The Hydrophilic
Foods Solution

Soluble fiber in water-absorbing foods keeps
you full longer and slows digestion.

January 2015

By Linda Melone

If you’ve ever watched oatmeal as it cooks you’ve seen a hydrophilic food in action.
Hydrophilic, or “water-loving,” foods are loaded with soluble fiber. When mixed or cooked with water they swell up. In your digestive tract this same process occurs and creates a full feeling that helps keep you more satisfied, says Keren Gilbert, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and author of The HD Diet: Achieve Lifelong Weight Loss with Chia Seeds and Other Hydrophilic Foods (Rodale). “Hydrophilic foods are an essential part of the hunger puzzle. They not only keep us feeling fuller longer, which helps with weight loss, but they also diminish cravings and aid in maintaining digestive health.”

The key to hydrophilic foods’ benefits lies in their high soluble fiber content. This type of fiber differs from insoluble fiber in that it dissolves in water while insoluble fiber does not. This property determines how a particular type of fiber benefits the body. (Both forms of fiber are found in plants; no animal product naturally contains fiber.)

The ability of the soluble fiber in hydrophilic foods to absorb water not only keeps you full longer but also slows digestion. Healthy foods such as cucumber and pineapple, which contain low amounts of soluble fiber, won’t keep you full as long as high-
hydrophilic apples or pears, says Gilbert.

Some hydrophilic foods can absorb many times their weight in water. Chia seeds, for example, possess the ability to absorb water up to 12 times their weight, says Gilbert. This creates a slower rise in blood sugar, which also keeps cravings in check. The effect on blood sugar makes high-fiber foods a good choice for people with diabetes.

In fact, although fiber is considered a carbohydrate it does not affect blood sugar levels (since the body does not break it down) and is not counted in meal plans for those with diabetes. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people with diabetes who consumed 50 grams of fiber a day—particularly the soluble type—were better able to control their blood glucose than those who ate far less.

Both types of fiber are important and are not usually differentiated, says Lori Zanini, RD, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The Academy recommends adult women take in 25 grams of fiber a day and 38 grams of daily fiber for men (a total that includes both kinds). “These are the amounts shown to protect against cardiovascular disease,” Zanini adds.

Here’s an example of a daily meal plan that meets fiber requirements (fiber amounts are approximate):

Breakfast: bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds and raspberries = 12 grams of fiber

Lunch: salad + whole-wheat turkey sandwich = 10 grams

Dinner: two cups of vegetables + protein + quinoa = 6 grams

Total: 28 grams of fiber

You can easily add more fiber with high-fiber bars says Zanini, “or add a spoonful of chia seeds to your yogurt, which immediately adds 5 grams
of fiber.”

Keep in mind, however, that hydrophilic foods can contain substantial calories. At 50 calories a tablespoon, for example, calories from chia seeds add up quickly if weight loss is a goal. “I recommend limiting yourself to two to three tablespoons a day,” says Gilbert. “Portions are important but try not to focus so much on calories. For higher-calorie foods keep in mind what I call ‘IF’ or ‘infrequent foods’ to include in your diet such as cheese. You can eat what you want of these foods, just not every day.”


The high fiber of hydrophilic foods also helps maintain a healthy digestive tract by adding bulk to digested food, making it easier to pass. Fiber acts like a sponge, says James Lee, MD, gastroenterologist with St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, Calif. “For example, when you have a ‘dry sponge’ like a chia seed, it absorbs a high volume of water from the stomach, which makes it expand. In this way it helps with satiety.” But fiber by itself is not a laxative, as many people believe. The water-absorbing property of hydrophilic foods makes it a bulk-forming agent. “It’s why I often recommend fiber to my patients with diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome,”
says Lee.

Fiber by itself is not a laxative, as many people believe. The water-absorbing property of hydrophilic foods makes it a bulk-forming agent. “It’s why I often recommend fiber to my patients with diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome,” says Lee.

Hydrophilic foods may also encourage weight loss through its effect on an appetite-regulating hormone called ghrelin.

“If you diet and lose 20 pounds your level of ghrelin in your stomach increases,” says Lee. “This makes you hungrier, increases gastric motility and you end up eating more. So as you lose more weight ghrelin makes you hungrier.” You can ignore the cravings, says Lee, but “it’s a constant struggle.” So an empty stomach increases ghrelin levels.

Lee believes future studies may show that hydrophilic foods work to decrease hunger by filling the stomach and preventing the hunger-inducing rise in ghrelin, although it remains to be seen. New research from the University of Illinois shows that fiber
may also work by increasing the types of beneficial bacteria in the colon that lean people have naturally (AJCN 2014).

Non-soluble fiber does not absorb water this same way as hydrophilic foods. “Non-soluble fiber is mostly effective in the colon to help with regularity,” says Lee. “Both types of fiber are helpful for digestion and elimination of food, but soluble works best for weight management and metabolic issues (such as diabetes) and insoluble is most effective for constipation.”


There are some relatively simple ways to include hydrophilic foods in your meals. Gilbert calls easy-to-incorporate hydrophilic foods “hydro boosters,” a category that includes chia seeds, beans and bean spreads (such as chickpea spread), apples, berries and pears. These all can easily be added to other foods like salads and yogurt or eaten on their own for a fiber boost.

