How to Get More Fiber if You Have Diabetes

Even dressed up, 50 grams of daily fiber is a lot to pack away. If you've got type 2 diabetes, the quality of food is as important as the quantity. And fiber is the best stuff around.

Fiber itself doesn't raise blood sugar because it can't be digested, and that's good. But even better, it can blunt the impact that carbohydrates have on blood sugar. The reason? The intestines take a bit more time to digest fiber-rich foods, and that slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream.

You need to check labels and add more fiber

A 2000 study of 13 patients showed that patients with diabetes who consumed 50 grams of fiber each day lowered their glucose levels 10% and insulin levels 12% more than those who consumed 24 grams of fiber a day.

The problem is that 50 grams of fiber per day is a lot of fiber. Most Americans consume only 15 grams every day, according to the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes eat 25 to 50 grams daily. While it's tough to consume that much, it's not impossible.

"Check nutrition labels to see how much fiber there is in the foods you eat," says LuAnn Berry, RD, a certified diabetes educator and diabetes specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Then go back to the ones with the most grams of fiber per serving."

Good sources of fiber include:

• Whole grain products, such as whole wheat bread

• Dried beans, including kidney, black and garbanzos, lentils

• Oats, which are found in oatmeal

• Apples and pears with their skins on

Berry says you can eat the fiber-high foods alone or add them to recipes—for example, put beans in a salad. However, don't forget to calculate how much carbohydrate you are adding. A half-cup of beans, for example, has the same carbohydrate count as a third-cup of pasta.

"Make some decisions that will guarantee increased fiber in your diet," says Berry, "such as always having a whole-grain item (small muffin, half a whole grain English muffin, 3/4 ounce whole grain cereal) as one carbohydrate choice, in addition to a piece of fruit and a serving of dairy, for breakfast."

Seveda Williams, 41, of Brooklyn, N.Y., diagnosed with type 2 diabetes four years ago, eats oatmeal and adds in fruit for an extra fiber dose. For a snack, she combines lemon juice, oatmeal, and sugar substitute, sprinkles the mixture on sliced apples (with the peel on for fiber), and bakes the apples in the oven as a substitute for apple pie.

Not all fiber is the same, nor does all fiber have the same health benefits. Fiber in general improves blood glucose control by helping to control blood sugar spikes. Soluble fiber (found in foods like oatmeal, seeds, nuts, oat bran, dried peas, lentils, beans, apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries) dissolves easily in water, and can lower cholesterol by carrying out excess cholesterol when the fiber is excreted from the body.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve easily in water, and includes whole-wheat breads, barley, couscous, bulgur, brown rice, whole-grain cereals, and some vegetables including carrots, cucumbers, and zucchini. Insoluble fiber helps keep your digestive tract working well.

Which is the good one? Both. Fiber also makes you feel full faster—and for longer, which may keep you from overeating.

Here, Berry recommends fiber-friendly choices.

  • If you want a third cup of spaghetti, try a whole-wheat version instead.
  • If you like eating muffins for breakfast, choose a small, two-ounce bran muffin—if theres only a big one, have half, and save the rest for the next day.
  • If you're having a salad, add 1/2 cup of beans.
  • If you want a late night snack, choose an apple or pear the size of a tennis ball, and leave the skin on. Or have three cups of plain popcorn.

Are fiber supplements OK?

Fiber supplements may be appropriate for some people, but taking them will mean that you won't get other nutrients from fiber-filled foods. For example, apples have fiber and antioxidants. Berry says people with diabetes should speak with their doctor before trying a fiber supplement—some conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease can be exacerbated by the supplements.

If you take in too much fiber, you risk gas, bloating, and constipation, but Berry says "few patients get in too much fiber."

To avoid problems, add fiber to your diet gradually, and drink several glasses of water each day to help push fiber through the digestive system.

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