Does Fiber Help with Weight Loss?

Can eating fiber help you lose belly fat? Depends on the type of fiber.

Fiber and weight loss

What if you could follow a weight loss diet that focused on eating more, not less? What if instead of avoiding all of the foods you cannot have, you could search for a specific nutrient that you should increase? That may be possible if you choose to follow a high-fiber diet. When you make a simple change such as seeking higher-fiber food choices, you may be able to lose weight and feel less hungry.

If you are anything like the typical American, you have plenty of room for improvement in your fiber intake. The average American gets only about 15 grams, which is barely over half the recommended minimum for a 2,000-calorie diet. That is not a maximum goal. That is a minimum. For almost everyone, more fiber is better for weight and health.

Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar, and improve digestive health. It may also be good for your waistline. The following points explain why dietary fiber may help with weight loss and how you can choose higher-fiber, great-tasting, foods to help yourself.

 

Basic Fiber Facts


Fiber is a nutrient in food that your body cannot digest. It is found only in plant-based foods, and not in animal products such as milk and other dairy products, fish, meat, and eggs. Fiber content is higher when the food is less processed, so an unpeeled apple has more fiber than a peeled one, an orange has more fiber than orange juice, and a whole grain has more fiber than a refined one. These foods have fiber.

  • Non-starchy vegetables.

  • Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas.

  • Whole grains.

  • Nuts, peanuts, and seeds.

  • Legumes, or beans, split and blackeyed peas, and lentils.

You can see the fiber content of certain foods here.

 

Does Fiber Help with Weight Loss?


Some research studies say that fiber may help with weight loss. People who eat more fiber tend to have lower body weights and less adult weight gain than people with lower-fiber diets. Fiber may increase feelings of fullness so you eat less food. That can lead to weight loss because losing weight is about consuming (taking in) fewer calories than you use (put out). 

Fiber may also help you eat less because of its effects on blood sugar. After you eat a meal, your blood sugar increases and then decreases back to normal blood sugar levels or below. When post-meal spikes are higher, the post-spike dips are lower. The low dips can lead to hunger and sugar cravings. Fiber makes blood sugar swings smaller, which means the post-spike dips are not as low. That means hunger and cravings are less, so you are likely to eat less and to choose less sugary foods than when you do not have fiber. 

 

Fiber Foods versus Supplements for Weight Loss


If fiber helps with weight loss, can you just take fiber supplements and expect to lose weight? Probably not. Some studies suggest that certain types of supplements may have a small effect on weight loss, but not much. Instead, the main weight loss benefits of fiber are likely to come when the fiber comes in food.

Think of it this way. If you depend on supplements for your fiber, you could technically get a lot of fiber and still have a diet comprising mainly pizza, brownies, and mac and cheese - that is, high-calorie foods. If, on the other hand, your high-fiber plan gets all of its fiber from foods, your diet will need to be rich in foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and nuts, because those are the fiber sources. With those healthy foods filling up your stomach instead, you may not have as much space or desire to eat those processed junk foods. In effect, those high-fiber, lower-calorie, filling foods are displacing the low-fiber, high-calorie, craving-inducing foods.

How Meals with High-Fiber Foods Can Naturally Be Bigger and Lower-Calorie Than a Meal with Supplements and Lower-Fiber Foods
The Meal: Fiber from Supplements Fiber from Foods (Bigger Meals, Fewer Calories)
Breakfast
Fiber supplement plus 1 egg and 2 egg whites scrambled with 2 oz. cheese and 2 oz. ham, plus 1 bagel with 1 oz. cream cheese
1 egg and 2 egg whites scrambled with 1 oz. cheese and 4 oz. vegetables (red peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms), plus ½ whole-grain bagel with ½ oz. cream cheese, plus ½ apple
Approximate Calories
800
500
Lunch
Fiber supplement plus 1 cup of broccoli cheese soup, 8 saltine crackers with tuna, and 2 chocolate chip cookies
1.5 cups of beef soup with vegetables and barley, 2 slices of whole-grain bread with tuna, 1 cup cantaloupe
Approximate Calories
700
500
Dinner
Fiber supplement plus 1.5 cups of white pasta with ½ cup alfredo sauce and 3 oz. chicken breast, plus 1 piece garlic bread, plus 1 cup ice cream
1 cup of whole-grain spaghetti with 3 oz. chicken breast and ½ cup tomato sauce with 1 cup of cooked carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower, plus side salad including ½ oz. garlic croutons, plus ½ cup ice cream with ½ cup raspberries
Approximate Calories
900
700
Total Calories
2400
1700
 

Does a High-Fiber Diet Have too Many Carbs?


