There is one thing in nutrition that most experts and organizations agree upon. And that is: fiber is a healthy component of our diet.
Still, the power of a high fiber diet is grossly underestimated. And when it comes to managing your type 2 diabetes, dietary fiber plays an even more important role.
BUT there is one major problem…
Most people aren't getting enough fiber – most people consuming under 15 g per day when we need at least 25-38 grams per day. And most diabetics get fiber from the wrong places – from high carb foods like whole wheat instead of low carb sources like non starchy vegetables or nuts and seeds.
Here we'll go over some of the health benefits of eating a high fiber diet, the different types of fiber and we'll also cover a range of delicious high fiber foods with proven benefits for type 2 diabetes.
Types of Fiber
When it comes to fiber, there are many different types to be found in various food sources:
Inulin. Found in artichokes, garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, chicory root, wheat and rye.
Resistant starch. Found in cooked and cooled rice and potatoes, beans and legumes, grains, seeds and green bananas.
Pectin. Mainly found in apples, oranges, citrus peels, carrots, cherries and apricots, along with smaller amounts in other fruits and berries.
Oligofructose. Like inulin, this fiber is also found in artichokes, garlic, leeks, onions, chicory and asparagus.
Fructooligosaccharides. Found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables but particularly bananas, onions, garlic and asparagus.
Cellulose. Forms the structure of most vegetables so eating an abundant variety is important.
You won't hear of these types of fiber much. Instead, you will often hear the terms “soluble fiber” and “insoluble fiber.“
Soluble fibers turn into viscous gel-like substances that slow the rate of digestion, including the absorption of sugar/ glucose.
Insoluble fiber forms the structure of most plants and it's mostly resistant to digestion. This means it forms a lattice work in our gut and moves along our digestive tract, adding weight to waste material and assisting with digestion, and pooping.
Many foods contain both forms of fiber, which is great news because our body does need both soluble and insoluble fiber.
A Common Misconception about Fiber
When people think about fiber, they often think of wheat bread, whole-grain breads, brown rice, and other grain products.
While it's true these do contain fiber, these foods are not recommended in a low carb diet because they are high in carbs.
Even the American Diabetes Association (ADA) acknowledge in their 2017 Standards of Medical Care report, that “whole grain consumption was not associated with improvements in glycemic control in type 2 diabetes” – or in other words, eating whole grains doesn’t help you manage blood sugar and A1c levels!
The misconception is that you don't need to eat grain-based foods to get adequate amounts of fiber.
- 1 cup brown rice = 3.5 g fiber
- Half an avocado = 6.7 g fiber
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds = 4 g fiber
- 1/4 cup raspberries = 2.9 g fiber
- 1 cup beet greens = 2.8 g fiber
- 1 cup broccoli = 2.4 g fiber
- One carrot = 1.7 g fiber
As you can see, you will get ample fiber from eating non starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds and other whole foods but you won’t get all those high carbs that can send your blood sugar soaring!
Benefits of a High Fiber Diet for Diabetes
Fiber alters your gut bacteria
You might be surprised to learn that your gut bacteria outnumber you in terms of genes. There are some 10 trillion of them residing in your gut and collectively they are involved in multiple functions of your body – metabolism of nutrients, immune health, inflammation, and more.
Interestingly, many studies show that an alteration in gut bacteria is linked to the development of many health conditions, including prediabetes and diabetes. And one of the best ways to nourish the beneficial bacteria is to eat a fiber-rich diet.
A high fiber diet feeds the beneficial gut bacteria and wards off the bad guys that are causing harm to your health.
All types of fiber are GREAT for your gut bugs but “prebiotic fibers” are especially beneficial for stimulating growth of beneficial bacteria.
Prebiotic foods include Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, green peas, leeks, onions, shallots and spring onions, dandelion greens, fennel bulb, beets, cashews, garlic and pistachio nuts.
Fiber may help lower blood glucose and A1C
Researchers don't quite understand if it's the alteration in gut bacteria, the influence on hormones and enzymes, or the slowing down of food metabolism that influences blood glucose. Who knows, it could be all three things and more!
The point is, a fiber-rich diet has been shown to reduce blood glucose and A1C levels.
A review of studies looking at psyllium intake found that blood glucose levels and A1C significantly improved in type 2 diabetics.
Another study where participants simply swapped to high fiber bread found that A1C lowered by 0.5% over a 6 month period. Note: we don't generally recommend bread as it's a high carb food. But it just goes to show that fiber changes the metabolism of nutrients and their effect on blood sugar levels.
Another study showed those who have high A1c over 6.8% gain a significant benefit from insoluble fiber, helping to reduce A1C levels.
Fiber may lower fasting levels, cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity
Soluble fiber has particular effects on the stomach and small intestine, including delaying gastric emptying. Researchers suggest this can account for an average 35% variance in your peak glucose levels, which is quite a lot!
This delayed gastric emptying influences a whole range of physical functions in a positive way, all of which have great health benefits for you.
Soluble fiber can be found in artichoke, asparagus, winter squash, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onion, carrots, beans, legumes, blueberries and nuts.
Inulin is another type of fiber found to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. Inulin can be found in low carb foods such as artichokes, garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, and chicory root.
One important thing to note is that many food manufacturers now “add” various fibers to processed foods and in the eyes of health authorities, that makes those foods “healthier.”
