Diet and Recipes

Dietary Fiber – How Does It Benefit Diabetes?

Fiber is found in carbohydrate foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Carbohydrates have the biggest impact on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar or glucose, which enters the bloodstream. When people with diabetes eat a lot of carbohydrates at once, their blood sugar levels may be higher than their target or goal.

Fiber is a carbohydrate but doesn’t affect blood sugar levels because the body doesn’t absorb it. Fiber can also slow gastric emptying, meaning the food takes longer to be broken down into sugar, which is one of the ways it can help diabetes.

Eating fiber-rich foods can help avoid blood sugar spikes, which can occur when eating rapidly-digested carbohydrates, such as white bread and refined sugar. 

When counting carbohydrates for blood sugar control, one of the essential things to note is the net carbohydrate content. The net carbohydrate amount is the total carbohydrates minus dietary fiber.

The resulting “net carbs” is the amount that should be counted because it affects blood sugar. Fiber is subtracted from total carbohydrates because it doesn’t raise blood sugar since it can’t be digested. Therefore, choosing dietary fiber foods will result in lower net carbohydrate totals, one strategy for promoting optimal blood sugar levels.

Reducing blood sugar spikes helps promote more balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day. Rebound hypoglycemia may also be reduced when fiber-rich foods are consumed since blood sugar spikes can trigger rebound lows.

Fiber is also known for its heart health benefits. People with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease, which is another reason it’s recommended for people with diabetes to eat a fiber-rich diet.

Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can reduce LDL cholesterol levels, also known as “bad” cholesterol. High LDL levels are a risk factor for forming blockages in the arteries, and can also increase inflammation. Fiber intake has been associated with improvements in blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c levels and helps prevent diabetes. 

Consuming fiber can help increase satiety and promote weight loss. A study found that fiber intake promotes weight loss and can improve adherence to a reduced-calorie diet.

Weight loss is one of the tools found to be beneficial in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Weight loss of 5-10% of initial body weight has been associated with a 58% reduction in diabetes risk, so the fiber can be a helpful tool in the effort to lose weight.

How should you add more fiber to your diet?

It’s recommended to consume around 25-35 grams of fiber per day; however, most people fall short of this recommendation. It’s ideal for getting fiber from natural sources, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Fiber-enriched products can help you reach your daily fiber goal, but they may also come with added sugars and a longer list of ingredients than a whole-foods approach. 

Fiber-enriched foods can also have very large amounts of fiber in one serving, which can cause digestive upset. It’s fine to include dietary fiber foods in your diet, but they should be used with care to prevent overloading on fiber and potentially missing out on nutrients from natural fiber sources.

It’s best to slowly increase your fiber intake to avoid negative digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Starting with small boosts of fiber and gradually increasing it over the course of a few weeks is a good way to go.

It’s also important to make sure you’re drinking adequate amounts of fluids when increasing your fiber intake. Without adequate fluid consumption, fiber can become constipating, as it needs plenty of fluid to help it flow easily through the digestive system.

Some easy ideas to boost your fiber intake include:

  • Switching from white to whole wheat bread. Try to choose products with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. The first ingredient should be whole wheat or whole grain, and it shouldn’t contain any enriched flour. 

  • Start your day with a high-fiber breakfast. Oatmeal is a fantastic source of fiber, unlike most cold cereals. Topping it with fruit and nuts will give it an even bigger fiber boost, which can help make you feel full and energized longer.

  • Swap white flour for whole wheat while baking. Substituting half of the white flour for whole wheat flour can increase the fiber content of baked goods without changing the recipe too much. Better yet, search for recipes that call for whole wheat or other fiber-rich flour, such as almond flour.

  • Add more legumes to your meals. Beans and lentils are a fantastic source of fiber, as well as protein and iron. Adding them to salads, soups, or toasting them in the oven for a crunchy snack are delicious ways to enjoy them and help meet your daily fiber goal.

  • Pack nuts and seeds along with you. Nuts and seeds are a convenient and portable snack, great for car rides or long flights. They are naturally rich in protein and fiber, which means they fill you up much better than other popular snack foods like chips and crackers.

  • Add a fruit or vegetable to your meals and snacks. Fruits and vegetables will never go out of style in the health world! Enjoy whole fruits and vegetables to get the most fiber, such as those with the skins and seeds still intact.

  • Add whole grains to soups. Barley, lentils, and brown rice are excellent sources of fiber that go well in homemade soups. If a soup is too liquidy, it will also help absorb a lot of the moisture and thicken it up very nicely.

  • Garnish foods with seeds. Adding chia seeds to smoothies, flaxseed to muffins, or topping salads with sunflower seeds are all tasty ways to boost your fiber intake. 

Which high-fiber foods should you include in your diet?

There are plenty of options when it comes to finding foods that are rich in fiber. It’s best to choose foods you already enjoy eating and to change it up for some variety.

Getting a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber is also a great idea since they both have different health benefits. Some high-fiber foods to choose from include: 

  • Raspberries

  • Pears

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Oranges

  • Strawberries

  • Green peas

  • Broccoli

  • Turnip greens

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Potatoes

  • Cauliflower

  • Carrots

  • Barley

  • Bran flakes

  • Quinoa
  • Oat bran 

  • Oatmeal

  • AIr-popped popcorn

  • Brown rice

  • Whole wheat bread 

  • Split peas

  • Lentils

  • Black beans

  • Chia seeds

  • Almonds 

  • Pistachios

  • Sunflower kernels

Conclusion

Fiber is a part of plant foods that can’t be absorbed by the human body and is considered a carbohydrate. Foods rich in fiber take longer to digest, which means they break down into blood sugar more slowly.

This feature is particularly helpful for people with diabetes since fiber-rich foods promote more of a steady rise and fall of blood sugar levels than low-fiber carbohydrates.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber binds with water to form a gel, which increases transit time in the digestive system.

One of the most well-known sources of soluble fiber are oats, which are touted for their cholesterol-lowering benefits. Insoluble fiber can’t absorb water, and it decreases transit time in the digestive system, so it isn’t good for people with diarrhea.

Many foods contain fiber naturally, such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. It’s best to try to get most of your fiber from natural sources such as these since they often contain other beneficial nutrients.

Foods and beverages can also be enriched with fiber to boost their fiber content, but they usually don’t have as many nutritional benefits as whole foods.

The recommended amount of fiber to consume is around 25-35 grams per day. Consuming adequate amounts of fiber can help promote healthy blood sugar trends and reduce cholesterol and promote weight loss. Increasing fiber intake slowly and gradually is recommended to prevent digestive upset. 

Sources

  1. McRae MP. Dietary Fiber Intake and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. J Chiropr Med. 2018;17(1):44-53. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2017.11.002
  2. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/easy-ways-to-boost-fiber-in-your-daily-diet
  3. Miketinas DC, Bray GA, Beyl RA, Ryan DH, Sacks FM, Champagne CM. Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study. J Nutr. 2019;149(10):1742-1748. doi:10.1093/jn/nxz117

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