Fiber – what’s not to love? Found in a variety of foods, fiber is crucial to good health. This is especially true for individuals with diabetes.
In fact, fiber actively helps to lower blood glucose. Fiber has a strong effect on gut bacteria and encourages them to multiply. Believe it or not, this is good news! There are an estimated 100 trillion bacteria present in the human gut; some good, some bad.
The more good bacteria in the gut, the better! Researchers credit fiber for increasing the good bacteria in the gut, causing the gut to become more acidic. This acidity not only reduces the number of bad bacteria present, it causes the body to ramp up insulin production. Hence fiber's reputation for lowering blood sugar!
One study found just how powerful a high fiber diet can be. Half of the research participants consumed a standard diet. The other half consumed a similar diet but with high levels of dietary fiber included.
After 12 weeks, the high-fiber diet participants reduced their 3-month average blood sugar levels. They also enjoyed a faster and larger reduction in their fasting blood glucose numbers. Plus, they lost significantly more weight than the standard diet participants.
Are the benefits of fiber blowing your mind? Speaking of minds, research has found that fiber increases the production of a fatty acid that helps to prevent brain inflammation. Protecting brain health has never been more important, especially for diabetics.
Nearly 5.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. This progressive brain disease destroys an individual’s memory, decision-making abilities, and communication skills. One out of every eight individuals over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s.
One out of every two individuals over the age of 85 have the disease. As the baby-boomer generation ages, Alzheimer’s diagnosis rates are going to skyrocket. Research has now proven a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
When blood sugar is too high, the extra sugar causes damage to nerves and organs in the body. Damage to blood vessels in the brain, along with the inflammation caused by high blood sugar, can also encourage the development of the disease. Advancing research, however, gives hope in the fight against brain aging – eat more fiber! Yes, fiber has been found to slow brain aging and help prevent cognitive decline.
Believe it or not, the benefits of fiber don’t end there. Due to the gut's powerful impact on health and wellness, it is now being referred to as the body’s “second brain.” In fact, 80% of the body’s immune function is in the gut!
Of particular interest to diabetics, chronic inflammation is initiated in the gut, as well. This is not the same as acute inflammation, which goes away fairly quickly. Such as the swelling that occurs when you stub your toe, or get bitten by a mosquito.
Chronic inflammation develops over time due to the body’s continual fight against harmful substances. Or in some cases, the body’s immune system begins attacking healthy cells instead of the harmful ones. Either way, chronic inflammation is not only harmful, it can be deadly.
Diabetics need to be especially mindful in the prevention of chronic inflammation. This is because long-term, uncontrolled high blood sugar causes inflammation throughout the body. Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it.
Research has found that inflammation is the root cause of many debilitating diseases. Chronic inflammation has been connected to the development of some of the world’s deadliest illnesses – cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and digestive disease.
Did you know the number one killer of diabetics is not high blood sugar? It’s heart disease. Diabetics must focus on heart health, as well as, regulation of blood sugar. Fiber’s effects on the gut encourage the stabilization of blood sugar, promote gut health, and help reduce the risk of chronic inflammation.
Ready to eat some fiber yet? The American Heart Association recommends total fiber intake to be 25-30 grams per day. The average person eats only 15 grams per day. That’s barely half the recommended amount. Let’s review a few foods rich in fiber (and in flavor!)
Artichokes – Low in calories, rich in fiber and essential nutrients, artichokes are a great addition to your diet. Just one medium artichoke accounts for nearly half of the recommend daily fiber intake for women, and a third for men.
Avocado – One cup of avocado has more than 15 grams of fiber, plus an abundance of heart-healthy omega-3 fats! There are endless, delicious ways to use avocado, too. Rather than putting chicken salad on a bun, put it inside one half of an avocado. Instead of mayonnaise on your turkey sandwich, try mashed avocado.
Beans and Lentils – One cup of cooked red kidney beans contains 13 grams of fiber, a cup of black beans has 15 grams of fiber, and white beans contain over 18 grams per cup. In addition to their high fiber content, beans, as well as lentils (which are composed of 40% fiber), contain a starch that is more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream, helping to keep blood sugar stable.
Berries – Loaded with fiber and antioxidants, fresh raspberries and blackberries top the list with more than 7 grams of fiber per cup. Blueberries are also a great source of vitamins and soluble fiber. Studies have found that glucose levels reduce over time when blueberries are included in one’s diet. In fact, one study by the USDA, consuming 2 ½ cups of fresh blueberry juice per day lowered blood glucose levels, improved depression symptoms, and sharpened memory. Here's a great way to get 12 grams of fiber from an incredible tasting blueberry muffin.
Brownies – WHAT? Yep! One of these chocolatey, delicious brownies contains 11 grams of soluble fiber.
Fiber is of utmost importance to health, for diabetics especially. Maybe its fiber's ability to help stabilize and lower blood sugar? Or maybe due to its assistance in preventing brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s? Not to mention fiber’s incredible impact on the gut, and therefore, the entire body.
Fiber is our friend. Lucky for us, it comes in all sorts of delicious forms and foods. Now go get your fiber on!
Public Service Announcement: while it is true that these high-fiber foods are good for you, they can also give you gas, along with intestinal cramping or bloating if you're not used to higher fiber. Don’t take on too much at once. Instead, gradually introduce more fiber to your diet over time.
Stephanie Johnson has a masters degree from the University of Central Florida and is a Certified Nutrition & Wellness Consultant.