It’s spring and, like many of my patients, you may be trying to get some extra weight off before summer and swimsuit season arrives. I’ve recently been asked about those expanding fiber diet products many have seen advertised on television and the Internet. The ads claim they cause you to effortlessly lose weight without changing your diet or exercise routine. I’d like to explain the pros and cons of using some of these products and let you be the judge of whether you want to use them or not.
Do Expanding Fiber Diet Products Really Work?
You may have seen a late night TV ad which shows several women and a man talking about their weight loss after using a particular diet product. One woman claimed, “It’s a miracle. . . The weight started falling off”; another said “it targeted just the fat”; the man said, “I didn’t have to go on any weird diet.” While it may be true that these people lost weight while taking this expanding fiber diet supplement, these products are not able to target “just fat”. Rather there is generalized weight loss as they cause you to eat less. The way they do that can have some pros and cons to it. Here’s why.
There are several expanding fiber diet products on the market today under different brand names. Many of them contain the natural fiber called glucomannan – also referred to as amorphophallus konjac, or konjac root fiber. This fiber can expand up to 50 times its size when it comes in contact with fluid that is recommended to drink when you take the product.
Once in your stomach, glucomannan behaves like a sponge expanding in your stomach when it gets wet. Its expanded size causes you to feel as if you’ve already eaten and greatly decreases hunger pangs and the desire to eat. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?
The Pros of Expanding Konjac Fiber
In theory, the idea of adding more fiber to your diet is beneficial. Eating a good level of fiber is always recommended for good health as it can help prevent several serious diseases. It can also be especially helpful while dieting. It does help promote a feeling of fullness and also helps your body absorb less heavy fats by moving them out of your body quicker. The extra fiber can also help cleanse toxins from your colon which is also a good thing. In fact, studies published as far back as 1984 have shown that konjac root fiber decreased “bad” LDL cholesterol and caused study participants to lose a significant amount of weight over the study period.
More recent studies cited in Minerva Medica, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center studies, also supported, basically, the same findings. Other helpful “side effects” of konjac root fiber are relieving constipation and lowering blood sugar.
The Cons of Expanding Konjac Fiber
With all the beneficial “pros” to using expanding konjac fiber, what could be so bad about it? Well, the real concerning angle of using these expanding fiber products is precisely their ability to swell up. If you don’t drink enough water with them, these products can get lodged somewhere along your digestive tract. There are reports of pieces of them breaking off and expanding in the throat, or part of the esophagus. In these areas, the broken pieces can cause blockage of the airway, choking, and decreased ability to breathe. This can have serious consequences.
In other instances, expanded pieces of fiber products have become lodged in the stomach and further down in the intestinal tract, causing pain and dangerous obstructions. There are several countries that have banned fiber products because of possible side effects.
Alternatives to Using Expanding Fiber Products
As I explained, the primary way that expanding konjac root fiber products work is by swelling up in your stomach and creating a sense of fullness. You feel full and so you don’t eat as much. Yet, did you know you can achieve that same fullness simply by drinking a large glass of water before each meal? It’s true. Drinking a 16 ounce glass of water, or the same amount of caffeine-free tea, before sitting down to a meal can help you stick to good portion sizes and not overeat. In addition the extra water will hydrate you and help prevent constipation.
Other things you can do include:
- Eat a small “pre-meal” of fibrous foods like a medium apple, or a few rice cakes, or ½ cup of brown rice, or even oatmeal, 20 minutes before your meal with your glass of water or tea.
- Increase fiber content at each meal – add more fibrous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, even oatmeal;
- Decrease/omit bad fats like margarine and “salad” oils. Use coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil/canola oil mix in their place.
- Take more steps in your day to increase activity. You need more than fiber to burn extra calories to lose fat. If you have a desk job, or are primarily sitting during your job, stop every 50 minutes and get up and move around for 10 minutes. This will re-start your metabolism so you burn more calories.
Although some people may be able to safely take expanding konjac root fiber products if they drink enough water, I don’t recommend them to my patients. There seems to be enough potential for dangerous consequences using these products. As I’ve shown you above, there are other safer ways to increase your fiber intake and still reap weight loss results in time for those summer shorts and swimsuits.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News