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Why Fiber is Important for Diabetes


mixed vegetables in a produce stand

So you were recently diagnosed with diabetes, and one of the doctor's recommendations was to eat more fiber. Great! That sounds easy enough... right? Not really, because you don't even know what foods have fiber to begin with! This can be pretty frustrating, but don't worry! I got you!


What is fiber and why do we need it?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, yes, you read that right, found in plant-based foods that our bodies cannot fully digest. Unlike other carbohydrates, which break down into sugars and provide energy, fiber passes through our digestive system relatively intact, offering a range of health benefits along the way. There are two main types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Most plant-based foods will contain both in different proportions. What's the difference?


Soluble fiber

Soluble fiber is aptly named because it dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. This type of fiber is known for its ability to absorb water and other substances, like cholesterol, as it moves through the digestive system. Some of the common sources of soluble fiber include:

  • Beans and legumes

  • Plantains

  • Oatmeal

  • Chia seeds

  • Avocado

  • Nopales

  • Apples

  • Pears

  • Citrus fruit

Soluble fiber slows down the absorption of sugars and carbohydrates found in the foods we eat, leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels after meals. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those looking to manage their blood sugar levels effectively because it prevents spikes in blood sugar.


Soluble fiber also binds to cholesterol and bile acids in the digestive tract, helping to reduce overall cholesterol levels. By removing excess cholesterol, it can contribute to better heart health and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.


Finally, soluble fiber acts as a prebiotic, nourishing beneficial gut bacteria. This promotes a healthy balance of gut microbiota, which is essential for digestive health and overall well-being.


Insoluble fiber

Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and remains relatively intact throughout the digestive process. Instead, it adds bulk to stool, helping food move along the digestive system. Foods that are rich in insoluble fiber include:

  • Corn

  • Cabbage

  • Chayote

  • Quinoa

  • Whole grains such as whole wheat and amaranth

  • Leafy greens

  • Peppers, tomatoes, squash

Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool, which helps prevent constipation and promotes regular bowel movements. By speeding up the transit time of food through the intestines, it supports efficient waste elimination.


Insoluble fiber also our foodscontributes to a healthy digestive system by preventing the occurrence of gastrointestinal issues, such as diverticulitis and hemorrhoids.


Fiber for diabetes

Most Americans don't get enough fiber in their day, about 15g compared to the recommended 25-38g a day. For people with diabetes, prediabetes, and PCOS, getting enough fiber is crucial! Eating fiber rich meals and snacks can lead to less blood sugar spikes, which means better blood sugar management over time. This opens a door to a world of benefits such as improved mood, more energy, and lower risk of long-term diabetes complications, like neuropathy.


As you can see, fiber is essential for every day health, but especially if one of your goals is to improve your blood sugar balance and insulin resistance.


Daily opportunities for more fiber

If you think you can get more fiber in your day but don't know where to start, it's okay! It doesn't have to be a huge overhaul to your eating pattern; and actually, it shouldn't be, because if you aren't used to eating lots of fiber regularly, it might impact your regularity initially, especially if you aren't getting enough fluids throughout the day.


I find it helpful to look at what I'm already eating and how I can add something to it to add more fiber. For example, if I'm having scrambled eggs and toast in the morning, I might add spinach, tomatoes, and onions to my eggs, and I might choose a whole-grain slice of toast. Instead of having just a cheese stick as a snack (one of my favorite snacks), I might add a piece of fruit like a mandarin or apricot. Another favorite high-fiber snack of mine is walnuts with dark chocolate chips. It doesn't have to be a heavy lift!


Considerations

Now, we know that eating enough fiber has lots of benefits for the general population; however, there are certain instances where more fiber can actually harm. If you're a person experiencing active diverticulitis (not to be confused with diverticulOSIS), for example, you should avoid high-fiber foods temporarily until your infection is resolved. Similarly, if you've just had bowel surgery, or are experiencing narrowing of your bowels, a low-fiber eating pattern is recommended. Chances are, you'll explicitly be told by your care team if you need to adhere to a low-fiber diet, but to be sure, if you plan to make any changes to your eating patterns, discuss it with your care team.


Key Takeaways

If you've recently been diagnosed with diabetes and your doctor recommends increasing your fiber intake, it doesn't have to be a heavy lift! Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that our bodies can't fully digest. There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in foods like beans, oatmeal, and fruits, helps slow down blood sugar absorption and lower cholesterol levels, making it beneficial for diabetes management and heart health. On the other hand, insoluble fiber, found in foods like whole grains and leafy greens, adds bulk to stool, promoting regular bowel movements and supporting digestive health. For people with diabetes, prediabetes, and PCOS, getting enough fiber is crucial for better blood sugar management and long-term health benefits. Incorporating fiber-rich foods into your daily meals and snacks can lead to improved mood, more energy, and reduced risk of complications like neuropathy. However, be mindful of certain health conditions, such as diverticulitis or recent bowel surgery, where a low-fiber diet may be necessary. Always consult your healthcare team before making significant changes to your eating patterns to ensure it aligns with your specific needs.


Be sure to check out the recipe section of the blog for some tasty, fiber-rich recipes!

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