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What is Fiber? Is fiber suitable for diabetics?

Does Fiber Intake Affect Blood Sugar

Most of us associate fiber with improved digestion and regular bowel movements. However, the benefits of fiber extend far beyond these advantages; Fiber also has an edge in blood sugar control. 

In the health world, carbs have long been feared for their high sugar content. Yet, fiber is one carb that can help regulate blood sugar levels—providing steady energy and preventing daytime fatigue.

But here’s the problem: Most of us aren’t getting enough fiber. So, what can you do about it? How does fiber affect blood sugar? This article explores how this works and how you can obtain more fiber in your daily diet.

What is Fiber?

Fiber is a carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that the body cannot digest. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, creating a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and, instead, helps add bulk to the stool and move everything along (1).

Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, apples, oranges, barley, and grapefruits. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber is found in legumes, whole wheat foods, wheat bran, nuts, and vegetables.

Insoluble Fiber vs Soluble Fiber

In other words, fiber isn’t broken down in the digestive tract or used for energy. This means it can provide various benefits for weight management and blood sugar control.

On top of this, fiber may enhance cardiovascular health, help manage cholesterol levels, regulate bowel movements, and even decrease all-cause mortality (2, 3, 4). 

Put simply: Ensuring you get adequate fiber each day might just help you live longer—meaning we shouldn’t be trying to seek out a miracle pill or quick fix for better health and longevity. Instead, the answer might be in the food we eat.

Why is Blood Sugar Important?

Yes, blood sugar monitoring is crucial for those with pre-diabetes or diabetes due to associated complications. But for the rest of us, managing blood sugar levels is also crucial for:

Why is Blood Sugar Important

Blood sugar dysregulation is commonly associated with the “afternoon crash.” If we don’t regulate our blood sugar levels first thing, this often leads to dysregulations throughout our day. 

For example, eating a breakfast high in simple carbohydrates, such as a croissant, can initially lead to high blood sugar levels. As the glucose from the croissant enters our bloodstream, our body responds accordingly. It pumps our insulin to deal with the flood of glucose and to re-balance. 

Yet, what goes up must come down. The body often overcompensates. Thus, we experience a crash later on. This is where we feel tired and drained a few hours later and might lack the motivation to plow through the rest of our busy day.

So, how can dietary fiber help with better blood sugar control? Let’s take a closer look!

Does Fiber Affect Blood Sugar?

Fiber impacts blood sugar by slowing down digestion. This reduces the amount of sugar absorbed by the small intestines, preventing blood sugar spikes and dips.

Soluble fiber, in particular, does this by forming that gel-like substance in the digestive tract. This slows the digestive process and leads to feelings of fullness for hours afterward.

These gel-forming and highly fermentable fibers help avoid colossal blood sugar spikes post-meal. According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Functional Foods, this happens because of the fiber’s interaction with certain digestive enzymes—and because of fiber’s ability to decrease intestinal permeability, meaning fewer sugar molecules enter the bloodstream. As a result, fiber can lead to stable blood sugar levels hours after eating a meal (5).

On top of this, short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), produced by the bacteria in the gut when combined with fiber, may improve insulin sensitivity, which is associated with improved blood sugar control (6).

Research shows how fiber supplementation can help those with diabetes better manage their blood sugar levels (5). However, you must ensure you obtain fiber from various whole food sources. Simply taking a supplement is only a partial substitute for the real thing (more on what you can do to increase your fiber intake below).

Because fiber also increases feelings of satiation, it may further play a role in reduced cravings (7). Considering cravings often lead to the consumption of higher glycemic index foods, such as processed or fast foods, this can further contribute to positive efforts toward better blood sugar control.

Fiber-Rich Food for Your Diabetes Diet

Some fiber-rich foods that you can include in your meal plans are:

Pulses and Legumes:

  • Whole Sprouts: Enjoy the crunch and flavor of sprouts like moong, matki, and chana.
  • Beans: Kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans are not only versatile but also packed with fiber.

Seeds, Nuts, and Berries:

  • Relish the subtle nuttiness of chia seeds, or snack on edamame for a fiber boost.
  • Raspberries and avocados add a burst of flavor and fiber to any meal.

Grains and Vegetables:

  • Oats and whole-wheat flour are excellent for baking and making hearty breakfasts.
  • Cauliflower can be a creative and fiber-rich addition to your dishes.

Fiber Varieties:

  • Soluble Fiber: Apples, bananas, oats, and peas help regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Insoluble Fiber: Opt for whole wheat flour, bran, nuts, and the skins of fruits and vegetables 

Fiber Intake Recommendations

General fiber intake recommendations are 25-30 grams of fiber per day (8). However, this may vary slightly depending on individual factors, such as body weight and age. 

So, how can you ensure you get enough? Here are a few examples: One cup of oatmeal contains about nine grams of fiber. One cup of lentils equates to about 15 grams of fiber. One cup of raspberries packs eight grams of fiber. And one cup of squash contains around seven grams of fiber. Mixing and matching various foods, such as the ones above, can ensure you eat adequate amounts.

If you’re unsure how to add more fiber to your diet, try these tips:

  • Start with a bowl of oatmeal and fruit for breakfast.
  • Snack of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds instead of pre-packaged options.
  • Opt for whole-grain over white bread and pasta.
  • Add lentils or beans as sides to your meals.
  • Mix veggies into stir-fries and casseroles.
  • Sprinkle flaxseeds or chia seeds over yogurt, or add them to your daily smoothie.
  • Read food labels and select high-fiber options.
  • If indulging in desserts, consider options that contain a serving of fruit, such as peaches, apples, or berries. 

When to Take Fiber Supplements

It’s usually best to focus on increasing your fiber intake through a healthy diet. However, if you need help meeting your daily intake through diet, fiber supplements can help. They can help improve your digestive health, control your blood sugar levels, help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of overeating. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any new supplement. It’s also essential to take your fiber supplements at a time different from any medication or other supplements.

What Are the Side Effects of Taking Too Much Fiber?

Digest discomforts may arise when increasing fiber intake too quickly, such as abdominal bloating, cramping, or gas. It’s important to add fiber slowly to your diet instead of all at once; this allows your gut time to adjust and is less likely to cause uncomfortable symptoms.

Conclusion

Besides its well-known benefits for digestion and bowel movements, fiber is vital in blood sugar regulation and weight loss. Most people don’t reach the recommended daily intake of fiber. Eating more fiber through a varied diet or supplementing when needed can improve your overall health. To avoid digestive discomfort, add fiber gradually to your diet.

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It is essential to consult with healthcare professionals before making significant dietary changes, especially for individuals with existing health conditions.

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8 Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257631/#:~:text=Soluble%20fiber%20dissolves%20in%20water,fibers%20are%20not%20water%20soluble
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566984/ 
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464623000439 
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916522010991 
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464621001493 
  6. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.11.22.22282645v1.full
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315922773_High_Fiber_Fat_and_Protein_Contents_Lead_to_Increased_Satiety_Reduced_Sweet_Cravings_and_Decreased_Gastrointestinal_Symptoms_Independently_of_Anthropometric_Hormonal_and_Metabolic_Factors 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9298262/ 

Dr Menka Gupta

IFMCP, MSc, MBBS

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