1. What is dietary fiber and why do I hear it can help me control my hunger?
Dietary fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that has two forms. The first form, “soluble fiber”, forms a gel in your stomach. This gel expands in your stomach and stretches it, signaling to your brain that you are full. The magic of fibrous foods is that they contain low amounts of calories, so you can get full with fewer calories. This is how you: “Eat more, to weigh less.” That is, you eat more high fiber foods (that tend to be far lower in calories per serving - fruits, vegetables, grains), get full far more quickly, thereby controlling hunger, and ultimately losing weight.
The second form of dietary fiber is “insoluble fiber”. This fiber helps move food through your digestive system quickly, and is the form of fiber that helps relieve constipation. It may also help remove toxins and carcinogens (potentially cancerous products) that are in foods. Now, although insoluble fiber does not form a gel in your stomach as does soluble fiber, most foods that contain insoluble fiber are similarly low-calorie and bulk-forming (e.g. vegetables). Just like soluble fiber, they fill your stomach up with their bulky-ness, and stretch your stomach; which ultimately signals your brain that you are full. Imagine how full your stomach would feel after you have 2 cups of broccoli with your dinner… Most foods contain a combination of both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. However, in general, fruits contain more soluble fiber, while vegetables contain more insoluble fiber.
2. Why is portion control essential for carbohydrates?
The bottom line is very simply that it is much easier to over consume pasta, than it is to over consume salmon. The majority of people will have one piece of salmon, and be finished eating that food. It probably has something to do with the texture and taste, and the fact that salmon has no sweetness at all. It may even have something to do with the hunger suppressing effect of protein. But that is definitely not the case with pasta! The majority of people can’t stop eating it, once they start digging in. Not only is it a calorically dense food, but it is a food you can’t stop eating! Now that is a serious dieter’s problem.
3. Why does your choice of carbohydrates actually matter?
It all comes down to calories. On average, 1 cup of pasta has 240 calories; which certainly sounds reasonable enough. Unfortunately, most people are having way more than 1 cup. The reality is that if you have ever actually measured out 1 cup of pasta, it is such a tiny portion, that it more closely resembles the size of a tablespoon than a typical bowl of pasta. The point being, most people are having more than just 1 cup of pasta (more like 2 to 3 cups which equates to over 500 calories just from pasta, no sauce, cream, etc). On the flip side, carbohydrates, like butternut squash, contain 80 calories per cup (save calories by choosing less calorically dense carbohydrates). So technically, you could have 3 cups of fiber-filled, vitamin-A rich butternut squash for the same calories as 1 cup of pasta.