We often overlook our need for fiber because we associate it with the stuff that our grandparents take to stay regular. But fiber is a powerful nutrient, especially for weight loss. Eating more fiber can help you lose weight even if it’s the only change you make to your diet. And high-fiber foods are loaded with valuable nutrients, too.
The Evidence That Fiber Helps With Weight Loss
Researchers believe the evidence that fiber protects against obesity is strong. Large epidemiologic studies reveal that eating more fiber is associated with a lower body weight, even after controlling for other factors. A 20-month prospective cohort study of 252 women found that for each one gram of fiber consumed daily, weight decreased by 0.25 kilograms (0.5 pounds). It may not sound like a lot, but we’re talking about increasing intake by one gram of fiber daily. You can easily achieve a three-gram fiber increase daily by swapping a cup of white rice with brown rice! Keep in mind the study sample is small and limited, but it does show a clear trend: eating more fiber helps lower body weight.
Why might this be? Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that’s not easily digested by humans but it plays other important roles in the gut. Here’s how fiber contributes to weight loss:
#1. Fiber adds volume without adding calories. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that’s not easily digestible by humans. This means you get little to no calories from eating fiber, but it takes up volume in your stomach and even slows down digestion to keep you feeling fuller.
#2. Fiber moves waste out efficiently. Insoluble fiber bulks up the stool and soluble fiber forms a gelatinous mixture that makes stool easier to pass. While constipation is not a major cause of obesity, having regular bowel movements does make one feel that much lighter.
#3. Fiber feeds friendly gut bacteria. A human digestive tract holds 100 trillion gut bacteria, and scientists are finding that this so-called microbiome affects everything from our immune systems, to our chances of getting Type 2 diabetes and even our body weights. While this relationship is very complex, we do know that a high-fiber diet encourages beneficial gut bacteria to grow and is linked to a lower body weight.
How Much Fiber Should I Eat?
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly Institute of Medicine) recommends:
Adult males eat 38 grams of fiber per day.
Adult females eat 25 grams of fiber per day.
Sadly, Americans don’t even come close! 2014 data shows that adult males eat less than 20 grams of fiber daily and adult females eat less than 18 grams of fiber daily. If you fall short of your fiber goals, the solution is to add more high-fiber foods to your diet.
15 of the Best High-Fiber Foods for Weight Loss
Thankfully, there are many high-fiber foods that are also low in calories. For those of you watching your weight, this is great news! Below, we’ve sourced 15 foods that are high in fiber but low in calories. Each featured food comes with a delicious recipe recommendation.
1. Wheat Bran
Wheat bran is the outer layer of the wheat grain that gets discarded when wheat is milled into flour. The bran is then packaged and sold inexpensively. It’s incredibly high in the insoluble fibers that keep you regular by moving food through your gut. You can add wheat bran to most baked goods, such as muffins and breads, or breakfast foods such as waffles and pancakes.
NOTE: Take it slow when incorporating wheat bran into your meals. It’s very high in fiber and could upset your stomach if you’re not used to a high-fiber diet.
Nutrition Info (¼ cup): 50 calories, 6 grams of fiber
Try Healthy Pancakes.
2. Jicama (ˈhiːkəma)
We know this root vegetable is intimidating, but once you peel back its thick, bark-like skin you may rethink your worries. The juicy, white jicama flesh has a distinct nutty crunch that you can enjoy raw. You can cut jicama into thick matchsticks and offer them up in a veggie platter along with baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and celery sticks. Jicama is slightly sweet and is great in salads, salsas and light stir-fry dishes.
Nutrition Info (1 cup): 49 calories, 6.4 grams of fiber
These summer berries are a hit with those who follow a low-carb diet because they’re low in sugar compared to other fruits. Ripe raspberries are lightly sweet with a tart kick, making them the perfect addition to yogurt, oatmeal, salads, desserts or smoothies. Raspberry seeds are high in essential fatty acids that keep your immune system happy. A high-power blender cracks open the seeds to make the essential fats available. But, if you’re eating the berries whole you’ll still get fiber from the outer hull of the seeds. Either way it’s a win-win with raspberries!
Nutrition Info (1 cup): 52 calories, 6.5 grams of fiber
4. Black Beans
This high-carbohydrate ingredient is also high in fiber, which is why it has a relatively low glycemic index. Foods with a low glycemic index slowly release energy in the form of sugar. Eating them won’t cause a rapid spike in blood sugar. Beans are also a good source of magnesium, calcium and potassium. Tuck them into burritos, quesadillas, tacos, casseroles and chilis, or simply make the easy corn and black bean salad below.
Nutrition Info (½ cup): 109 calories, 8.3 grams of fiber
Popeye the Sailor endorsed spinach and maybe you should, too! It’s low in calories, but high in nutrients like vitamins A, C and K as well as folate, manganese, magnesium and iron. Spinach is the easiest leafy green to find at your local grocery store. It can grow during colder months, and if you can’t find it fresh you’ll surely find it frozen or canned. A spinach sauté is a simple way to boost fiber intake at dinner.