Veggies not only add fiber but also give the appearance of more volume to meals and make you feel as if you are eating a lot while actually taking in fewer calories, says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, Dallas Cowboys Dietitian and co-author of Swim, Bike, Run—Eat: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon (Fair Winds). “Add hydrophilic foods into your diet easily by scrambling veggies into eggs, adding salads to lunch, dipping raw veggies in hummus for a snack and layering roasted vegetables under your protein at dinner,” Goodson says. Broth-based soups with vegetables can also provide many different hydrophilic foods as an appetizer to take the edge off your hunger (see recipe).

In addition to chia seeds, other high hydrophilic foods include:

Okra: Known for its gummy consistency due to its high mucilage content, okra is most palatable stirred into stews, soups and stir-fries.

Oatmeal: This superfood not only contains a high level of soluble fiber but also is loaded with protein, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, manganese and iron. Gilbert recommends steel-cut oats over other varieties, as it will keep you fullest longest.

Pears: Pectin in pears makes this fruit a winner in the hydrophilic arena. Like other hydrophilic foods, pears help with digestion, may lower cholesterol and regulates the body’s absorption of sugar.

Barley: This grain’s nutty flavor makes it a great topper for salads or
as a side dish.

Brussels sprouts: High in soluble fiber, these mini-cabbages can easily be sliced in half and quickly sautéed, roasted or microwaved.

Kidney beans and chickpeas: High in protein and fiber, toss beans into salads as a protein replacement.

Oranges: Loaded with both fiber and pectin (a carbohydrate found in the cell walls of plants often used in food as a gelling agent), this hydrophilic fruit makes for a filling snack.

Agar: A vegetarian gelling agent made from seaweed, agar contains no calories, carbs, sugar or fat and passes through the digestive system quickly. Gilbert recommends agar as a thickener for custards and puddings. “Or try seaweed wraps,” she suggests.

Since soluble fiber such as hydrophilic foods absorb water, it’s important to drink enough fluids or you risk constipation. “Hydrophilic foods need water to help it pass through,” says Zanini.

If your diet currently lacks fiber, avoid adding a lot of fiber too quickly. Add a little more each day (1 to 2 grams) until you meet your requirements. Zanini cautions against relying solely on fiber supplements (usually made from psyllium seeds), as they lack the nutritional benefits of whole grains or the antioxidants of fruits and vegetables.

It’s not about re-inventing the wheel, says Gilbert. “Hydrophilic foods are about looking at fiber a little differently.”



While You Sleep Oatmeal

1⁄2 cup rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened vanilla
almond milk
1 tbsp chia seeds
1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small plastic container or mason jar, add the oats, almond milk, chia seeds, cinnamon and vanilla. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and shake until combined. Refrigerate overnight. In the morning, eat the oatmeal cold or heat it up.

Serves 1

All recipes reprinted with permission from The HD Diet: Achieve Lifelong Weight Loss with Chia Seeds and
Nature’s Water-Absorbent Foods by Keren Gilbert, MS, RD (Rodale,


Good Decisions Soup

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 package (8 oz) mushrooms
8 cups reduced-sodium vegetable
broth or chicken broth
1 lb okra, chopped
1 cup sliced carrots
1 zucchini, chopped
2 cups chopped broccoli
1 cup chopped cauliflower
3 cups roughly chopped cabbage
1 can (14.5 oz) no-salt-added
diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

In a large pot lightly coated with cooking spray over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, celery and mushrooms, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the broth, okra, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender throughout. Add the vinegar and cook for 1 minute. Discard the bay leaves and serve. Allow the soup to cool to room temperature before storing.

Serves 6 to 8


Chia Crusted Salmon

1⁄4 cup reduced-sodium
vegetable broth
1 onion, chopped
1⁄2 cup finely chopped dill
4 tbsp chia seeds
4 tbsp yellow
mustard seeds
4 salmon fillets

Preheat the broiler. In a small bowl, combine the broth, onion, and dill and set aside. In another small bowl, combine the chia seeds and mustard seeds and set aside. Place the salmon on a baking sheet, skin side down, and broil for 5 minutes, 6 inches from the heat source. Remove the salmon and pour the broth mixture evenly over the fillets.

Broil for 5 minutes. Remove and coat the fillets with the seed mixture, pressing the seeds into each fillet. Return to the top shelf and broil for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the fish is opaque.



Reduce Toxins, Reduce Weight

When most people think of toxins and health, they worry about effects such as increased cancer risk. But toxin exposure can also play havoc with a weight-loss program because many noxious substances make it more difficult for the body to break down fat. That makes cleansing an ideal way to jump-start weight loss.

A study by the Environmental Working Group has shown that the average person’s body contains 92 separate toxins. These chemicals drive weight gain by disrupting the hormonal signals that control metabolism and by promoting both the creation of fat cells and chronic inflammation. Unstable, cell-damaging molecules called free radicals, generated by normal metabolic processes, add to the body’s toxic overload.

A good diet-preparation cleansing program will address not only bowel detoxification but other toxin elimination points as well, such as the kidneys, liver and lymphatic system. It will also combat free radicals and support cellular energy production.

Many alternative practitioners recommend short juice fasts to prepare the body for weight loss. Some people find it easier to use products containing whole-food concentrates, especially those based on organic sources. Some include such traditional cleansers as dandelion and milk thistle, along with high-nutrient fruits and vegetables such as blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate and broccoli. The B vitamins are crucial for energy production, especially when supported by such herbal energizers as guarana and anti-inflammatories such as turmeric.

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