Lean Plate Club by Sally Squires, Health and Nutrition Columnist

Building a Taste for Bulk

Christine Knott, May Ann Mongillo and Mosetta Whitaker take a walk in the park next to their office in hopes of keeping the weight off this holiday season.
Christine Knott, May Ann Mongillo and Mosetta Whitaker take a walk in the park next to their office in hopes of keeping the weight off this holiday season. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)
By Sally Squires
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Those trying to keep the bathroom scale steady this holiday season may find an effective ally at the breakfast table: high-fiber cereal.

University of Rhode Island researchers reported recently that women who ate fiber-rich, whole-grain cereals did better in controlling their calories during a three-month study than did participants who ate less fiber-full fare. Plus, those who ate high-fiber cereal also wound up consuming more of other essential nutrients, especially vitamin B6 and magnesium, the team reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

This isn't the first study to find weight benefits in eating high-fiber foods. In 2004, Harvard School of Medicine researchers reported high-fiber diets helped women maintain their weight during a 12-year study of 75,000 nurses.

"Eating more fiber is one of the best things that you can do for your health," notes JoAnn E. Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a co-author of the Harvard study. Foods rich in fiber and whole grains, Manson says, "increase satiety -- you feel fuller -- and that may lead to consuming fewer calories, which can help with weight control."

Women in the study who chose to increase their fiber consumption by eight grams per day -- roughly equal to a bowl of whole-grain cereal and a slice of whole-grain bread -- wound up eating 150 fewer daily calories than participants who opted to cut their fiber intake by three grams a day. During the 12-year study, women with the highest daily fiber consumption shed about eight pounds. Compare that with the nearly 20 pounds gained by women with the lowest fiber intake.

And it is not only women who benefit from adding fiber. Another team of Harvard researchers found that men who ate just 12 grams more fiber per day than other participants in a study whittled their waistlines by up to half an inch over a decade.

Plus, there's growing evidence that boosting fiber is good for your heart and your blood vessels and can reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Welcome to Week 2 of the Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. This week's food goal is to add fiber-rich foods and to keep eating the two cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables recommended last week. (The U.S. Dietary Guidelines urge men to eat 38 grams of fiber per day; women, 25 grams. See the sidebar for how to meet that advice.) Also, walk just five minutes twice today. Gradually add more minutes so that you log 10 minutes twice a day by next week.

If you've just learned about the Holiday Challenge, it's never too late to join. This isn't a diet. The goal is simply to hold your weight steady from now until New Year's Day. Do that and you'll be a step ahead of the curve when you ring in 2007. Research suggests that people who are overweight or obese add an average of five pounds over the holidays -- and don't shed that weight in the spring. (By comparison, healthy-weight people gain about a pound and generally lose it after the holidays.)

Lean Plate Club member Cynthia A. Herringa, a nurse at the National Institutes of Health, doesn't save high-fiber cereal just for breakfast. She also snacks on it while sipping green tea.

"It really helps to fill me up," says Herringa, who rises daily at 4:30 a.m. and begins work at 6:30 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., she's hungry and looking for food. The high-fiber cereal -- which she brings to work measured out in small bags -- satisfies her. "I can go with that without being tempted by any of the desktop holiday snacks that are always creeping up in the office," she says.

Find high-fiber cereal hard to swallow? There are plenty of other smart options, from eating a combination of regular cereal with a little high-fiber sprinkled on top to reaching for whole-grain bread, pasta and crackers. Look for products that have at least three grams of fiber per serving.

Beans are another high-fiber winner. They pack up to 17 grams per cup. Good options include split pea soup, bean dip or even a bean burrito.

Fruit and vegetables, from apples to zucchini, are other high-fiber foods. (See the graphic below.) Just topping cereal with half a cup of berries adds about four grams of fiber.

But for Herringa, "vegetables are the easiest way to boost fiber" without adding too many calories. So when she arrives home tired and hungry, she reaches for one of her favorite high-fiber, low-calorie combinations: celery (one gram of fiber per medium stalk) and hummus (one gram of fiber per tablespoon.)

And during the day, she squeezes in extra physical activity by taking the stairs. Instead of sending e-mails, Herringa sometimes prints messages and delivers them herself. By the end of the day, Herringa figures she logs between 20 and 50 flights.

"It's amazing how fast it all adds up," she says. ยท

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