Joseph J. Colella has performed more than 4,000 weight-loss surgeries. But the bariatric surgeon at St. Margaret’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center would like to keep people from needing the OR by finding practical strategies to keep obesity at bay. We talked with him about fiber.
Is a high-fiber diet important for weight loss?
The conventional wisdom is that a diet high in fiber is important for weight loss and overall weight management. While there is some general truth to this, the reality is that the priority of a high-fiber diet in the weight loss solution is far from the top of the list. Because it is not necessarily crucial, it would be better characterized as helpful with some caveats.
What are those caveats?
Too many people get lost in a sea of endless suggestions about fiber, low fat, reduced sugar, high protein, low carb, no sugar added, made with only natural sugars, etc. So, before we tackle the fiber topic specifically, let’s make it clear that the most critical elements of a long-term successful weight management strategy are to stick to a high-protein and low-sugar regimen, as low sugar trumps everything else.
So how does high fiber enter the picture?
All too often, because people have read or been told that high-fiber diets are a good thing, they use this either consciously or unconsciously to allow too much sugar to accompany the fiber to make it palatable. A great example is oatmeal, which is not very tasty on its own and often requires sugary additions like milk, brown sugar and honey to get it past your taste buds.
What are the best sources of fiber? How much is necessary? How much is too much?
The correct sources of fiber are fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods package sugar in a manner that is perfect for the digestive tract, which results in minimal absorption of the sugar molecules. This is so perfect that, in fact, there is essentially no limit on how much can be consumed. A minimum of 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day is recommended. Some great sources of fiber are avocado, lentils and beans.
What about fiber supplements?
Fiber supplements are a potential source of gastrointestinal discomfort and make people think that they are getting enough fiber to meet their needs, and that they can then avoid the healthier fruits and veggies. In general it is best to get fiber naturally and to use the supplements as a last resort.