Getting to and maintaining a healthy weight can be quite a challenge as diets often have a lot of complicated rules. According to a new clinical trial a simple high-fiber diet can provide health benefits while being easier to stick with than a diet that requires multiple changes in eating habits.
In a yearlong study by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, those who simply ate a lot more fiber did as well as those who followed a more complex diet.
The study involved 240 overweight adults (average age: 52) divided into two groups. The first group was told to follow the American Heart Association’s (AHA’s) diet guidelines, which include around 13 rules such as “choose lean meats and poultry without skin, have six servings of grains per day, cut back on partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, eat 30 grams of fiber daily, reduce saturated fat to no more than 7 percent of total calories, prepare foods with little or no salt, and cut back on trans fat.”
The second group was just told to aim for 30 grams of fiber a day from a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.
After a year, the heart association diet group had lost an average of about 6 pounds, while the fiber group had dropped an average of 4.6 pounds, which is a minor difference considering the large discrepancy in the groups’ weight-loss strategies.
Dr. Yunsheng Ma, an associate professor in the division of preventive and behavioral medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and the study author said: “For people who find it difficult to follow complex dietary recommendations, a simple-to-follow diet with just one message — increase your fiber intake — may be the way to go.”
In addition, both groups by the end of 12 months had lower blood pressure, as well as decreased insulin resistance and better fasting insulin rates — important for warding off diabetes.
“These results suggest that focusing on a targeted fiber goal as a dietary intervention can be as clinically effective as the more intense AHA diet guidelines,” doctor Ma and his colleagues wrote.
The reason why this increased-fiber strategy is such an effective diet regimen is quite simple. For one thing, it’s easier to follow a single rule than 13 of them. Plus, the fiber plan also stressed eating more of something, rather than being told to eat less, which made it easier to stick with, the researchers said in a statement.
Eating more fiber also seemed to improve other food choices. Coauthor Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of medicine, said the study found that adding more fiber-rich foods to the diet “was accompanied by a host of other healthy dietary changes.”
“For example, we saw that people in the high-fiber group decreased their sugar intake, sodium intake and their dietary-cholesterol intake,” she wrote in an email.
That may be because fiber is more satisfying and filling than simple carbs, she said. “You may feel fuller longer because it takes your body longer to digest it. It also helps to regulate blood sugar, which can prevent big swings in hunger.”
For those wanting to add more fiber to their diet, Pagoto suggests following the tips researchers gave the subjects in the study: Take a list of fiber-rich foods with you when you go grocery shopping. Add beans to soups, salads and pasta. Add nuts to yogurt, cereal and salad. If you like fruit, stick to the higher-fiber ones such as berries, pears and apples.
These foods have some of the highest grams of fiber per serving:
Legumes and nuts:
Split peas: 16 grams per cup
Lentils: 15.6 grams per cup
Black beans: 15 grams per cup
Baked beans: 10 grams per cup
Almonds, 1 ounce: 3.5 grams
Spaghetti, whole wheat: 6.3 grams per cup
Barley, cooked: 6 grams per cup
Bran flakes, ¾ cup: 5.3 grams
Oatmeal, instant: 4 grams per cup
Raspberries: 8 grams per cup
Pear with skin: 5.5 grams
Apple with skin: 4.4 grams
Strawberries: 3 grams per cup
Artichoke, 1 medium: 10.3 grams
Green peas, cooked: 8.8 grams per cup
Broccoli, cooked: 5 grams per cup
Corn, cooked: 4 grams per cup
However, there are minor drawbacks to a high-fiber diet. Some people may experience gas, digestive discomfort and changes in bowel habits, Ma said.