Studies have certainly shown that a cookie that contains high fiber impacts blood sugar and insulin less than a low fiber cookie – that's obvious!
But beware. Just because a product claims it is “high fiber,” does not necessarily make it a healthy food item.
The best advice is: stick to natural whole foods rich in fiber.
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8 High Fiber Foods (and their great health benefits)
Half of your average avocado provides an impressive 6.7 grams of fiber. It also contains 8.6 grams of carbohydrates, but only 1.3 grams of those are available carbs, meaning that only those 1.3 grams will affect your blood sugar. The rest of the fruit’s carbohydrates come from pure fiber!
Avocados boast high levels of both soluble and insoluble fiber, and the soluble fiber is particularly effective at improving blood sugar control, decreasing excess insulin in the blood, and lowering your lipids.
Avocados are also a great source of healthy monounsaturated fats (9.8 grams per half avocado), which can promote satiety, increase insulin sensitivity, and lower cholesterol.
Chia seeds seem to be the talk of the healthy living community recently, and for good reason! These little black or white seeds have some pretty powerful properties. And best of all, they’re one way to get a huge amount of fiber for relatively few calories.
One quarter of a cup of chia seeds will give you a whopping 14 grams of fiber for 16 grams of carbohydrates (so only 2 grams net carbs) and 160 calories.
The tiny powerhouses are also a great source of omega-3 fats and antioxidants, and they’ve been found to improve glucose and insulin tolerance.
Their omega-3 content also renders them effective anti-inflammatory agents, which is particularly important since inflammation and diabetes are closely linked.
One medium artichoke contains 7 grams of fiber, 13 grams of total carbs, which equates to just 6 grams net carbs.
A cup of broccoli will give you 2.4 grams of fiber and 6 grams carbs, and a cup of cubed eggplant will give you 2.5 grams of fiber and just 4.8 grams of carbs…and the list goes on!
The fun part about vegetables is that there’s an essentially endless list of different types to try – and they’re all amazing for you. Veggies give you the carbs that you do need to survive without overloading your body with a huge amount of glucose to deal with.
A quarter cup serving of raspberries will provide 1.2 grams of fiber and just 2.9 grams of carbs. While the same portion of blackberries provides 1.9 grams of fiber and 3.4 grams carbs. Thankfully, these are two low carb fruits you can enjoy in your diabetic diet.
On top of being great fiber sources, both raspberries and blackberries contain superior levels of a flavonoid called anthocyanin — 146–2199 mg/ 3.5 ounce (100 g) fresh weight. Anthocyanins have potent anti-inflammatory effects shown to prevent everything from heart disease to cancer.
One quarter of a cup of raw pumpkin seeds packs in 2 grams of fiber and just 3 grams of carbohydrates. It also contains almost half of your daily recommended magnesium intake, as well as lots of healthy omega-3 fats.
The seeds’ antioxidant content allow them to reduce your oxidative stress, which may help lower your risk of diabetic complications.
Beans and Legumes
It’s not a bad thing to be ‘full of beans,’ after all – these and other legumes are one of the best foods you can eat to hit your daily fiber goal. But just be wary because even though beans and legumes are high in fiber, they are not really a low carb food.
One quarter of a cup of kidney beans will give you 3 grams of fiber and 9.5 grams of carbohydrates, 1/4 cup of chickpeas contains a similar 2.5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of carbs.
A better option is edamame (immature soybeans), which contain 2 grams of fiber and just 3.7 grams carbs per 1/4 cup serve.
Because of their carb content, beans and legumes should be incorporated into your diet in small portions only – say, 1/4 cup per serve – otherwise you could see your blood sugar levels rise a little too much. And in some cases, people with diabetes may not be able to eat them at all.
One quarter of a cup contains 3 grams of fiber, 6 grams of carbs, 13 grams of unsaturated fat, and 6 grams of protein.
That means that when you eat a ¼ cup serving of almonds, you’ll be lowering your cholesterol, controlling your blood sugar, increasing your insulin sensitivity, and helping yourself stay satiated for longer without feeling tempted to eat too many carbs.
Almonds also contain lots of antioxidants, which protect you against oxidative stress, and they’re high in magnesium. Magnesium can help lower blood sugar, prevent diabetic complications, and reduce inflammation.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are the superstars of diabetes nutrition. They’ve been found by the CDC to be the most nutrient-dense veggies around.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – leafy green veggies are the healthiest food you can eat!
Think of them as an ‘all you can eat’ kind of food because truly, the more greens you get, the better.
There are so many different kinds of greens to choose from, so try them all – lettuce, seaweeds, alfalfa, bean sprouts, spinach, collard greens, kale, beet greens, mustard greens, dandelion, fennel, swiss chard, watercress, turnip greens, rocket, endive, bok choy, chicory, radicchio, Chinese cabbage, and silverbeet.
One cup of beet greens will give you 2.8 grams of fiber and just 0.5 grams net carbs – eat as much as you like!
Similarly, a cup of kale has 1.2 grams of fiber and 1.6 net carbs, and a cup of collard greens has 2.8 grams of fiber and 1.8 grams net carbs.
The vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content in leafy greens is sky-high — and that helps improve everything about your health!
Of course, you can also find fiber in many other food sources, too.
How much fiber do you need?
At least 25 to 38 grams of fiber intake per day, but the more you get, the greater the health benefits!
Just focus on eating plenty of those good sources of fiber listed above and you should have no problem getting the amount you need each day.
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