The grain refining process takes the majority of fiber out of otherwise healthy whole foods. Label reading is really the best way to determine the fiber content for foods. My family enjoys pasta dishes and I substituted the low fiber spaghetti with a whole wheat version. The fiber content for the whole wheat pasta was much higher at just over 6 grams.
The same is true for white bread and flour. Try substituting part of the white flour in recipes with whole wheat flour. If the diet has not included very much high fiber foods, it’s better to make the change slowly anyway. The digestive tract needs time to get used to the added fiber and changing to a high fiber diet too quickly can cause intestinal bloating and imbalance.
As you begin to increase the fiber content of the foods you eat, you will need to drink more fluids. Water increases the sponge-like ability of fiber. Fiber will be much more beneficial when it absorbs water in the digestive tract, allowing the full benefits of a high fiber diet to begin to take place.