Got Diabetes? Eat More Fiber! November is Diabetes Awareness Month

Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD at VMH ...
Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD at VMH ...

by Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD, Veterans Memorial Hospital

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month.  I encourage anyone with diabetes to eat more fiber! Dietary fiber is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation, but foods containing fiber can provide many health benefits. Fiber helps with weight loss, lowers your blood sugar numbers, prevents heart disease and some types of cancer.

What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs, fiber isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon before exiting your body.

Fiber is only found in plants, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and psyllium husks. Increasing the fiber in your diet can be as simple as adding more fruit and vegetables to your meals, plus switching to whole grains. Fiber is commonly classified as soluble, which dissolves in water, or insoluble, which doesn’t dissolve.

Soluble fiber. This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.

The amount of soluble and insoluble fiber varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.

Benefits of a high-fiber diet
A high-fiber diet:
Normalizes bowel movements. Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. A bulky stool is easier to pass, decreasing your chance of constipation. If you have loose, watery stools, fiber may help to solidify the stool because it absorbs water and adds bulk to stool.
Helps maintain bowel health. A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease). Studies have also found that a high-fiber diet likely lowers the risk of colorectal cancer.  
Lowers cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, oat bran, apples, flaxseed, and psyllium husks may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that high-fiber foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
Helps control blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Aids in achieving healthy weight. High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you’re likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer. High-fiber foods also tend to take longer to eat, and they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
Helps you live longer. Studies suggest that increasing your dietary fiber intake is associated with a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and all cancers.

How much fiber do you need?
The Institute of Medicine, which provides science-based advice on matters of medicine and health, recommends daily fiber intake of 25-35 grams for adults.

Fiber supplements and fortified foods
Whole foods rather than fiber supplements are generally better. Fiber supplements, such as Metamucil, don’t provide the variety of fibers, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that whole foods do. Even with improved dietary choices, some people may still need a fiber supplement if they have certain medical conditions, such as constipation, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome. Check with your doctor before taking fiber supplements.

Tips to eat more fiber
• Jump-start your day. For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal - five or more grams of fiber a serving. Opt for cereals with “whole grain,” “bran” or “fiber” in the name. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
Switch to whole grains. Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Look for breads that list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label and have at least two grams of dietary fiber a serving. Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur wheat.
Bulk up baked goods. Substitute whole-grain flour for half or all the white flour when baking. Try adding crushed bran cereal, unprocessed wheat bran or uncooked oatmeal to muffins, cakes and cookies.
Lean on legumes. Beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fiber. Add kidney beans to canned soup or a green salad. Or make nachos with refried black beans, lots of fresh veggies, whole-wheat tortilla chips and salsa.
Eat more fruit and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. Try to eat five or more servings daily.
Snacking. Avoid snacking, as each feeding increases blood sugar levels. If you do choose to snack, choose raw vegetables with low fat dip, made with cottage cheese. A small handful of nuts is also a healthy, high-fiber snack, although be aware that nuts are high in calories.

High-fiber foods are good for your health. Adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.

Be sure to drink plenty of water. Fiber works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky. The general recommendation is to drink half your body weight in ounces. A person who weighs 200 pounds should drink 100 ounces of water daily.

For more information, call the Diabetes Education Department at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 563-568-3411.