High-Fiber Foods and Type 2 Diabetes: What to Know

If you have type 2 diabetes, adding fiber-rich foods to your diet can do more than impact your blood sugar levels.

If you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the quality of food is as important as the quantity. High-quality foods are packed with plenty of nutrients, and a crucial one to have in your diet is fiber.

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that generally comes from produce and whole grains. Researchers of a March 2018 Journal of Chiropractic Medicine review indicates, "(P)eople with type 2 diabetes should be encouraged to increase their dietary intake of foods that are rich in fiber."

Additionally, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has recommended that people with diabetes eat at least 14 grams of fiber daily per 1,000 calories, which is the amount suggested in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The amount of total calories per day (and thus fiber intake) represented in the guidelines also varies by age and gender.

Learn more about how to add more fiber into your diet if you have type 2 diabetes, including which high-fiber foods you should consider eating.

How Does Consuming Fiber Help People With Diabetes?

First, fiber itself doesn't raise blood sugar because it can't be digested. Also, it can blunt the impact that carbohydrates have on blood sugar. Carbs break down into sugar when digested and can cause blood sugar levels to increase. Finally, the intestines take a bit more time to digest fiber-rich foods, and that slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fiber can also help with managing heart health, digestive health, and weight. However, not all fiber is the same—nor does all fiber have the same health benefits.

What Types of Fiber Are There?

Even though soluble and insoluble fiber work differently for the body, they are both good for you. Soluble fiber (e.g., found in berries) dissolves easily in water and can lower cholesterol by carrying out excess cholesterol when the fiber is excreted from the body. Insoluble fiber (e.g., found in whole-wheat bread) does not dissolve easily in water and helps keep your digestive tract working well.

Which Foods Are Fiber-Rich?

Great sources of fiber include:

  • Whole-grain products, such as brown rice, barley, and quinoa
  • Dried beans and legumes, including kidney, black, garbanzo, peas, and lentils
  • Oats
  • Raspberries as well as apples and pears with their skins on

LuAnn Berry, RD, a certified diabetes educator at Novo Nordisk, also recommended some fiber-friendly choices.

  • If you like pasta, go for the whole-wheat version.
  • If you like eating muffins for breakfast, choose a small, 2-ounce bran muffin—if there's 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 3 cups of plain popcorn.

If you're curious about comparing fiber content, the DGA gives grams of fiber for standard and smaller portions of a list of foods.

How to Add More Fiber to Your Diet

"Check nutrition labels to see how much fiber there is in the foods you eat," Berry said. "Then go back to the ones with the most grams of fiber per serving."

Berry said you can eat the fiber-high foods alone or add them to recipes. Top a salad with beans, peas, or raspberries, for example. 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 1/3 cup of pasta.

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

Seveda Williams, of Brooklyn, New York, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2012. Williams said that she ate oatmeal and added fruit for an extra fiber dose. For a snack, Williams would combine lemon juice, oatmeal, and sugar substitute, sprinkle the mixture on sliced apples (with the peel on for fiber), and bake the apples in the oven as a substitute for apple pie.

Are Fiber Supplements OK?

It's preferable to get your fiber from foods instead of supplements, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Fiber supplements may be appropriate for some people, but taking them as a replacement will mean that you won't get other nutrients from fiber-filled foods. For example, apples have fiber and antioxidants.

Berry said people with diabetes should speak with their healthcare provider 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 said that few patients eat enough for this to happen.

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. Additionally, make sure that you speak with your healthcare provider regarding any changes to your diet and eating habits.

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

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