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How a High-Fiber Diet Can Help You Lose Weight

A few months ago, a friend who is a self-confessed rice "addict" told me that she was able to gain control of her "addiction" by substituting unpolished or brown rice for white rice. She went from eating three to four cups of white rice per meal to one cup of brown rice. By making that one change in her eating habits, she was able to lose weight. This is not surprising since she was no longer eating excess calories from all those cups of rice. The question is how was she able to be satisfied with only one cup of rice when she was so used to eating several cups in one meal? The difference is that unpolished or brown rice is a whole grain while white rice is a refined product with not much fiber left. As my friend found out, fiber-rich food makes you feel full with less food.

What is fiber?
Fiber is the indigestible part of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. It contains no calories, vitamins or minerals but it is essential for good health. It comes in two forms: insoluble and soluble.

Most foods contain a combination of both kinds of fiber. Food that is especially high in insoluble fiber are whole grains (like wheat bran, whole wheat bread and cereals), beans, fruits and vegetables. Foods that are rich in soluble fibers are oats, oat bran, beans, fruits and vegetables.

How fiber helps with weight control.
A Tufts University study suggests that the weight of the food you eat may play a more important role than fat or calories in satisfying your hunger. In other words, you may not need to eat high-calorie or high-fat food to feel full but your stomach has to feel a certain weight of food before it is satisfied. The "heaviest" kind of food that is filling but relatively low in calories are foods that contain the most fiber and/or water - like fruits and vegetables. Since the fiber and water content contribute zero calories, you can feel more satisfied with less calories if you eat fiber-rich food. My friend's stomach was satisfied with the 'weight' of one cup of brown rice. Previously, she had to finish several cups before her stomach could signal her that she was full.

Since food high in fiber takes longer to digest, it keeps you from feeling hungry faster in between meals. It also takes longer to chew fibrous food. Eating slower gives your brain and stomach time to realize that you are full.

Even more interesting is a 1997 United States Department of Agriculture study that suggests that for every gram of fiber you eat, you may be absorbing seven fewer calories. The scientists in this study theorize that because fiber leaves the body undigested, the calories in high-fiber food is less easily absorbed.

High fiber foods also happen to be naturally low in calories. Whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables naturally contain less calories than processed products like cookies and cakes.

Fiber's other health benefits.
Weight control is not the only health benefit you will get from eating more fiber-rich food. Scientists say that fiber can help keep your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels normal. The insoluble kind helps you have regular bathroom habits and lowers the risk of colon problems like diverticulosis and irritable bowel syndrome. And although a large study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that fiber cannot prevent colon cancer, this role of dietary fiber just might be vindicated in the future. The women involved in the study consumed mostly soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables and not much insoluble fiber from whole grains.

How much fiber do you need in a day?
Nutritionists say that we need 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber daily. A food product is considered a good source of fiber if it contains 2.5 to 3 grams of fiber per serving. Manufacturers are required by law to reveal the dietary fiber content of the food they sell so you can easily find it in the nutrition label at the back of your favorite food products.

Fruits have 2.5 to 4 grams of fiber per serving (1 medium fruit or 1 cup). Vegetables from 1.5 to 4 grams for cup. Beans contain high amounts of fiber - an average of 6 to 7 grams per cup. Two slices of whole wheat bread has 3.8 grams while one cup of brown rice has 3.5 grams. One cup of oatmeal has 4 grams and cup of bran cereals has a whopping 8 to 13 grams.

A word of caution about breads and cereals: It has to contain the word "whole" not just the word "wheat". Check the list of ingredients to be sure. You will probably discover that not all "brown" breads are made with whole wheat. The brown coloring in many breads is simply that - coloring.

How to add fiber to your diet.
If you are not currently eating a lot of high-fiber foods and you want to change that situation, here is a word of advice - do it slowly and gradually -- unless you enjoy being bloated and gassy. Your digestive system needs time to adjust to all that fiber. Make sure to drink eight to ten glasses of water daily, otherwise, you could actually end up constipated. When there is enough water for the fiber to absorb, it moves smoothly and quickly out of your body. But when there isn't enough water, it can end up compacted in your intestine.

Why food is a better source of fiber than supplements.
It is possible to get your fiber solely from supplements but that is not the smartest thing to do. Fiber from whole foods comes in the way nature packed it - together with nutrients like vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. You miss out on all these benefits if you take your fiber in supplement form. Besides, people who depend on pills tend to have unhealthy eating habits since they think that the supplement will supply all their needs. Thus, I have seen people pop one or two fiber pills before a meal oozing with fat and calories in the belief that the pills will somehow make the calories disappear. What helps you lose weight is eating natural low-calorie high-fiber foods in place of processed high-calorie low-fiber foods. Taking fiber pills on a junk food diet just won't do the same thing.

The Association of Fitness Professionals will hold a seminar for both fitness professionals and enthusiasts on February 26, 2000 at the U.P. Diliman Campus. Topics for fitness enthusiasts include "How to have flat abs" and "How to exercise at home". Check my website (click on AFPP) for the full details or call Lorna at 842-0567.

The Sports Medicine Association of the Philippines will be holding its 9th Annual Convention on March 18, 2000 at the UST Auditorium. Call Bembem at 521-9123 or email sportsmedphil@yahoo.com.

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