The fitness industry is full of hard sells for simple solutions. Some of them are just junk, but most of them have a grain of truth to them, which is part of what makes it so hard to figure out what will help you. Effective weight management and healthy habits are never down to just one weird trick, but there are lots of small actions you can take to make healthy living easier. The “trick” is figuring out how to fit them into your life.
As Olga Khazan writes in The Skinny Carb, just pushing fiber in eating choices helps reduce total calories, leading to weight loss. Reporting on a study from Annals of Internal Medicine, she notes that in absolute terms, study participants on a complex diet plan lost more weight, but the difference was not big — and just pushing fiber is so much easier than overhauling your whole eating pattern, you are much more likely to stick with it.
It’s Not Really a Trick
A higher-fiber food pattern has many health benefits, from helping to keep energy level more even (by smoothing out blood sugar) to better gastrointestinal health to reducing the risk of heart disease. And there’s no reason not to eat more fiber. US recommendations call for around 25 to 30 grams of fiber for people eating 2000 to 2500 calories a day, but few people eat that much, especially if they’re eating processed foods. (Food processing often reduces the natural fiber in a food, as well as adding sugar or salt — or both.)
Interestingly, faddish diet plans overlap with each other and with conventional recommendations when it comes to fiber — low-carb diets emphasize vegetables (a great combination of carbs and fiber); the Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, beans, and whole grains; vegetarian and vegan diets are naturally heavy in fiber-rich foods; and there is evidence that our Paleolithic ancestors (for real) ate as much as 100 grams of fiber a day (plants were very different before we spent 10,000 years breeding them for deliciousness). In a study from the Archives of Internal Medicine published in 2009, “eating well” (defined as lots of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains) was enough to make a substantial difference in people’s health outcomes. As James Hamblin put it in the Atlantic last year, “Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner Is Real Food.”
“A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.” — “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?”
This doesn’t necessarily mean a vegetarian diet. Few food patterns call for more than 30% of your calories from protein — most are around 10% to 15%. Even people who eat meat — which is dense in calories — have plenty of room to eat “mostly plants” from a “fills up the bowl” point of view. You can see a list of fiber-rich foods here.
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