Fiber – An Integral Part of Your Dietary Plan

Whether you have diabetes or not you need to learn about and maintain a healthy diet. A diabetic diet plan must contain a number of nutritious foods. Among them, concealed in much of what you eat, is an essential substance called dietary fiber.

What is Fiber?

Dietary fiber is a complex substance which the body cannot manufacture. It is found in a variety of plant foods. Fiber is called roughage because its major purposes are to help you digest food, to make sure it flows freely through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or system, to assist with waste elimination.

In order to obtain the necessary fiber your body must turn to other external sources. The most common of these are fruit and vegetables.

What Types of Fiber are there?

There are two different types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble.

  • Soluble Fiber: Soluble fiber, upon entering the gastrointestinal system, attracts water and becomes thickened like a gel. The result is a deceleration of the digestive process. It slows stomach emptying which can benefit the diabetic by affecting the rate and amount of blood sugar levels. This is why you feel full longer than you would when digesting other types of food.
  • Insoluble Fiber: Your body is not able to absorb this form of fiber. Unaffected by the acids and various juices and water in the stomach and intestines, it winds its way essentially unchanged through the entire system. Its purpose is to make your stools thicker in its passage.[1] An example of insoluble fiber is cellulose.

High Fiber, Low Fiber – It’s all Food

If fiber is so vital, and our body needs it but can’t make it, how do we obtain it? The answer is simple. We eat food that is high in fiber.[2] Common and even popular foods containing fiber are:

  • Whole grain ( not simply whole wheat) breads
  • Whole wheat pastas
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Flaxseed
  • Beans
  • Fruits such as apples and prunes
  • Vegetables such as sweet potato, cauliflower and asparagus

If you feel you need more fiber, talk to your doctor, he or she may recommend you take one of the several fiber supplements available in food and specialty stores.[3]

What does it do?

An average balanced diet contains a sufficient quantity of fiber to perform the required tasks. Since fiber will not be digested, it provides bulk to the intestinal contents and forms most of the feces.  It also is necessary for other services including aiding peristalsis and slowing down the movement of foodstuffs through the GI tract. The action also benefits diabetics because fiber slows down glucose absorption.[4] This helps you prevent significant post-mealtime glucose highs.

If you eat enough fiber, when it combines with water in the GI tract, it will facilitate your bowel movement and prevent possible problems such as hemorrhoids and diverticuli. These may become inflamed (diverticulitis) or rupture causing peritonitis. In fact, there are several health benefits gained from ingesting enough fiber. These include:

  • lower blood cholesterol
  • reduction of cancer incidence, particularly colon cancer
  • protect against cardiovascular disease

What does the Research indicate?

Research indicates that fiber can be beneficial in a number of ways. Of particular interest is a 2010 study by He, et.al. It found that women with diabetes and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) had reduced mortality rates due to their intake of high in fiber products such as whole-grain and bran.[5]

Research also does confirm the positive relationship between eating fiber and the reduction of risks for various respiratory diseases, infectious disease and CVD.[6] It also points out that substituting high fiber foods such as brown rice for low fiber and highly processed foods such as white rice may actually help reduce the incidence of T2D.

Recommendations for Fiber Intake

The generally accepted amount of fiber to be ingested on a daily basis is 25 to 35 gm per day. The guidelines provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and readily available on the internet, titled, “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” offers some advice on fiber consumption. There are some factors that will affect the amount of daily intake of fiber you need. These include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Activity level

Nutrient dense foods can help you get the recommended amount of nutrition but with fewer calories. Towards this end, you need to look at your diet, compare it with what the guide says and adjust upwards or downwards accordingly. It is not hard – particularly if you like fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain pasta and whole grain breads. Sprinkling bran on your breakfast cereal, for instance, along with a banana, apple or strawberry is a delightful way of starting your morning.

You can easily work in the required 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables a day. Make sure you mix and match. There are a wide variety of fruits and vegetables out there. With so many varieties available, this will give you a good excuse to try some you have never tasted before.

Opt for those that fulfill several dietary requirements.  In particular, pick from among the five main vegetable subgroups (legumes, dark green, starchy vegetables, orange) and work them into your weekly schedule. You will also find that selecting food high in fiber serves one or more purposes.  A general rule of thumb seems to be this. “If it is high in fiber, it is low on the glycemic index (GI).”

Conclusion

Making fiber an integral part of your diet is good for you – diabetes or no diabetes. It not only helps keep you regular but also slows down the absorption of glucose. This is one area where you can take charge. You can pick and choose, mix and match, some of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Keep them really healthy by buying seasonal and fresh. Eating healthy to manage diabetes means following the rules, but these are rules that everyone should be paying attention to.

References

[1] Beck, Leslie (2010). The Complete A-Z Nutrition Encyclopedia. Toronto: Penguin Books.

[2] Neporent, L. and Schlosberg, S. (2005). The Fat-Free Truth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

[3] Hendler, S. S. (2008). PDR For Nutritional Supplements 2nd Edition. Montvale, NJ: Physician’s Desk Reference.

[4] Masharani, U (2008). Diabetes DeMYSTiFieD. New York: McGraw Hill.

[5] He, M; van Dam, RM; Rimm, E; Hu, FB; and Qi, L (2010). “Whole-Grain, Cereal Fiber, Bran, and Germ Intake and the Risks of All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease–Specific Mortality Among Women With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” Circulation, 121: 2162-2168.

(He, van Dam and Rimm)

[6] Park, Y; Su bar, AF;  Hollenbeck, A; and Schatzkin, A (2011). “Dietary Fiber Intake and Mortality in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.” Arch Internal Medicine. 171(12):1061-1068.

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.