How can eating high-fiber complex carbs help me lose weight?

Harris H. McIlwain, MD
You can enhance the weight-loss benefits of a low-carb, high-protein diet, or any weight loss plan for that matter, if you eat high-fiber complex carbs, including fresh whole fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Because fiber coats the stomach lining, it delays stomach emptying, slows digestion and sugar absorption after a meal, reducing the amount of insulin needed. This insulin response is what triggers hunger pangs - something you want to squelch when you’re trying to lose weight!

I tell my patients to eat from the rainbow, selecting different colors of fruits and vegetables to ensure optimal nutrition. These colorful, high-fiber complex carbs are filled with phytochemicals, bioflavinoids, carotenoids such as isoflavones, lycopene, and polyphenols, and other compounds that we know may reduce the risk of serious chronic illness.
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Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics

High fiber complex carb foods are some of the best foods to include in any diet, whether or not you want to lose weight. By definition these are whole grain foods, like bread or cereals, fresh vegetables including root vegetables, and fresh fruit. Unfortunately many people don't distinguish complex carb foods like these from less nutritious highly processed simple carb foods like white bread, chips, fruit juice, soft drinks, cookies, sweets and sugary cereals.

Complex carb foods are mostly unprocessed. In the case of vegetables and fruit, you may eat them uncooked, leaving the fiber intact. These foods retain all their natural goodness. In addition to fiber, they're full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They typically don't have added sugar, flavorings, colorings, preservatives or other additives.

So how do these foods help with weight loss? One word: fiber. High fiber foods fill you up faster, because they're high volume. The calorie-to-volume ratio is lower than simple carb foods, so it's practically impossible to over-eat calories when you're filling up on complex carb foods. If your dinner included a big serving of green salad and sautéed vegetables, there's less room in your stomach for a bowl of ice cream later. 

Nutrition research has shown that a diet high in complex carbs does work to reduce calorie intake by making people feel fuller and cutting appetite. The only catch is that if you drown your high fiber bread in butter, coat your vegetables with cheese sauce or cook your potatoes in fat, you might still be eating more calories than you need to lose weight. High-fiber complex carb foods are a great addition to a weight loss diet and can help control your appetite, when they replace the less healthy simple carb foods you're used to eating.

Tiffany  Fuqua
Nutrition & Dietetics
Complex carbs include:
    • beans, lentils, and dried peas
    • fruits and vegetables
    • whole-grain rice, breads, and cereals
    Complex carbs help you feel full longer and gives you a steady rise in blood sugar vs. a spike (as simple carbs may do). Also, consuming more complex carbs vs. simple carbs may result in consuming less calories and lead to weight loss. Complex carbohydrates provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and energy for your body. Consuming more complex carbs vs. simple carbs (sugar, sweetened beverages, and processed foods) plays an important part of an overall healthy diet.
    Paula Greer
    Midwifery Nursing
    Eating a diet high in fiber which comes from complex carbohydrates helps to fill you up and make you feel more satisfied at your meals. According to research just adding 14 grams of fiber to your diet cuts your calorie count on average 10 percent.  You will decrease your calories without even thinking about portion control as you began to feel full as the high fiber foods fill you up faster.This means you will stop eating sooner.  Rich sources of fiber/complex carbs are beans, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
    Dee Sandquist
    Nutrition & Dietetics

    Fiber can help you lose weight because it keeps you feeling full longer. This will help prevent hunger and snacking which will help you consume fewer calories overall. Most adults need 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day, yet many adults eat only half that amount and suffer from digestive diseases such as constipation, diverticulosis and more. Fiber doesn't count toward calories since it doesn't contribute calories. Too much of a good thing isn't good. Eating too much fiber may result in constipation or dehydration if too little fluid is consumed. Food first is a better strategy since fiber supplements do not contain the abundance of nutrient that are found in fiber-containing foods.

    Marilyn Ricci, M.S., R.D.
    Nutrition & Dietetics

    Compare eating an apple and a small bag of chips. The apple has few calories, no fat, and fiber. It takes some time to eat. The chips are high in calories from fat and take only seconds to consume. Fiber can slow down your eating speed and in the process fill you up. High fiber foods don't have a lot of calories unless you add them - for example lots of salad dressing on a salad. So increase your fiber and watch what foods you add to your high fiber choices.


    Jessica Crandall
    Nutrition & Dietetics

    Consuming complex carbohydrates high in fiber can assist with weight loss because the fiber stays with you longer. The soluble fiber found in products helps to slow down digestion and keep you fuller longer for example, whole grain breads, whole grain crackers, and bulgar wheat. These products are also high in nutrients and fiber which is very beneficial to a healthy weight. Drinking 64 ounces of water a day is important when consuming whole grains in order to help aid in the digestion process.

    Related Information: Academy of Nutrition and Diatetics

    Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
    Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
    There are many possible ways that whole grains, the best source of high-fiber complex carbohydrates, can help you lose weight. These include the filling effect of fiber, the grains' ability to help keep blood sugar levels stable and the effects of fiber on beneficial bacteria in the gut, which may reduce hunger. Further studies will be needed to sort out which of these effects is most important. But we do know that eating more whole grains can help you control your weight. As a bonus, it also reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
    Judy Caplan
    Nutrition & Dietetics

    Fiber filled complex carbs keep you full. When you feel full your brain's hunger mechanism shuts off and you stop eating. The fiber in complex carbs also helps keep your blood sugar levels from spiking and then crashing. The sugar in intact or whole grains takes longer to digest and you feel satisfied longer reducing your need for snacking.

    Also complex carbs are full of B vitamins and minerals which also help in metabolism.

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    Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.