The importance of dietary fiber in diabetes nutrition

Christina LoBue, RDN, IFNCP, specializing in weight management, metabolic health, and chronic disease prevention/reversal, 3/14/23

Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Instead, it passes through the digestive system relatively intact and provides several health benefits.

Two main types of dietary fiber

  1. Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. Soluble fiber can help to lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar levels. Foods that are high in soluble fiber include oats, barley, beans, lentils, fruits (such as apples, oranges, and berries), and vegetables (such as carrots and sweet potatoes).
  2. Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and passes through the digestive system relatively intact. Insoluble fiber can help to regulate bowel movements and promote healthy digestion. Foods that are high in insoluble fiber include whole grains (such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat), nuts, seeds, and vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans).

Dietary fiber is found in many plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. It is important to eat a variety of these foods to ensure an adequate intake of both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Fiber benefits with diabetes nutrition

Incorporating high-fiber foods into the diet can help diabetics manage their blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes.

Dietary fiber is important for diabetics for several reasons:

  1. Helps regulate blood sugar levels: Dietary fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream and thus, reduces post meal blood sugar levels.
  2. Promotes satiety: Foods that are high in fiber tend to be more filling and can help reduce cravings and overeating. Filling up on fiber is a great weight loss strategy.
  3. Improves digestive health: Fiber helps to regulate bowel movements and nourish beneficial gut bacteria, which is important for overall digestive health. This is particularly important for diabetics who may be at increased risk for digestive issues.
  4. Lowers cholesterol levels: Soluble fiber, found in foods such as oats, beans, and fruits, has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease, a common complication of diabetes.

The ideal fiber intake for a healthy diet

The recommended daily fiber intake varies based on age, sex, and other factors. Here are the general guidelines for fiber intake for men and women:

  • Children (ages 1-3): 19-20 grams per day
  • Children (ages 4-8): 25 grams per day
  • Boys (ages 9-13): 31-32 grams per day
  • Boys (ages 14-18): 38-40 grams per day
  • Girls (ages 9-13): 26 grams per day
  • Girls (ages 14-18): 26 grams per day
  • Women (ages 19-50): 25 grams per day
  • Women (ages 51 and older): 21 grams per day
  • Men (ages 19-50): 38 grams per day
  • Men (ages 51 and older): 30 grams per day

It is important to note that these are general guidelines, and individual needs may vary based on factors such as activity level, weight, and overall health. It is also important to increase fiber intake gradually to avoid digestive discomfort.

Transitioning moderately from fast food low fiber to a high fiber nutrition

Switching from a fast food diet or other diet which is low in fiber to a healthy high fiber nutrition can be a significant change for your body, and it’s important to do it safely and in moderation. Firstly, start by gradually reducing the amount of fast food you consume and replacing it with healthier options such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Increase your fiber intake slowly to avoid digestive discomfort, as too much fiber too quickly can cause constipation, bloating and gas. It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and to incorporate physical activity into your routine. Consult with a nutritionist or doctor for personalized advice and guidance. Remember that making small changes over time and being consistent with your new habits is key to successfully transitioning to a healthy, high fiber diet.

Foods high in dietary fiber

Food Quantity Fiber
Navy beans, cooked ½ cup 9.5g
Kidney beans, canned ½ cup 8.2g
Split peas, cooked ½ cup 8.1g
Lentils, cooked ½ cup 7.8g
Black beans, cooked ½ cup 7.5g
Pinto beans, cooked ½ cup 7.7g
Artichoke, globe, cooked 1 each 6.5g
Chickpeas, cooked ½ cup 6.2g
Raw pitted prunes ½ cup (about 80g) 6g
Asian pear, raw 1 small 4.4g
Green peas, cooked ½ cup 4.4g
Mixed vegetables, cooked ½ cup 4.0g
Raspberries, raw ½ cup 4.0g
Blackberries, raw ½ cup 3.8g
Oat bran, raw ¼ cup 3.6g
Pumpkin, canned ½ cup 3.6g
Spinach, frozen, cooked ½ cup 3.5g
Almonds 1 oz 3.3g
Brussels sprouts, frozen, cooked ½ cup 3.2g
Orange, raw 1 medium 3.1g
Sauerkraut, canned, solids, and liquids ½ cup 3.0g
Winter squash, cooked ½ cup 2.9g
Broccoli, cooked ½ cup 2.8g
Collards, cooked ½ cup 2.7g

Source: ARS Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17.

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