Fiber is an often neglected and maligned dietary factor, but it can have a significant impact on control of type 2 diabetes. Several recent studies have examined the relationship between type 2 diabetes and fiber and found that it's a good combination, and one that could even extend your life.
Fiber is good for type 2 diabetes
If you have type 2 diabetes, you are probably familiar with terms such as hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and fasting blood glucose levels and how important they are on a daily basis when trying to manage your diabetes. Fiber, a non-digestible dietary factor that is often associated with diarrhea and constipation, can play a significant role in helping you with diabetes management.
For example, consider the findings of a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. The reviewers evaluated 15 randomized studies published over a 20-year period that involved an increase in dietary fiber and its impact on HbA1c and/or fasting blood glucose.
The HbA1c level reflects a person's average blood glucose control over a six to 12 week period, while a fasting blood glucose level is a snapshot in time, reflecting the amount of sugar in the blood after at least an eight-hour fast.
In the meta-analysis, the reviewers found that fiber can reduce both fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels. They concluded that "increasing dietary fiber in the diet of patients with type 2 diabetes is beneficial and should be encouraged as a disease management strategy."
What if eating more fiber could extend your life? A new study published in PLoS One reported on 6,192 individuals with type 2 diabetes who underwent dietary evaluation and were followed up for a mean of 9.2 years. The authors found that among normal weight people with diabetes, high fiber intake was associated with a decreased risk of dying, while high glycemic load, sugar, and carbohydrate intake were associated with an increased risk of dying.
The rise in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes appearing in younger and younger people is a growing concern, and including more fiber in the diet of children and adolescents could help curb these problems. A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism explored the impact of increased fiber intake in 2,072 children (age 2-11) and 2,595 adolescents (age 12-18).
Overall, the reviewers found that when comparing the highest and lowest intakes of dietary fiber, the risk for overweight/obesity declined by 21 percent between the highest and lowest consumption, and by 17 percent when compared the medium intake with the lowest. The authors concluded their results "indicate a beneficial effect of higher fiber density in children's diets."
Put more fiber in your diet
Fiber is essential for everyone: the general recommendation from the Institute of Medicine is for children and adults to consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food. Therefore, people who eat 1,700 calories daily need about 24 grams while those who eat 2,500 calories need at least 35 grams.
Most people fall short of these recommendations, however, not because they don't eat enough calories but because the foods they choose are not rich in fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds contain fiber while meat, poultry, fish, and dairy foods do not.
Some of the foods richest in fiber include split peas, beans (e.g., black, pinto, kidney, navy, and so on), lentils, artichokes, peas, barley, broccoli, oats, brown rice, and spinach. You can learn more about fiber in this fiber content chart.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you already know that what you eat has a critical impact on your ability to control blood sugar levels. Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet could help you better manage the disease.
Brauchla M et al. Sources of dietary fiber and the association of fiber intake with childhood obesity risk (in 2-18 year olds) and diabetes risk of adolescents 12-18 year olds: NHANES 2003-2006. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2012; 2012:736258
Burger KN et al. Dietary fiber, carbohydrate quality and quantity, and mortality risk of individuals with diabetes mellitus. PLoS One 2012; 7(8): e43127
Post RE et al. Dietary fiber for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 2012 Jan-Feb; 25(1): 16-23