By: Keri Peterson, MD —
If you suffer from diabetes, you likely have had to make some changes in your lifestyle. Exercising more often and watching your diet are cornerstones of managing your blood sugar levels. Learning about carbohydrates and how much of them you get in your diet are key to healthy eating. Having adequate fiber in your diet can be helpful in managing your diabetes. Fiber can have an impact on lowering blood glucose levels.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate. When you eat fiber, your body does not completely break it down and it passes through your intestines relatively intact. While we see that fiber is listed under total carbohydrates, it actually does not contribute to your caloric intake because it is not absorbed when your body processes food. That is great news for diabetics. It’s like getting free calories. So how do you know how many grams of carbohydrates you are consuming? Take a look at the nutrition label. When reading a food label you can look for the grams of fiber and deduct it from the total grams of carbohydrates when calculating the amount of carbohydrates you consume.
Fiber also promotes the feeling of fullness for longer periods of time, which can help decrease your appetite. It adds bulk and fills you up without the calories too so you feel satiated without causing weight gain. Because it is a bulking agent it causes the stomach to become more distended when you eat it which sends signals to the brain that suppress appetite. Another way it makes you feel full is by slowing down the passage of food through the digestive tract. This helps you reduce overeating to maintain a healthy weight which is optimal in diabetes. Several studies have linked high fiber diets to weight loss. Losing even a relatively small amount of weight will improve insulin sensitivity.
Because fiber is not digested, it passes through into the large intestine. Once fiber gets into our colons, the bacteria that reside there feed on it. Through a process called fermentation, the bacteria create something called short chain fatty acids which have healthy effects on blood glucose levels. Short chain fatty acids signal the body to become more responsive to insulin and suppress glucose production in the liver.
Fiber has another wonderful benefit for diabetics. It slows the absorption of sugar into your blood stream so you will have better controlled blood sugar levels. There is a gradual rise in blood sugar which keeps blood sugars stable. This will prevent spikes in blood glucose and insulin levels.
The current recommendation for fiber intake is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men, but most people don’t get anywhere near that amount. To incorporate more fiber in your diet, read the nutrition label. The grams of fiber are listed under total carbohydrates. Try to aim for 3-4 grams per serving. A variety of foods are rich in fiber. These include whole grains, vegetables, beans and nuts.
Keri Peterson, MD is a medical contributor and columnist for Women’s Health and a frequent guest on NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America, Fox News and CNN. Based in New York City, Dr. Peterson has been in private practice since 1999 and holds appointments at Lenox Hill Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center. With a BA from Cornell University and a Medical Degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, she completed post-graduate training in Internal Medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center and is board certified in Internal Medicine. Dr. Peterson is a member of the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association, and serves as a medical advisor for the Calorie Control Council.
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