How Consuming More Fiber Can Benefit Diabetes Management

Better control of your blood sugar, weight and overall immunity are just a few of fiber’s benefits.

Fiber’s health benefits include its ability to regulate digestion; keep you feeling full; lower blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation; and greatly enhance your overall metabolic health. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, fiber can play an essential role in helping to manage blood glucose levels, keep weight in check, enhance immunity and increase longevity. But how much and what kind of fiber can benefit you?

Why is fiber so beneficial to your health?

Dietary fiber — found in nutrient-dense foods like veggies, fruits, legumes and whole grains — is a non-digestible carbohydrate, so it doesn’t break down into glucose. Instead, fiber travels through your gastrointestinal tract and becomes food for your gut microbiome. When you consume fiber, your gut bacteria ferment it and produce many byproducts that promote well-functioning systems. One of the main byproducts are short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), important signaling molecules that interact with the intestinal microbiome to increase the production of a number of key bioactives that appear to help steady blood glucose, regulate hunger, and reduce inflammation — all important for diabetes management.

Fiber is classified into categories such as solubility, viscosity and fermentability, each providing its own set of health benefits. For example, soluble fiber forms a gel-like consistency when mixed with liquid and is known to reduce spikes in blood glucose levels, keep you feeling full and aid in nutrient absorption. Insoluble fiber, by contrast, travels through your digestive tract mostly intact, pushing out unwanted waste in your gut and helping you avoid constipation. Learn more: What Is Fiber? Everything You Need To Know.

How does fiber help with diabetes?

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight and steady blood glucose levels are important to you. Incorporating fiber into every meal can significantly impact your health. Here are the top four ways:

1. Fiber helps stabilize blood glucose. 

When you eat high-fiber food, two reactions take place that have a domino effect directly relating to glucose regulation and insulin resistance: fiber slows down the digestion process and it reacts in your gut to produce healthy microbes.

Fiber slows the rate at which your body breaks down food into glucose. Consuming a fiber-heavy food (such as a high-fiber cereal) doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar the way low-fiber, or “simple” carbohydrates (such as candy or white rice) do. When glucose is slowly released into your bloodstream, your body isn’t pressured to release high amounts of insulin in response. The resulting prolonged energy release helps steady those peaks and dips in blood glucose, and also stabilizes your energy level. Learn more: What Is Glucose?

Prebiotic fibers, in particular, selectively stimulate the growth and metabolic activity of gut microbes, which produce beneficial molecules including the SCFAs (butyrate, acetate, and propionate) — important not only for optimal blood glucose regulation, but also for appetite suppression, immunity enhancement, reduced intestinal inflammation and other beneficial effects. Learn more: Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: What’s the Difference?

2. Fiber plays a role in gut health.

An imbalance of good gut bacteria, called dysbiosis, has been linked to metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. Although the exact biological mechanisms are still unclear, researchers are linking increased fiber intake to a restored and healthier gut. When the gut microbiome is healthier, it is likely that your body’s glycemic response system will work better. Learn more: Why The Gut Microbiome Is Key To Your Health

3. Fiber has an anti-Inflammatory effect.

Chronic, low-grade inflammation is one of the most common paths to progressive diabetes because it has been linked to increased insulin resistance. Although the exact mechanism isn’t yet clear to scientists, inflammation is a reaction produced by your immune system, and nearly 70-80% of the immune system lies behind an invisibly thin barrier behind our guts. Scientists have discovered that fibrous foods promote the production of SCFAs and other beneficial metabolites from your resident gut bacteria, which help maintain a strong intestinal barrier, induce the production of protective mucus, and regulate glucose, lipid and the immune systems.  Fibrous foods can also help your body absorb nutrients (such as calcium). Learn more: Blood Sugar, Diabetes and Inflammation.

4. Fiber helps you manage your weight. 

Fiber has three benefits when it comes to weight management. 

  • Most foods high in fiber are nutrient-dense. Consuming nutrient-dense foods, along with consistent exercise, can lead to increased energy and a caloric deficit and, in turn, weight loss. 
  • Fiber moves slowly through your digestive system, keeping you fuller for longer compared to a highly digestible, simple carbohydrate (like a candy bar). When you consume a high-fiber meal, you may simply not be as hungry and will end up eating fewer calories. 
  • Fiber’s way of boosting your satiety level can help decrease your sugar cravings, important for better blood glucose and weight management. 

How much fiber should I eat if I have diabetes?

The American Diabetes Association and Dietary Guidelines for Americans both recommend adults consume a minimum of 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, translating to about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men at minimum. The average American consumes only 10-15g of fiber each day.

If you’re diabetic, find out how much fiber you should target each day by first figuring out how many calories you typically consume. Take your estimated caloric intake, divide it by 1,000, and multiply that by 14 — giving you the number of grams you should target each day. If you’re not sure about how much fiber to consume, it’s a good idea to aim for a few grams more than you think you need. Some studies have shown that consuming more than the recommended amount of dietary fiber has a positive effect on glycemic control, blood glucose levels and plasma lipid concentrations in individuals with type 2 diabetes. 

If you’re starting to increase your fiber intake, it’s best to do it slowly and with plenty of fluids. A sudden surge in fiber can cause gas, bloating or even constipation. Fiber acts as a sponge in the body and without plenty of fluids, it won’t move through easily. 

Because it can be challenging to incorporate enough food fibers into your daily diet, certain newly developed fiber supplements may prove advantageous to incorporate into your diet.

What are high fiber foods?

Most vegetables (especially dark green ones), fruits, legumes, nuts, and avocados are all good sources of fiber. The American Diabetes Association has a list of Superstar Foods that provide some examples of great fibrous food options, and some of our favorites include: 

  • Green veggies: kale, collards, broccoli, brussels sprouts
  • Fruits: bananas, pears, apples, oranges, grapefruits
  • Berries
  • Beans and legumes: lentils, kidney, pinto, black or navy 
  • Whole grains: quinoa and farro count as whole grains and if you’re shopping for oats or barley, look for the word “whole” in front of it on the ingredients label 
  • Root vegetables: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes
  • Chia seeds
  • Garlic

How do I shop for high fiber foods?

Fiber, no matter the type, is listed on nutrition labels as “dietary fiber.” You can find the amount of dietary fiber in non-packaged goods, such as produce, by checking a reliable internet source. By law, a food labeled as a “good source of fiber” must contain at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving; and foods that are an “excellent source of fiber” must have more than 5 grams of fiber per serving.

Key takeaways

Dietary fiber is an essential part of maintaining metabolic health. If you have diabetes, fiber is particularly important because daily consumption of it can improve your glycemic response system and in turn your glucose metabolism. Furthermore, fiber consumption appears linked with gut health and reduced risk of chronic inflammation, both of which can positively impact your ability to properly metabolize glucose. While different kinds of fiber provide different benefits, instead of stressing about the right kind of fiber to eat, consuming meals that consist mostly of vegetables will provide you with the daily fiber you need. Consume at least the minimum recommended amount of fiber each day to receive the optimal benefits. And as you increase your fiber intake, do it slowly, drink lots of water and pair it with physical activity to make sure you stay comfortable as you make this change

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