Can More Fibre Help You Lose Weight? Or Is That Just A Shit Idea?
Think fibre. Think poop.
But is there more to it than that?
Can more fibre help you lose weight?
Or is that a pipe-dream filled with shit?
When it comes to losing weight, fibre is often confusing. On one hand you're told it's not that important. On the other, you're told the polar opposite.
"You aren't what you eat. You're what you can eat, digest, and absorb." is a phrase you'll often hear.
So what's the deal?
Should you give a shit about fibre? Or is it one more thing you can push down the priority list while you focus on calories?
In this article, you're going to discover the answers to those questions, and more. In fact, by the time you finish your morning ablutions, you'll have everything you need to know.
Here's what's in store:
- What is fibre, anyway? A short and concise guide to the ins and outs of fibre.
- How important is fibre for weight loss? The evidence-based view.
- The benefits of fibre for health and how it could assist with weight loss.
- A simple guide to net and impact carbs, including how to track fibre when counting calories.
- Practical tips on fibre for optimal health.
Quite a lot to get through, so let's get started.
What Is Fibre, Anyway?
Fibre is the indigestible portion of food, derived from plants.
When you eat, your digestive enzymes immediately get to work, breaking the food down into usable nutrients. However, some of these foods contain fibre, which is resistant to those enzymes.
So think of fibre as having an imaginary force-field. Allowing it to progress through your gastrointestinal tract, on its way to toilet-water freedom.
There Are Two Main Types Of Fibre:
Most fibre sources contained both types of fibre. Although, typically one type will be more prominent than the other.
Soluble Fibre: Soluble fibre is characterised by being "soft and sticky", helping slow digestion and the speed of exit.
Types of soluble fibre include: Brussel Sprouts, Avocados, Sweet Potato, Broccoli, Pears, and Apricots.
Insoluble Fibre: Insoluble fibre is what your Grandma referred to as "roughage". This has the opposite effect to soluble fibre. Enhancing digestion and transit time.
Types of insoluble fibre include: Wholegrain Foods, Brown Rice, Root vegetables, and Nuts.
How Much Fibre Should You Be Having?
Research shows >30g fibre per day is ideal for most adults. Sadly, most of the UK (and possibly the Western World in general) are in need of a good shit. Because average daily consumption is <15g per day.
So chances are, you might not be getting enough either.
But does that matter, especially if your main goal is to lose weight? Time to find out.
How Important Is Fibre For Weight & Fat Loss?
This is the fibrous detail you're after.
Can you lose weight faster by focusing your attention on fibre?
The answer is, not really.
Fibre matters more from a health perspective, rather than anything significantly weight loss related. Allow me to explain.
Weight loss is driven by calories. Energy balance, more specifically. In theory, you could reach your goal-weight, without a second thought about what you were eating. A fat loss diet based on systematically working your way through the McDonald's menu is possible. But I'd highly advise you not to do that.
But after you've got calories in place, what then? Is now the time to get pay attention to fibre?
The Lean Life Method Nutrition Pyramid
After calories, turn your attention to macronutrients. Then optimisation of sleep. Then nutrient timing. Once all that's in place, what you eat takes more prominence. This Nutrition Pyramid below (taken from The Lean Life Uni, the education platform used by my online coaching clients) shows the order of priority for fat loss.
Although, it's probably too simplistic to assume your diet would be optimised in such a linear fashion.
Is anything ever that simple? Frankly, I wish it were.
In all likelihood, you'll make multiple changes to your nutrition simultaneously. For example, to avoid hunger, it makes perfect sense to pay more attention to sleep and more high volume foods. You don't to wait until you've mastered hitting 123.6g of protein to perfection. If you do, you'll be waiting a long time.
Remember, adherence underpins everything. Finding the method weight loss, allowing you to consistently adhere to a calorie deficit IS the MOST IMPORTANT thing.
Ok, so if fibre isn't vying for bragging rights atop the nutrition podium, does it have any benefits?
Tell Me The Benefits
Fibre has many benefits. But for now, let's talk about the main three.
- Maintain Bowel Health: Digestion is important. And while we don't know everything there is to know about optimal gut health, we do know fibre plays an important role. 30g per day is going to help your poop army escape the clutches of your outer ring intact, and not in a squidgy, runny mess. Not only that, but they'll leave your insides better off in the process.
- Control Blood Sugar Levels: Typically, high fibre foods are low on the glycemic index (although there are clear exceptions). Managing the glycemic load (the quality and quantity of carbohydrates) within a meal can help manage blood sugar levels.
- Appetite And Hunger Suppression: While not a universal truth, it's common for high fibre foods to be lower in calorie. Take every bro's favourite vegetable, broccoli, as an example. Hardly any calories, but a shit-ton of fibre. Making it an ideal inclusion to optimise health, poopage rate, and keep hunger at bay.
