We are told to get plenty of fiber in our diets, particularly when you have type 2 diabetes. Not all fiber is the same. There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Do you know the difference and how they affect you differently? Do you know how they can help with diabetes control?
Dietary fiber is the indigestible portion of whole plant foods. It helps you to feel full, helps in digestion, and helps you have normal healthy stools. Fiber reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Fiber is recommended in your diet to improve nutrition, glucose tolerance, and blood fat profiles.
Although prepared fiber can be added to foods, it is unclear if it provides the same health benefits as from natural plant sources. Manufactured fiber is sometimes called functional fiber and is different from dietary fiber from natural sources.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we get 14 grams of fiber for each 1000 calories consumed. This roughly translates to 25 grams per day for women and 35 grams for men. The average American only gets 15 grams per day.
We are usually told to just pay attention to the total grams of fiber and not worry about the type of fiber. However, people with diabetes would benefit from learning the difference between the types of fiber, knowing the specific benefits, and trying to get plenty of both kinds to maximize diabetes benefits.
Soluble versus Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber is bulky and does not dissolve in water. It speeds up the movement of food through the digestive system through to elimination. It is like a little scrubby pad moving food through the digestive system, moving and cleaning everything out. This type of fiber adds bulk to the diet and acts as a laxative to prevent constipation. It maintains a healthy pH in the intestines and helps to remove toxic waste.
Common sources for insoluble fiber are nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains. On food labels it might be listed as cellulose.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water but it does not break down completely. Instead it attracts water and turns into a gel-like substance that slows digestion. Soluble fiber comes from the part of the plant that stores water. It can form a gel such as mucilage, gum, or pectin. An example of this type of gel is the gooey inside of cactus pads and aloe leaves or the thickened boiling water after you boil beans. Soluble fiber can lower cholesterol, promote weight loss, and reduce risk for stroke, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, and some cancers.
Soluble fiber makes it harder for the body to break down carbohydrates, convert them to glucose, and absorb them into the bloodstream from the digestive system. In doing so, it slows down absorption and helps to prevent quick dramatic increases in blood sugar levels. It helps insulin work better. This type of fiber also helps to block some fat absorption.
Soluble fiber helps with weight loss because it reduces the amount of sugar and fat calories that remain in the body. It is felt to help promote loss of belly fat. It helps you to feel full and reduces cravings.
Some common sources of soluble fiber are beans, nuts, citrus fruits, apples, carrots, barley, oats, flax seeds, and psyllium husks. On food labels, insoluble fiber might be listed as gum or pectin.
When in Doubt
If you aren't sure what type of fiber a food contains, then just try to meet the minimum fiber recommendation. Both fibers have exceptional wellness benefits.
Keep in Mind
Try to get the recommended amount of fiber, but don't go overboard. Too much fiber, or a lot of fiber when your body is not used to it, can be bad too. You can experience undesirable side effects such as dehydration, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and cramps. Stay within the recommendations and add fiber gradually. Try to eat small amounts throughout the day rather than getting a lot of fiber at one sitting and drink plenty of water.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed: April 25, 2012. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf