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Dietary Fiber and Diabetes: Bridge the Gap

By: Karima A. Kendall, PhD, LDN, RDN —

By now, you’ve likely heard all about the infamous “fiber gap”. Dietary fiber was first identified as a nutrient of concern by the 2015-2020 United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee1 and there is still a substantial disparity between the amount of fiber consumed and dietary recommendations in most countries worldwide.  Those living with diabetes have the added challenge of managing their carbohydrate intake and consuming adequate amounts of dietary fiber.  Luckily, fiber is helpful in more ways than one, as it has a beneficial impact on blood glucose (BG) levels and also increases satiety which can aid in body weight management.

First, it is important to note that there are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber, which is typically found in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains, are largely responsible for increasing the bulk of the feces.  While these fibers keep the digestive system running smoothly, they have little metabolic effect.2 Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is found in oatmeal, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas and may help to improve BG control and even lower cholesterol.  These fibers are not digested and reduce the rate of nutrient absorption, which helps to minimize spikes in BG levels after a meal. Further, numerous studies have demonstrated that the lowered blood glucose levels seen after fiber consumption are associated with either unchanged or lowered insulin levels.3,4

Fiber consumption also contributes to the feeling of fullness after eating which may reduce intake and aid in weight management. Maintaining a healthy body weight is especially important for those living with diabetes and the expansion of fiber-rich options can play an important role in helping to increase total fiber intake with minimal impact on calories. Advancements in food technology allow for fiber enrichment of a variety of foods, including those that are inherently low in fiber. Certain fibers can be incorporated into foods and beverages, which consumers can easily include into their diet to meet fiber intake recommendations.

Now that you know the major benefits of dietary fiber, keep these tips in mind as you incorporate more fiber-enriched food into your diet:

  1. Read the Nutrition Facts Label. Note that the term “whole grain” does not always mean that the product is high in fiber.  Read the nutrition facts label to determine exactly how much dietary fiber the product contains
  • Get Your Fiber From A Variety Of Sources. In addition to fruit and vegetables, keep an eye out for foods that have been enhanced with additional fiber, including cereals, yogurts and even beverages.
  • Pace Yourself. In order to prevent potential gastrointestinal discomfort, slowly incorporate more fiber into your diet. Abruptly consuming large amounts of fibrous foods may lead to gas and bloating.

References:

1. Millen BE, Abrams S, Adams-Campbell L, Anderson CA, Brenna JT, et al. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report: Development and Major Conclusions. Adv. Nutr. 7:438, 2016.

2. Vinik AI and Jenkins DJA. Dietary Fiber in Management of Diabetes. Diabetes Care 11:160-73,1988

3. Jenkins DJA, Leeds AR, Gassull MA, Cochet B, Alberti KGMM: Decrease in postprandial insulin and glucose concentrations by guar and pectin. Ann Intern Med 86:2023, 1977

4. Kay RM, Grobin W, Track NS: Diets rich in natural fiber improve carbohydrate tolerance in maturity-onset, noninsulin dependent diabetics. Diabetologia 20:18-21, 1981

Karima A. Kendall, PhD, LDN, RDN  is a registered dietitian and on staff with the Calorie Control Council.

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