Counting Calories? Add In Fiber
Adding fiber to your weight-loss plan is not as daunting as you might think. It's a healthy way to manage your diet.
By Madeline Vann, MPH
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
You’ve heard it from your mother and no doubt in countless television ads — eat more fiber! If you’re counting calories and reading nutrition labels, bulking up your weight loss plan to include fiber may seem like just one more diet chore. But adding fiber to your diet is actually easier than you might think.
Fiber: The Health Benefits
If you’re like the average American, you probably only get 11 grams of fiber a day, despite the national recommendation for between 20 and 30 grams daily.
Eating more fiber can make you more “regular,” but it has other health benefits as well:
• A fiber-rich diet protects a woman’s heart. An analysis of health information from 72,000 women who participated in the 18-year long Nurses’ Health Study showed that women who ate a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits (all sources of fiber) had a reduced risk of heart disease compared to women who ate less healthfully.
• A fiber-rich diet contributes to a healthy pregnancy. Eating foods rich in fiber is recommended during pregnancy, and a recent study of the diets of 1,500 pregnant women showed that those who ate 21.2 grams of fiber a day were 72 percent less likely to develop preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure) than women who ate 11.9 grams or less daily. Adding just 5 grams of fiber, or two slices of whole wheat bread, to their daily diet cut the risk of preeclampsia by 14 percent.
• A fiber-rich diet may prevent cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may prevent certain types of cancer, particularly colon, esophageal, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.
Fiber: Getting Started
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The easiest way to increase fiber in your diet is to replace a low-fiber food with one that is higher in fiber. For example, use a high-fiber whole wheat bread instead of white bread for a sandwich, or snack on an apple instead of beef jerky. Apply this approach to all meals throughout the day.
“If you’re going to eat cereal, choose a high-fiber cereal. Forget the Rice Krispies and corn flakes,” says Donna L. Weihofen, RD, MS, a nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison. You want a whole-grain breakfast cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber, suggests Weihofen, who prefers making her own hot oatmeal bake. “It is so delicious that it converted me from doughnut eating to oatmeal eating.”
Other some good sources of fiber to try:
• Fruits and vegetables with the skin on (well-cleaned, of course)
• Potatoes with skin
• Beans such as lentils or black beans
• Whole grains such as oats, barley, or bulgur wheat (just remember to stick to the correct serving size to keep your calorie count down)
People who are watching their carbohydrates should know they can subtract the dietary fiber grams in a food from its total carbohydrate count, though this won’t change the calorie count of the food.
Fiber: Upping Your Intake
Increasing fruits and vegetables is a great way to improve the overall nutrition in your diet without adding calories (many high-fiber foods are actually lower in calories than other foods), but this shouldn’t be your only strategy for increasing fiber, says Weihofen. “You have to eat an awful lot of them to get your fiber allowance. You do have to have whole grains or fiber supplements,” she explains, adding that she believes a fiber supplement is a good idea. “I like Metamucil or Benefiber — a natural fiber, something you can take for the rest of your life.”
A final word of caution: When increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, take it slowly. Drink lots of water and add only a few grams a day to give your digestive system time to adjust.