Nutrition Info (1 cup): 23 calories, 2.2 grams of fiber
Broccoli is a budget-friendly fiber source that you can incorporate into almost any dish. While it’s maligned as America’s most-hated vegetable, we know there are plenty of cooking tricks that make broccoli a beloved favorite. Roasting broccoli brings out flavor. Sautéing it in a savory sauce is also delicious!
Nutrition Info (1 cup): 31 calories, 2.4 grams of fiber
Carrots are a fiber-packed vegetable that’s also high in beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that’s essential for good health. Here’s a reason to feast on carrots: One cup of raw carrots contains over 100 percent of your daily needs for vitamin A! You can snack on baby carrots dipped in hummus, or whip up the tasty carrot salad below for a zesty dinner side. Leftovers make a great sandwich filler for lunch.
Nutrition Info (1 cup): 45 calories, 3.1 grams of fiber
Try Lemony Carrot Salad.
Pears are sweet and crunchy, the pearfect fruit to add to salads! They’re a good source of vitamin C, fiber and potassium — all nutrients we should get more of in our diets. About 70 percent of the fiber in pears is insoluble and the other 30 percent is soluble. Soluble fibers help our bodies discard extra LDL (think: “bad”) cholesterol, which is beneficial whether or not you have high blood cholesterol.
Nutrition Info (1 medium): 101 calories, 5.5 grams of fiber
Bulgur is a hearty whole grain that is used in Middle Eastern cuisine. You’ve probably seen it used in tabbouleh, a salad made with bulgur, tomatoes, parsley, onion and lemon juice. Bulgar is easy to prep — you can even soak bulgur in water instead of cooking it! Just add one cup boiling water to one cup bulgur and let it stand for one hour before mixing it into salad. Because it’s highly absorbent, bulgur is good for beefing up soups and stews like the vegetarian chili below.
Nutrition Info (½ cup): 76 calories, 4.1 grams of fiber
10. Spaghetti Squash
This gourd is true to its name — once cooked, you can use a fork to flake off long, noodle-like strands from a spaghetti squash. This tasty, slightly sweet vegetable complements the acid in a marinara sauce and is a favorite among those who follow a low-carb eating plan. Spaghetti squash also delivers a good dose of fiber relative to its low calorie count.
Nutrition Info (1 cup): 42 calories, 2.2 grams of fiber
11. Lima Beans
Lima beans have a rich, buttery texture earning them the nickname butter beans. This high-fiber ingredient has a rich history dating back to the ancient Mochica people off the northern coast of Peru. Lima beans can be found in the frozen food or canned food section of your grocery store. These beans are great in soups and stir-fries. We recommend cooking them thoroughly since raw lima beans contain cyanide, which dissipates from the beans when cooked.
Nutrition Info (½ cup): 105 calories, 4.6 grams of fiber
Tender, pillowy barley is a go-to grain for soups, stews, grain salads and even a sophisticated dish like risotto! Hulled barley retains the bran, a layer that contains fiber and B vitamins. Pearled barley has been polished of its bran. While it’s lower in fiber, it’s a better choice for risotto because more starch is exposed to cook out into a creamy soup. Even so, the risotto below supplies 16 grams of fiber per serving from a combination of barley, edamame and peas.
Nutrition Info (½ cup): 97 calories, 3 grams of fiber
13. Canned Pumpkin
Canned pumpkin is packed with just as much vitamin A, potassium and iron as its fresh counterpart but it’s easier to find. Fun fact: canned pumpkin isn’t actually 100 percent pumpkin. Most brands cut the pumpkin puree with other varieties of winter squash, which are less stringy and just as nutritious. Stock up on this high-fiber ingredient during the fall, and you can use it all season. Stuff pumpkin into ravioli, slip it into mac and cheese or make a loaf of comforting pumpkin bread with the recipe below.
Nutrition Info (½ cup): 42 calories, 3.6 grams of fiber
Okra is favorite in Southern cuisine. It’s rich in fiber, but okra contains mucilage which makes it slimy and hard to swallow for some. A trick to reduce the sliminess is to soak okra in vinegar for an hour before cooking. Heat also cuts down on slime — you can pre-cook okra before adding it to your recipe through blanching, grilling, roasting or sautéing.
Nutrition Info (1 cup): 33 calories, 3.2 grams of fiber
Need a breakfast idea to replace your sugary cereal? We have just the high-fiber swap: oatmeal. Oats contain a special fiber called beta-glucan which can improve blood cholesterol and blood sugar. You can quickly microwave oats for a hot breakfast or let them sit in yogurt overnight for a creamy batch of overnight oats. In just 15 minutes, you can make a strawberry banana museli, a baked oat dish that’s nutty and satisfying.
Nutrition Info (1 cup, dry): 155 calories, 4.1 grams of fiber