Fiber: The Carb That Helps You Manage Diabetes
Fiber is part of a healthy diet and can provide a range of health benefits. It can be especially important in preventing or managing diabetes. Learn more about the surprising role of fiber.
We all need fiber to keep our internal plumbing humming like a fine-tuned engine. But most US adults only get about half the fiber they need each day. You wouldn’t skip out on maintaining your car with the necessary gasoline and oil, right? Then why do it to your body?
Here’s the scoop. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. It helps keep you regular, but it offers many other health benefits as well, especially for people with diabetes or prediabetes.
Health Benefits of Fiber
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, fiber is your friend because it helps with blood sugar control and weight management. It can also lower your risk of heart disease and some cancers. Specifically, fiber can help:
- Control your blood sugar. Because the body is unable to absorb and break down fiber, it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar the way other carbohydrates can. This can help keep your blood sugar in your target range.
- Protect your heart. Fiber prevents your body from taking in some fat and cholesterol, lowering your triglyceride and cholesterol levels to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Maintain your digestive health. Fiber acts like a scrub brush, cleaning your digestive tract. It helps clean out bacteria and other buildup to improve gut health and help reduce your risk of colon cancer.
- Keep you feeling full and help with weight management. Since fiber can’t be digested, it moves slowly through the stomach, making you feel fuller for longer. And many foods high in fiber tend to be low in calories, which can help with weight loss.
Types of Fiber
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Each has important health benefits and plays a different role in the body.
- Soluble fiber. This type dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in your stomach, slowing down digestion. It helps control your blood sugar and cholesterol, which can help prevent or manage diabetes complications. Soluble fiber is found in apples, bananas, oats, peas, black beans, lima beans, Brussels sprouts, and avocados.
- Insoluble fiber. This type does not dissolve in water and typically remains whole as it passes through your stomach. It supports insulin sensitivity and helps keep your bowels healthy to keep you regular. Insoluble fiber is found in whole wheat flour, bran, nuts, seeds, and the skins of many fruits and vegetables.
Ways to Add More Fiber to Your Diet
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 recommends that adults eat 22 to 34 grams of fiber each day, the specific amount will depend on your age and sex. You may ask yourself, “So how much is 22 to 34 grams of fiber?” Well, think about it this way, 30 grams of fiber would be like eating about six apples a day. And although apples are a great source of fiber, eating six a day is not recommended or necessary. Instead, spread your fiber intake among different foods throughout the day. You can:
- Have a fiber-friendly breakfast. Try avocado toast topped with chickpeas, or make a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and berries.
- Choose whole grains. Look for bread that lists whole grain flour as the first ingredient. Swap out white rice for brown rice or quinoa. Try whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta.
- Focus on non-starchy vegetables. Start dinners with a salad. Or, add spinach, broccoli, or a bag of frozen mixed vegetables to your meals for a fiber boost.
- Add beans or other legumes. Try adding legumes such as lentils and peas or different kinds of beans (pinto, kidney, lima, navy, garbanzo) to salads, soups, stews, or casseroles. Or you can puree legumes to make dips and spreads.
- Snack on fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Choose fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, bananas, or baby carrots to snack on. Keep almonds, sunflower seeds, and pistachios handy for a quick fiber-friendly snack.
Just remember to take it slow by adding a bit more fiber every few days. A sudden increase in fiber can lead to uncomfortable digestive problems such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or cramps. Drink plenty of water to help food move easily through your system.
Fiber in a Nutshell
If you have diabetes, a meal plan that includes the right amount of fiber can help you manage your diabetes and reduce your risk of complications. Talk with a dietitian or diabetes educator to help you create a diabetes meal plan that’s right for you. We know that managing diabetes can sometimes be overwhelming. And understanding how to get more fiber into your diet can be hard at first, but with time and knowledge, you’ll learn how to get enough of this important nutrient.