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How Fibre Can Help With Weight Loss
Where weight loss is concerned, the nutrient that steals the limelight is protein, touted for its ability to keep us satiated and diet-induced thermogenesis (although how this translates to additional calories burned is pretty negligible), but did you know that fibre can help with weight loss too?
What is fibre?
Fibre is pretty complex, but in simple terms it is a type of carbohydrate that can’t be digested, so it passes, intact, into the large intestine. (score ten points if you caught the pun!)
That might make fibre sound like it’s pretty useless, but far from it – it keeps the digestive system healthy and functioning properly by bulking up stools, preventing constipation, and helping waste move through the intestines (this is a good thing, protecting us from various gastrointestinal disorders[ref] as well as lowering bowel cancer risk[ref]).
Among it’s many health benefits, it seems that fibre can also help with weight loss and maintenance.
Fibre is often classified as soluble or insoluble, depending on how viscous it is (i.e. how readily it dissolves in water).
With the recommended daily fibre intake sitting at 30g, and the majority of people eating only just over half of that, fibre deficiency is a real and serious issue.
Where do we get fibre from?
Fibre is found exclusively in whole plant foods. The best sources are whole grains, legumes, fruits and starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
How can fibre help with weight loss and maintenance?
Fibre can help with weight loss and maintenance in a few ways. Let’s take a look!
Fibre requires more chewing
Starting at the top, fibrous foods take more chewing to break them down before you can swallow them. This slows down the rate at which you eat, and the slower you eat, the more perceived fullness you have[ref]. This often leads to eating less during mealtime, but can also contribute to eating less at subsequent meals.
Slower eating means there is also more chance for the stretch receptors in your stomach to register when you’re full, so you don’t overeat.
There is also a link between body weight and eating speed – those who eat faster are more likely to be overweight[ref].
Fibre-rich foods are low in calorie density
This means you can eat a greater volume of food in exchange for not many calories.
In order to get 2,000 calories a day, you’d need to fill your stomach almost four times with fibre-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Nuts are more calorie dense, and closer to cheese in this graphic in terms of the calories to volume ratio.
Soluble fibre slows gastric emptying
When soluble fiber mixes with water, it forms a viscous, gel-like substance in your stomach that slows down the rate at which digested food is released into the small intestine.
This contributes to both satiation and satiety. Satiation is how satisfied you feel during and after a meal, and satiety relates to how long it takes you after eating to feel hungry again. if you feel more satisfied after eating and it takes longer for you to feel hungry again, you’re likely to eat less.
Soluble fibre reduces appetite
Soluble fiber appears to help regulate ghrelin[ref], the “hunger hormone” which is involved in appetite control.
Great, so can I take a fibre supplement?
Not so fast! There’s no good evidence to suggest that fibre supplements are helpful for weight control[ref] getting your fibre from whole plant foods is the take-home message here.
The best sources of soluble fibre
All fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes contain a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibre and you should ideally try to include a wide variety of these foods in your diet.
But if you’re interested in increasing your fibre intake for it’s weight-loss benefits, it might be worth paying attention to foods high in soluble fibre. The best sources are:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Flax seeds
A word of caution
Sudden and large increases in dietary fibre can lead to some undesirable symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhoea. These are usually temporary, but it’s best to increase fibre intake slowly and you should always make sure you stay hydrated. Have a look at this post for some tips on reducing digestive discomfort when increasing the amount of fibre in your diet.