Fiber for Health and Blood Glucose Control

Fiber is considered “natures broom” because it can give your health a clean sweep!

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not broken down in your body and does not contribute any calories because it is not digested. Other carbohydrates, such as starches and sugars, are broken down AND produce calories.

There are two types of fiber:

  1. Soluble fiber becomes sticky as it passes through your digestive system and helps to reduce the absorption of cholesterol from the foods you eat.  It may also improve your blood glucose. Oatmeal is one example of soluble fiber.
  2. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve and passes through the digestive tract intact.  It is NOT broken down. This fiber keeps your digestive tract working well.  Whole-wheat bran is an example of insoluble fiber.

What can be confusing is that fiber is listed on food labels in the Total Carbohydrates section. Some diabetes authorities say that you can subtract the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrates, but I advise people to check with their diabetes health care team since opinions vary.

Most foods with fiber also contain other non-fiber carbohydrates like starch and sugar.  Examples of these foods are fruits, vegetables, pasta, whole grain breads and cereals.

The American Diabetes Association recommends PER DAY, 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams of fiber for men.  It is best if this fiber comes from food and not from fiber supplements.  The Joslin Diabetes Center reported on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed that people who eat over 50 grams of fiber per day, particularly SOLUBLE fiber, were better able to control their blood glucose than those who ate far less.

Why should you focus on increasing the fiber in your diet?

  1. Fiber does not require insulin to digest, so the carbohydrates may not be counted.  Please check with a member of your diabetes care team for their recommendation.
  2. Many foods with high fiber also contain antioxidants – oats, skin of fruits and potatoes and beans are great sources of both of these nutrients.
  3. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer.  You may find that you snack less.  This could be valuable if you are also trying to lose some weight.
  4. Fiber helps with portion control.  When you feel full, it is easier to stick to recommended portion sizes.  As a contrast, processed foods that lack fiber may cause you to crave more, leading to overeating.  It’s easy to keep eating oatmeal cookies, but not easy to eat bowl after bowl of oatmeal.

How should you add more fiber to your diet?

  • Start SLOWLY.  Your body will get used to fiber if you go slow.  You might want to get a baseline idea of how much fiber you are currently consuming and then increase it by 2-5 grams a day for 1 week.  If your body is adapting well, increase it another 2-5 grams each week until you reach your goal for fiber intake, hopefully to at least 20-35 grams of fiber per day.
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to prevent constipation.
  • Spread the increase in fiber across all meals and snacks-you might as well get your body used to fiber and fill up each tie you eat.
  • Read food labels-look at Total Carbohydrates (per serving) and look for fiber under Total Carbohydrates section of label.  
    • 2.5-4 grams of fiber per serving is GOOD source
    • 5 grams of fiber or more is an EXCELLENT source of fiber.
  • For example:  a slice of whole wheat bread may have 3 grams of fiber per slice.  Make a sandwich with 2 slices of high fiber bread; add a side salad and a piece of fruit and you have taken great strides towards hitting your daily fiber goal.

What are some foods you should consider eating to increase your fiber intake?  

Jill Weisenberger RDN, CDE, author of “21 Things you Should Know About Diabetes” and “The Overworked Persons Guide to Better Nutrition” makes these food recommendations:

  1. LOVE Lentils
    Packed with fiber and protein, 40% of the carbohydrates in lentils is fiber. Lentils have more than 15 grams of fiber and 18 grams of protein per serving, according to the USDA. Any kind of lentil will do.  Add red lentils (they cook quickly) to thicken soups and stews and add fiber.
  2. Beans
    Pick a rainbow to get the most benefit.  In addition to being high in fiber, beans and lentils both have a starch that is resistant to digestion. This starch is good for your gut bacteria.  When gut bacteria make a meal of resistant starch, fatty acids are formed that promote better use of insulin and healthier colon cells.  Try draining and rinsing a can of beans and toss a few into a salad or soup. It doesn’t take many beans to increase your fiber.  Go slow and your body will adjust.
    • ½ cup of black beans = 7 grams of fiber.  
    • ½ cup of white beans = 9 grams of fiber
  3. Pop Some Popcorn
    Forget the chips, air pop fresh popcorn instead.  Then DRIZZLE a very small amount of olive oil and sprinkle with some herbs or a dash of hot sauce.  3 cups popped = 3 grams of fiber!
  4. Adore Avocados
    Mash fresh avocado into a dip or use as a mayonnaise substitute.  4 tablespoons of avocado (1/4 cup) has 2 grams of fiber and heart healthy Omega 3 fats.  Because avocado is so high in fat and calories, you need to be aware of the portion.  Consider 1-2 slices of avocado on a sandwich instead of cheese.
  5. Peas-Please!!
    Loaded with Vitamin A, C and K, 1 cup of peas has more than 7 grams of fiber.  Split peas have 16 grams of fiber in 1 cup.  Add peas to salads or in pasta. Make split pea soup.
  6. Broccoli
    1 cup raw = 2.4 grams of fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals.
  7. Berries are the Best
    Loaded with fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients, they are hard to beat.  Raspberries and blackberries have 7 grams of fiber in 1 cup.
  8. Pick Pears
    Red, green and brown-it doesn’t matter!  1 large pear = 7 grams of fiber. Add to salads, grill and eat as a snack or just eat uncooked.
  9. Barley and Oats
    Try barley in place of rice or pasta in your favorite dish.  Replace breadcrumbs in meatloaf with oats.  Both of these grains contain American Diabetes Association. “Taking a Closer Look at Labels”, http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/food-tips/taking-a-closer-look-at-labels.html, which improves how insulin works, it may lower your blood sugar and help sweep cholesterol from your digestive tract.  
    1 cup barley=6 grams of fiber and 1 cup of oats = 4 grams of fiber.

While these foods are a few examples, remember it all adds up. Other foods to consider adding into your diet include whole grain breads, cereals and pastas; all vegetables and fruits; brown rice instead of white rice; and nuts-but watch the quantity, as they are high in calories.

Try to avoid processed and refined foods.  Eating fast foods on the run or quick and easy prepared foods makes it more difficult to get the fiber you need.  Keep nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables on hand for snacks.

Once again, remember to start slow and always check with your diabetes health care team before making any changes to the eating plan they have provided to you. 

With a little effort on your part, you may be able to improve your overall health and gain improved control of your blood sugar.

To Your Health!!

By: Rebecca Brown, RN, CDE
Fit4D Certified Diabetes Educator

 

References:

American Diabetes Association. “Taking a Closer Look at Labels”, http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/food-tips/taking-a-closer-look-at-labels.html

James W Anderson, Abayoml O Akanji. Dietary Fiber—An Overview. 
Diabetes Care Dec 1991, 14 (12) 1126-1131; DOI: 10.2337/diacare.14.12.1126

Joslin Diabetes Center. “How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?” www.joslin.org: http://www.joslin.org/info/how_does_fiber_affect_blood_glucose_levels.html

Madelline H. Vann, MPH;  “How Fiber Helps Control High Blood Sugar”, www.everydayhealth.com