A lowfat vs. a high-fiber diet: for losing weight, should I pay more attention to the fat or the fiber content of the foods I eat? … and more of your questions answered here – Weight Loss q+a
Q My favorite cereal (Cheerios) has only 3 grams of fiber per serving, and the breads I buy have only 1 gram per slice. How many fiber grams do I need per day to help with weight loss, and how many should I look for in my breads and cereals?
A The National Academy of Sciences recommends that women under 50 years old consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day for good health. Research hasn’t established a precise amount of fiber that aids in weight loss, but nutritionists believe that if most people met the 25-gram-per-day recommendation, national obesity rates would probably drop. (Some studies suggest that consuming an extra 14 grams of fiber per day may cause you to eat 10 percent fewer calories and lose about 4 pounds over four months.) High-fiber diets seem to be more effective for weight loss than lowfat diets, and a review of the published studies shows that people on a diet that is both low in fat and high in fiber lose three times as much weight as those on a lowfat diet alone.
This is likely because fiber makes you feel full, so you eat less. Also, foods that are high in fiber–such as beans, vegetables and fruits–tend to be low in calories, so you can eat a greater volume of food. Think about how much more satisfying it is to eat an apple (3 grams of fiber; 80 calories) than to drink an 8-ounce glass of apple juice (no fiber; 110 calories).
The average woman consumes only about half the recommended fiber intake, so it does take vigilance to get those 25 grams. As you’ve found, “you really have to become a label reader,” says Kathleen Zelman, R.D., a nutritionist in private practice in Atlanta. Start your day with a cereal that contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. “There’s nothing wrong with Cheerios, but if you’re trying to meet the fiber recommendation, beef it up by topping it with fresh fruit.” You also could mix Cheerios with a cereal that’s higher in fiber, such as Kellogg’s Raisin Bran or Multi-Bran Chex (which have 7 and 8 fiber grams per serving, respectively).
Look for breads that contain at least 2 grams of fiber per slice and are labeled “whole wheat” rather than just “wheat.” Many wheat breads are simply white breads dressed up with a few sprinkles of whole grains and caramel coloring. For instance, Oroweat 12 Grain Bread, which, according to the package “combines ground whole wheat, corn, rye, oats, barley and brown rice” contains just 1 gram of fiber per slice–the same as Wonder Bread.
Q My sister follows a low-carb diet. When she feels the urge for a sugary treat, she chews up a cookie and then spits it back out. She claims that she avoids the carbohydrates and calories this way. Is my sister headed for an eating disorder? And since digestion begins in the mouth, isn’t she getting some calories just by chewing her food?
A Although spitting out food isn’t among the criteria used to diagnose eating disorders, the behavior certainly qualifies as “disordered eating,” says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park. “If your sister has bodyimage issues, if she’s viewing food as the enemy and if she’s constantly talking about food and weight, she may be on a slippery slope toward an eating disorder.”
Although digestion does begin in the mouth, with an enzyme in saliva that starts breaking down food, the number of calories your sister is getting from the cookies is likely negligible, since she’s spitting them right out. Tell your sister you are concerned about her health and urge her to see a registered dietitian who specializes in disordered eating. (To find one in your area, visit www.eatright.org, the Web site of the American Dietetic Association.)
A dietitian can explain to her that it’s OK to eat treats like cookies on occasion and that they should be enjoyed fully; spitting them out is likely to intensify her cravings. “When we deny ourselves our favorite foods, we tend to sabotage our weight-loss efforts,” Clark says. A dietitian can help your sister learn to look at food, including carbohydrates, as a source of energy and pleasure. Although cookies aren’t nutritious, an occasional cookie or two won’t ruin your diet.
Q Most of my friends are heavier after childbirth than before getting pregnant. Celebrities, on the other hand, seem to regain their pre-pregnancy shape very soon after giving birth. How are some women able to lose weight so quickly?
A Don’t compare yourself to photographs of celebrities. “Magazine photos can be very deceiving,” says Richard Frieder, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and a clinical instructor at the UCLA School of Medicine in Los Angeles. “A lot of actresses and models look great in photos, but that’s often because the photos have been retouched and the celebrities are wearing clothes that highlight their assets. If you were standing next to them or saw them undressed, they wouldn’t look as perfect.”
That’s not to say women can’t look terrific after pregnancy, but even under the best circumstances, it typically takes at least six months for a woman to get her body back. According to Frieder, the women who are most likely to return to their pre-pregnancy shape–or close to it–are those who are not overweight before pregnancy, who don’t gain more than 10 pounds in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy or more than 20 pounds in the last 20 weeks, and who exercise almost daily (for at least 30 minutes) before and during pregnancy. “Your habits before and during pregnancy make a big difference,” Frieder says. Exercising after pregnancy, as soon as you’re cleared by your doctor, is also important, as is watching how much you eat.
Send questions to Shape, Weight-Loss Q & A, 21100 Erwin St., Woodland Hills, CA 91367; fax: (818) 704-7620; e-mail: WeightLossQ&A@Shape.com.
Suzanne Schlosberg, a contributing editor to Shape, lives in Santa Monica, Calif.
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