What About The Calories?
There's a commonly held misconception you extract no calories from fibre. But this isn't entirely true and leads to more confusion.
But here's the thing.
You do get calories from fibre. To the tune of roughly 2kcals per 1g of fibre.
"Ah. Simon. But what about the almonds?"
What about the almonds indeed? Let's clear this one up.
You may have heard that the calorie content of almonds is inaccurate. Simply put, your body isn't able to extract all the calories from your favourite nuts.
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE.
"That MUST mean all nutrition labels are wrong. Calorie calculations are inaccurate. Tracking is a waste of time. Everything is wrong. The apocalypse is nigh!"
Hang on, hang on. There's no need to get over-excited here. Yes. It is true, you absorb less calories from almonds than is stated on the packet. Roughly 32% less to be precise. And while this may be significant mathematically, it's not really going to revolutionise day-to-day life.
Let me give you a practical example.
You buy a packet of almonds serving size, 28g). Flip the packet over and it tells you there's 170 kcals of nutty goodness within. But the amount of calories you'll actually extract during digestion will be around 129 kcals. A 41kcal difference. Not exactly enough to start shitting the bed over and re-evaluating life.
So my advice, is to just track the number on the packet. It's easier. And you'll if you extract a slightly fewer calories, who cares? Your calorie deficit will be a little larger, and you'll lose weight a bit quicker.
What's All This Net & Impact Carbs Business?
Total carbs, net carbs, impact carbs, what the fuck does this all mean? And more, importantly, should you even care?
First off. Definitions.
Total Carbs = The amount of carbohydrates a food contains.
Net Carbs = The amount of carbohydrates a food contains, excluding fibre.
Impact Carbs = The amount of carbohydrates a food contains, excluding fibre and sugar alcohols.
By why go to the trouble of separating these out?
It's largely a marketing tactic used on protein bars, and other similar foods. The point being, they allegedly have no caloric impact, so you don't need to count them. But in reality, this is potentially misleading.
For example, sugar alcohols DO contain calories (~0.2-4.3 kcals/g, depending on which type is used).
And let's look at that in the context of one of the most popular protein bars on the market. The nutrition label states a carbohydrate content of 13.5g per bar, with a Polyol (sugar alcohol) content of 10.6g.
A quick scan of the ingredients shows Xylitol being one of the sweeteners used. Xylitol has 2.4 kcals per gram, so if you didn't account for these calories, you may not be tracking accurately.
So with all that said, what should you do?
My advice is to keep it simple. Track total carbs and leave it at that. The rest is simply an unnecessary headache. And I'm sure you could do without that.
I've Got IBS. Should I Do Anything Different With Fibre?
IBS is a complex beast. And a condition that's hard to diagnose and treat with accuracy. To a large degree, it comes down to the individual (and a little trial and error).
But there are some general guidelines when it comes to fibre. Although, the advice is to always treat the symptoms, not apply blanket rules if they make no sense in your situation.
Let's take IBS-D (diarrhoea) to start. The feeling you can shit through the eye of a needle the moment any food passes your lips. In these situations, the first port of call would be to reduce insoluble fibre, ie wholegrain bread, bran, and cereal.
If symptoms are the opposite, IBS-C (constipation). The feeling you're backed up like an over-worked Canadian logging camp, then increasing soluble fibre should be your start point. Up the amount of oats, barley, fruit, root vegetable, and these types of foods.
There's also evidence showing a benefit to fibre supplementation for those with IBS-C. But try the dietary changes first, and go from there.
Cut To The Chase. What's The Bottom Line On Fibre?
While not critical for pure weight and fat loss, fibre is important for maintaining optimal digestive health.
While fibre might not be your secret weapon for faster fat loss, you shouldn't cross it off your nutritional priority list. It certainly has its place in optimising your health.
So here's a few top tips to help you think about fibre in a practical way.
- Aim for ≥30g per day.
- Opt for a variety of high fibre carbohydrate sources.
- Allow for a high amount of low calorie, high fibre vegetables within your calorie allowance.
- If tracking, concentrate on total carbs and don't overcomplicate the process.
- If following a Keto diet, don't neglect fibre intake.
So go forth, consume fibre, and shit like you've never shat before. And who knows, it might just clear-out your shit pipe and take a few kilos off the scale.
Your Next Step To Mastering Nutrition And Shaping A Leaner, Healthier, Stronger Body
Here’s what to do next to get on the fast track to a leaner, healthier, stronger body. Simply click the link below and I’ll send you my Lean Life Kickstarter Pack. In it you’ll find a free 4 week beginner’s training programme (complete with exercise videos and a workout tracker), a guide on calculating your calories, plus so much more.
If you want it, grab it here.
But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.