It's hardly news. If you want to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. But there's something else you might want to do: Increase your daily fibre intake.
The most recent report from the Canadian Community Health Survey revealed that among 6,454 adults surveyed, were at a healthy weight consumed 200 fewer calories each day than their obese peers. And while protein, fat and carbohydrate were not linked to weight problems, fibre was. A higher intake reduced the likelihood of being overweight.
This certainly isn't the first time that fibre has been linked to a healthy weight: A number of well-controlled studies have found that people who consume more fibre are less overweight.
Boosting your fibre intake may prevent unwanted pounds from creeping on as you age. A study from Harvard Medical School that followed 74,000 middle-aged women found that regardless of initial fibre intake, all women tended to gain weight over the 12-year study. But those who increased their fibre during the study period were half as likely to become obese. A daily increase of 12 grams of fibre - the amount found in ½ cup of 100-per-cent bran cereal - was linked with eight pounds less weight gain.
Many of us have no idea how much fibre we consume during a typical day.
Yet for most Canadians, this number needs to be doubled. It's estimated that the average Canadian consumes between 11 and 17 grams of fibre each day - half the amount that's recommended to reap health benefits. Women aged 19 to 50 are advised to get 25 grams each day; men require 38 grams. As we get older and our calorie intake decreases, we need less. After 50, women should aim for 21 grams, men 30 grams.
Meeting your daily requirements may guard against obesity in a few ways. Dietary fibre slows the rate at which foods empty from the stomach, leading to a feeling of fullness. Fibre-rich foods also tend to have fewer calories.
Dietary fibre is the material in plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. To many people fibre is synonymous with certain brands of breakfast cereal. But if you rely on one single food to get your fibre, you could be short-changing your health.
Foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts contain two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water. Dried peas, beans, and lentils, oats, barley, psyllium husks, apples and citrus fruits are good sources. Foods such as wheat bran, whole grains, nuts and vegetables contain mainly insoluble fibre. This fibre doesn't dissolve in water, but it does have a significant capacity for retaining water. In this way, insoluble fibre increases stool bulk and promotes regularity.
The health benefits of a high-fibre diet go beyond weight control. Adding at least 3 grams of soluble fibre to your daily diet (e.g. 1/3 cup Kellogg's All Bran Buds, 1 cup of cooked oat bran, or 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal) can help lower elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol.
In fact, there's plenty of evidence that fibre, especially from cereals and fruits, can lower the risk of a heart attack. An analysis of 10 studies involving 91,508 men and 245,186 women found that each 10-gram increment of fibre added to the diet (the amount in a pear and ¼ cup of almonds) was linked with a 27-per-cent reduced risk of dying from heart disease.
People who eat a high-fibre diet are also less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes (because meals rich in fibre are digested more slowly, so they prevent large spikes in blood sugar).
A high-fibre diet may also help reduce the risk of breast cancer. A recent British study of 35,000 women found those who ate 30 grams of fibre a day had half the risk of those who ate less than 20 grams.
Fibre may lower breast-cancer risk by reducing circulating levels of the female hormone estrogen. It's thought that estrogen can promote the growth and development of breast cancer cells. It seems that the longer breast tissue is exposed to the body's circulating estrogen, the greater the risk for cancer.
Low fibre, refined grains have a high glycemic index which means they lead to higher blood-glucose and insulin levels, both of which have been shown to increase breast cancer risk. By keeping your bowel habits regular, insoluble fibre can help reduce the risk of hemorrhoids and possibly colon cancer.
You don't need to measure each type of fibre in your diet - just work on consuming more each day. Get your fibre from foods rather than supplements since fibre-rich foods also provide vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, compounds that also protect your health.
To prevent bloating, cramps or gas, increase your fibre intake gradually over a period of weeks. Drink more fluids as you add fibre to your diet since it needs to absorb water in order to work effectively.
Use the list below to add fibre-rich foods to meals and snacks.
Beans and tomato sauce, canned, 1 cup 20 g
Black beans, cooked, 1 cup 13.0 g
Lentils, cooked, 1 cup 9.0 g
Chickpeas, cooked, 1 cup 6.1 g
Kidney beans, cooked, 1 cup 6.7 g
Almonds, ¼ cup 4.1 g
100% bran cereal, 1/2 cup 12.0 g
All-Bran Buds, Kellogg's, 1/3 cup 12.0 g
Corn Bran, Quaker, 1 cup 6.3 g
Red River Hot Cereal, cooked, 1 cup 4.8 g
Oat bran, cooked, 1 cup 4.5 g
Oatmeal, cooked, 1 cup 3.6 g
Bread and whole grains
Bread, Dempster's Healthy Way with Procardio Recipe, 2 slices 10.0g
Pita pocket, whole-wheat, 1 4.8 g
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked, 1 cup 4.8 g
Flaxseed, ground, 2 tbsp 4.5 g
Bread, 100% whole-wheat, 2 slices 4.0 g
Figs, dried, 5 8.5 g
Pear, 1 medium with skin 5.1 g
Blueberries, 1 cup 4.0 g
Prunes, dried, 3 3.0 g
Apple, 1 medium with skin 2.6 g
Apricots, dried, 1/4 cup 2.6 g
Orange, 1 medium 2.4 g
Sweet potato, mashed, 1 cup 7.8 g
Potato, baked, 1 medium with skin 5.0 g
Green peas, 1/2 cup 3.7 g
Brussels sprouts, 1/2 cup 2.6 g
Carrots, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 2.2 g
Broccoli, 1/2 cup 2.0 g
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com.