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Does More Fiber Mean More Weight Loss?

May 21st, 2009 · No Comments

Fiber supplements and foods with added fiber advertise the possibility of easier weight loss and fewer hunger pangs. But these products note that such statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Is adding more fiber really a step toward easier weight control? And if so, does the amount and source of fiber matter?

Washington, D.C. - American Institute for Cancer Research - People who consume more dietary fiber from foods tend to be less overweight, according to several well-controlled studies. For example, among almost 6,000 French men and women, those at a healthy weight ate diets highest in fiber, providing about 20 to 27 grams daily. That amount meets the recommendations for women, with men advised to reach 30-38 grams daily. (In general, U.S. adults average only 15 grams daily.) However, studies testing whether increasing dietary fiber helps overweight people lose weight show mixed results, even when fiber consumption is relatively high.

The consistent body of evidence on fiber links higher consumption with less weight gain. In one of the largest studies of women’s health, all the women tended to gain weight over a 12-year study, regardless of initial dietary fiber consumption. But those who increased fiber consumption tended to gain less weight: an increase of 12 grams of dietary fiber daily was linked with about 8 pounds less weight gain. The strongest effect was found among the overweight: women who started the study overweight and boosted fiber consumption the most showed only half the weight gain as those with smallest or no increases in fiber.

The impact of boosting fiber through supplements – in pills, powders or added into food and drinks — may not be the same as eating naturally high-fiber foods.

Amounts and types of fiber in these studies vary. Six studies showed increased weight loss among overweight people consuming daily fiber supplements containing from 4 to 20 grams of dietary fiber. In most cases participants were also on a 1200- to 1600-calorie diet. The weight loss advantage of those on fiber supplements was relatively small: an average of two to four pounds greater loss after 2 to 14 months. Three studies that used smaller amounts of fiber (4 to 6 grams) for 3 months or less while reducing calories had no affect on weight loss.

Participants taking fiber supplements report reduced calorie consumption, decreased hunger or increased fullness in about half the studies.

Overall, these studies suggest that dietary fiber from foods or supplements may support weight control. But it’s important to note: adding fiber – whether through supplements or by replacing low-fiber foods with high-fiber choices – only seems to assist weight control when it leads to a decrease in calorie consumption.

People trying to reduce calories and hampered by feelings of hunger may be among those who find boosting fiber most helpful. Foods that supply dietary fiber – whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans – may satisfy hunger as their bulk fills up our stomachs. Yet they supply relatively few calories. For those who need to see and taste larger amounts of foods, adding a fiber supplement may not provide the same help as the fiber-filled foods.

However, research clearly shows that eating is not always hunger-based. Excess calorie consumption often stems from mindless eating in response to large portions, and availability of food or emotions. If hunger is not the reason someone overeats, then adding fiber may not be the solution. Also, much of the average U.S. increase in calorie consumption over the last decade has come from increased consumption of high-calorie drinks, and it is not clear whether boosting fiber consumption necessarily affects that source of calorie consumption.

By Karen Collins

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