When people want to lose weight, they are typically advised to exercise and eat lots of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
However, as one nutritionist discovered, eating three apples a day, one before each meal, can help you lose up to 30% more weight than if you don’t.
How can a few apples make such a big difference? That’s because every medium-size apple contains roughly three grams of fiber, which tricks your body into eating less by increasing the bulk in your stomach and making you feel full without too many calories.
Not only that - studies show that fiber wards off heart disease, diabetes and many other disorders. In fact, fiber-rich foods can be as effective at lowering cholesterol as drugs.
So why is fiber downplayed in favor of fats and lean sources of protein in many fat- and weight-loss diets today?
The answer may lie in the difference between simple and complex carbs and the confusion this causes.
Simple carbs like pastries, breads, and snack foods don’t contain much fiber and raise blood sugar levels, often coming with high levels of unhealthy sugar, fat and salt. On the other hand, complex carbs, such as whole-grain breads, beans, fruits, and vegetables provide plenty of fiber and generally don’t raise blood sugar levels too much.
Fiber supplements recommended by many diets contain primarily one kind of fiber: the soluble version that’s abundant in oats, lentils, beans, many vegetables, and in fruits such as apples, oranges, and grapes. Soluble fiber protects from heart disease by forming a gelatinous substance in the gut which slows absorption of glucose and fatty acids into the blood. Over time, this reduces blood cholesterol levels.
Insoluble fiber is found mainly in whole-grain breads, cereals and many vegetables. It acts to protect the stomach and colon by stimulating the gut and speeding waste products through the system.
The average American only gets about 12 grams of fiber daily, while the recommended daily intake is 20-35 grams. Some studies have shown that diabetics can benefit by eating up to 70 grams a day.
Examining the dietary records of some 86,000 participants in the long-running Physicians’ Health Study, Harvard investigators found that men aged 40-84 years who ate a fiber-rich whole-grain cereal every day had a 20% lower risk of dying from heart disease over the next several years - when compared to those who didn’t.
The first step to improving fiber intake is to substitute fiber-rich foods for those you already eat, for example by selecting a brand of multigrain breakfast cereal that can provide 4-10 grams of fiber per bowl.
Here’s what else you can do to raise your daily consumption of fiber:
- Top up your breakfast cereal with fresh or dried raspberries or blueberries.
- Slice an avocado onto your lunchtime sandwich or use guacamole as a spread or dip.
- Enjoy burritos, tostadas and other bean-heavy Latin American dishes. Add artichoke hearts to salads or pasta dishes.
- Mix several kinds of breakfast cereals (preferably multigrain varieties) together to vary flavors and textures.
- Cut up cauliflower, broccoli, peppers and other vegetables and keep them in the fridge for snacking, along with a healthy dip like hummus.
- Add chickpeas, beans or pulses when making soup.
- Sprinkle toasted wheat germ over cereal or yogurt.
- Mix in ground flaxseed when you bake oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies.