If you're managing diabetes, you probably already know more about nutrition than the average American. Still, as you read food labels, one question in particular may trouble you: "These carbs . . . are they good or bad?"
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that offers an array of health benefits. Knowing the benefits of fiber and the best foods for a fiber-rich diet can make carb-counting less confusing and help you manage your blood sugar levels. Here's why fiber is so important if you have diabetes, along with tips on how to get more fiber in your diet.
The Carb-Count Conundrum
On a nutrition label, the category called "total carbohydrates" includes sugar, starches, and fiber. However, these three carbs are not created equal. Two of them—sugar and starches—are quickly converted to blood glucose and used to meet immediate energy needs. Fiber, on the other hand, performs more complex tasks.
There are two main types of fiber, and both have benefits.
- Soluble fiber, such as that found in oatmeal, may help lower your cholesterol level and your blood glucose levels. Other good sources of soluble fiber include peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and barley.
- Insoluble fiber helps your digestive tract move food through your system and bulks up your stool, helping reduce constipation and irregular stools. Good sources of this type of fiber include whole wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.
Another of the many benefits of fiber is that it helps you feel full, which can help you manage your weight. If you're counting carbs, you can subtract fiber grams from your daily total. Aim for 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. According to Joslin Diabetes Center, studies have found that even more may be better; those who consume up to 50 grams of fiber a day —especially soluble fiber—may be able to control their blood glucose better than those who consume far less.
How to Get More Fiber
Despite the many benefits of fiber, most Americans only consume half of the recommended amount each day. Plants are the best sources of dietary fiber. To boost your intake, focus on fruits and vegetables (especially in their raw states), legumes, and nuts and seeds (although you should eat these somewhat sparingly, as they contain a lot of fat).
- For breakfast, enjoy a high-fiber cereal with sliced peaches or berries.
- As a mid-morning snack on the go, pack yourself a handful of homemade trail mix that includes coconut flakes, dried fruit, and sunflower seeds.
- Add a fibrous punch to your lunch by adding some beans to your salad or wrap.
- If you need a snack before dinner, try some of your favorite raw veggies and fruits (like carrots, celery, and apples) with hummus or a nut butter.
- Enjoy a Mexican-themed dinner with high-fiber burritos. Fill whole-wheat tortillas with refried beans, salsa, and veggies like romaine lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions.
- Fruit for dessert may not sound like much of a treat, but you can spice things up by making exotic selections you've never tried before. Depending on the season, you could enjoy fresh figs, dates, mango, dragon fruit, or papaya.
Increase your fiber intake slowly to help prevent gas and cramping. It's also important to make sure that you're drinking enough water when eating a high-fiber diet. Aim for six to eight glasses of water per day.
Joslin Diabetes Center, The Facts About Carbs, Fiber and Diabetes
American Diabetes Association, Types of Carbohydrates
American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Superfoods
Mayo Clinic, Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet
Mayo Clinic, Diabetes Diet: Create Your Healthy-Eating Plan
Harvard Health Publications, 11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol