You wouldn’t be wrong in believing that eating fiber-filled food is just what you need to stay healthy. High-fiber diets have been identified with improved heart health and metabolism, reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, and a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, stroke, and gastrointestinal issues. But, if you have diabetes, eating a fiber-rich diet has another benefit: it helps control blood sugar.
You might think this sounds contradictory. After all, a lot of fiber-rich foods are also high in carbs — think whole grains, fruit, and beans. But there are carbs and there are carbs. Fiber, which is only found in plant foods, has an advantage in keeping people with diabetes healthy, as the Centers for Disease Control has explained. Fiber can’t be digested — your body can’t absorb it or break it down—so it just passes slowly through the system. And that slow move through your digestive tract doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar like regular carbohydrates do.
Eating high-fiber foods can also help people with diabetes control their weight. That same slow-mo activity helps you feel fuller longer so you’re more likely to eat less — and high-fiber foods tend to be lower in calories.
Two Types of Fiber
In general, fiber is a carbohydrate that isn’t digested and is commonly referred to as “bulk” or “roughage.”
It’s helpful to know that there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber, like the name suggests, dissolves in water. It forms a gel-like consistency in your stomach, which slows digestion and thereby helps control blood sugar. Apples, beans, bananas, oats, and even avocados contain soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber, of course, is fiber that remains whole as it goes through the stomach. Its function is to support insulin sensitivity (and keep your bowels regular). You’ll find insoluble fiber in whole wheat flour, bran, nuts, and many vegetable and fruit skins. This is another reason why it’s healthier to eat whole fruits and vegetables instead of juice.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that women should aim for at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily while men should aim for between 30 and 38 grams a day.
Just remember, as helpful as fiber is you still need to control your daily consumption of carbs, not to mention fat. So, portion control is, as always, necessary. Nuts and seeds, for example, are full of fiber but also fat, so take to heart just how much you can enjoy and use a digital scale or measuring tools to stick to serving sizes.
Another issue that may come up if you’re about to increase your daily fiber consumption is that leaping into it can lead to some unpleasant effects, like bloating, cramping, gas, and the like. Two tips can help you avoid this:
Start slowly, adding a little more fiber to your diet every few days.
Drink lots of water. That will help move food through your digestive tract.
If you’re an insulin user, you may also take into consideration net carbohydrates when weighing how high-fiber ingredients impact your mealtime insulin dosing.
You find net carbs by subtracting fiber from total carbohydrates. By subtracting the carbs that don’t have an effect on blood sugar, the idea goes, they don’t need to be included in insulin dosing decisions.
It is actually a controversial concept because different people have different results. The American Diabetes Association warns that the term doesn’t have a legal definition and recommends using total carbohydrates. “Net carbs” is also not used by the Food and Drug Administration. So, the best approach as to whether to use net carbs or total carbs when carb counting may be trial and error in consultation with your medical team.
Nine of the Best Fiber-Rich Foods and How to Enjoy Them
The good news is you won’t get bored eating foods high in fiber. There are plenty of them and many go well together.
Some of the best sources of fiber, like lentils, have more than 15 grams of fiber per serving, but don’t neglect those that aren’t quite as high, like almonds or chia seeds. Every bit helps. Just check out this comprehensive list in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.
Here are some delicious options. Some may even surprise you:
Raspberries (15 grams total carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, 7 g net carbs) Raspberries are perfect in a smoothie, oatmeal, a Greek yogurt parfait, or sprinkled on a salad. Mix them with other berries to snack on. Make Raspberry Greek Yogurt Popsicles using nonfat yogurt.
Pearled Barley (28g total carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 24 g net carbs) Barley is pure comfort food. Serve it as a side dish combined with sauteed mushrooms and greens. Add it to soup. Create a winter salad with your favorite vegetables.
Artichoke hearts (20g total carbohydrates, 10 g fiber, 10 g net carbs) To avoid the fat of marinated artichoke hearts, buy them frozen. Then add to whole wheat pasta along with chopped tomatoes, feta cheese, and a sprinkling of kalamata olive. Or make your own tomato sauce and add the hearts to the sauce. Toss into a salad. Add to a grain bowl. Fold into an omelet. Chop them into chicken or tuna salad. Roast them to serve as an appetizer.
Garbanzo beans or chickpeas (19 g total carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 15 g net carbs) Whether you soak dry beans and cook them until soft or just buy canned, add them to a salad or soup. Make hummus. Toss in a little olive oil and herbs and roast them for snacking.
Lentils (15 g total carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 12 g net carbs) There are lots of varieties of lentils with different colors and textures. Brown lentils are hearty, so enjoy them as a side dish with different spices. Add to soups and stews. Green lentils make for a great salad with vegetables and a vinaigrette. Red and yellow lentils turn mushy, so add them to soup, stew, or curries. Turn them into a dip. Black lentils have some textural bite. Make mushroom lentil burgers. Add to soup for texture. Turn into a salad.
Haas avocados (13 g total carbohydrates, 10 g fiber, 3 g net carbs) Go beyond guacamole and avocado toast with a chopped avocado salad that includes tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, beans, and roasted shrimp with a lime vinaigrette. Add avocado slices to an omelet. Add them to a green salad. Chop and add them to a whole grain salad with cilantro. Add to a smoothie. Grill avocados and top with vinaigrette.
Oats (12 g total carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 10 g net carbs) Yes, please do enjoy a bowl of cooked oats for breakfast (just stay away from sugary instant oatmeal). Add berries, chopped apples, or bananas and some nuts for an even tastier meal. But, you can also add oats to a turkey meatloaf. Blend oats into a smoothie. Add them to other whole grains like buckwheat, millet, and barley, along with chopped, toasted nuts for breakfast or a side dish.
Chia seeds (6 g total carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 1 g net carbs) Add chia seeds to a smoothie or yogurt topped with fruit and toasted nuts. Mix into oatmeal. Use them to thicken a salad dressing. Turn chia seeds into a jam.
Almonds (5 g total carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 2 g net carbs) Sure, toast them and snack on them, but you can also coarsely chop them and add to an Asian chicken salad or sprinkle them on your morning oats or dry cereal. Add to whole grains like wild rice as a side dish.