People who are worried about their carbohydrate intake may be worried about a high-fiber diet for two reasons: first, because fiber is a type of carbohydrate, and second, because many high-fiber foods are also high in total carbohydrates. These are both true, but they are unlikely to get in the way of weight loss.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but it is different than the other types of carbohydrates in food. The other carbs are sugars and starches. They have calories, so too many of them causes weight gain. They also raise blood sugar. FIber does not contribute to weight gain or raise blood sugar levels.

As for the second point, some high-fiber foods (such as avocados, non-starchy vegetables, and nuts) are low-carb, but others, such as fruits and whole grains are almost nothing but carbs. Fruit is naturally packed with sugar, and whole grains are full of starch. Despite this, high consumption of fruits [1] and grains [2] are both associated with lower risk of obesity. Beans and other legumes are moderately high in starch, and are also linked to weight benefits. 

 

Long-Term Weight Loss and Fiber


Many kinds of diets will help you lose weight, but most people eventually regain the lost weight. When you increase fiber intake to lose weight, you may be able to keep the weight off for longer. This may be in part because a high-fiber “diet” is less a “diet” than a lifestyle. It is not a 30-day, short-term plan, or a program that is too restrictive to follow for long. These are some reasons why it can be easy to stay on a high-fiber diet for years. 

  • It is simple to follow, since you focus mainly on a single nutrient.

  • It allows for treats, such as the occasional scoop of ice cream or slice of pizza, without worrying that you failed and should give up.

  • It does not require special diet shakes, bars, or other products.

 

Sample High-Fiber Menu


Here is what a high-fiber menu can look like.

Meal or Snack Day 1 Day 2
Breakfast
Breakfast sandwich with a veggie burger and cooked egg plus spinach leaves on a whole-grain English muffin
Oatmeal made with milk plus ½ oz. of walnuts and ¾ cup blueberries
Lunch
Salad with ½ cup of quinoa or whole-wheat couscous, ½ cup garbanzo beans, plus chopped cucumber and bell peppers, diced onion, artichoke hearts, and feta cheese with Greek dressing.
Black beans, tomatoes, fish, cheese, or chicken, shredded lettuce, salsa, and avocado in a high-fiber wrap
Dinner
Turkey burger with sliced mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and avocado on a whole-wheat bun 1 cup fresh fruit or fruit salad with sliced almonds
Salmon cooked in a pan with diced onions, chopped broccoli and bell pepper, snow peas, tossed with cooked brown rice
Snacks
2 tangerines
½ cup roasted beets with ½ oz. goat or blue cheese
 

Fiber can help with losing weight and keeping it off without eliminating your favorite foods or leaving you feeling hungry. At the same time, that high-fiber diet can steer you towards more nutritious foods with other health benefits such as lowering blood sugar or risk for hypertension or certain cancers. 

You can follow a higher-fiber diet by shifting your choices to plant-based, less-processed foods. Lark Wellness can help you with healthier food choices and weight loss, too. Your personal health coach helps you establish behavior changes and long-term habits so you can hit your goals.

 

Reference

  1.  Sharma SP, Chung HJ, Kim HJ, Hong ST. Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity. Nutrients. 2016;8(10):633. Published 2016 Oct 14. doi:10.3390/nu8100633

  2.  Ye EQ, Chacko SA, Chou EL, Kugizaki M, Liu S. Greater whole-grain intake is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain. J Nutr. 2012;142(7):1304-1313. 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health