If you’re a fan of oatmeal, (hopefully you’re enjoying the nutrient-rich, steel-cut type of oats), you know how filling it can be and how long it can hold you before feeling hungry again. That’s because oats are an excellent source of soluble fiber, the type that absorbs water and slows down digestion. Imagine if your diet included many other fiber-rich foods. You can see how they might be just the natural appetite suppressants you need to lose those extra menopausal pounds.
“High fiber foods are less dense in calories compared to high fat foods and it’s the bulking of viscous properties of fiber that contribute to fullness that, in turn curbs appetite,” explained Dr. Robynne Chutkan, a Gastroenterologist and founder and medical director of the Digestive Center for Women in Chevy Chase, MD. “A high-fiber diet also slows down the absorption of sugars, so you stay full longer.”
How much dietary fiber should you consume? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics say that the average American consumes only 15 grams a day, but this organization of food and nutrition pros say women over 50 need at least 21 grams a day. Dr. Chutkan, who thinks there’s no such thing as too much fiber, puts the number at 25 grams daily. “Just increasing our intake of soluble fiber by 10 grams a day has been associated with a decrease in risk of all coronary events.”
That’s right, the benefits go beyond weight management. Fiber intake lowers LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol; reduces the risk of developing colon and breast cancer; and helps those with diabetes control blood glucose levels.
What foods are good sources of soluble fiber? Besides oatmeal, stock up on all kinds of legumes — lentils, beans and peas, for example; flaxseed (I add a tablespoon or two to my protein shake every morning); carrots, barley, psyllium, celery and fruit such as apples, and all types of berries and citrus.
And don’t forget about INSOLUBLE fiber. It’s good to have a balance and many plant foods contain both types of fiber. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water so it moves food through your digestive tract quickly. (That’s why it’s good for those who struggle with constipation). Examples of insoluble-rich foods include whole wheat, brown rice, couscous, zucchini, tomatoes, and root vegetable skins (i.e. potatoes).
In his book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, Dr. Robert Lustig writes that the majority of the foods we consume today lack fiber of any sort. “Refined grains, (such as white rice, white flour pasta and many crackers and cereals), are stripped of both the grain and the germ in the process in the process of milling,” he writes. “This gives them a finer texture and extends their shelf life while taking out various micronutrients and, in particular, fiber. Enriched grains may replace some of the nutrients removed, but once the fiber is taken out you can’t put it back in.”
If you don’t think you can achieve optimal levels of fiber from your diet, Dr. Chutkan recommends fiber supplements. “Even in patients who are good eaters, it’s still helpful to take supplements since some people over-estimate how much fiber they’re eating,” she said.