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Chances are you need more fiber in your diet. Most Americans don’t get nearly enough—and that means missing out on important health benefits.
Fiber is a carbohydrate, so you might think eating more fiber is a bad idea for people with diabetes, who carefully limit carb intake. But there’s plenty of room for the right kinds of high-fiber foods in a well-balanced diabetes meal plan. And there are lots of delicious high-fiber foods to choose from.
Fiber comes from plants. Whether it’s fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, or legumes, every plant-based food has fiber, but some have more fiber than others. Your body can’t digest fiber, so even though it’s a carbohydrate, fiber doesn’t raise your blood sugar. It’s the other, digestible carbs in those same foods that people with diabetes need to restrict. The best plant-based foods give you a healthy helping of fiber without adding too many ordinary carbs that will go straight to your bloodstream.
When you size up the Nutrition Facts label of a food, some experts say you should deduct the grams of indigestible fiber from the total carb count to arrive at a figure called the “net carbs.” This shows the amount of digestible carbs that will affect your blood sugar level, giving you a better idea of what to expect. For example, a cup of strawberries has 11 grams of carbohydrates, but about 3 grams of fiber, so it has 8 net grams of carbs.
There are two types of fiber, and each helps your body in different ways.
Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, is most common. It has been found to help regulate blood sugar and to reduce the risk of both heart problems and type 2 diabetes. It may also help people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who take insulin to need less.
Insoluble fiber, which doesn’t dissolve in water, helps prevent constipation and maintain regularity as well as lowering the risk of diverticulosis, a common disease of the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber also plays a role in preventing and treating hemorrhoids.
Most plant-based foods have both types of fiber, in varying proportions.
All high-fiber foods help you feel full longer, making weight control easier. Fiber has also been linked to reduced risk of some cancers.
How much fiber should you eat?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that adults of all ages eat 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. That works out to 25 grams per day for the average woman and 38 grams for the average man.
Estimates say we only eat about 15 to 17 grams daily on average.
That fiber target might seem hard to reach, but the fiber adds up fast once you know which foods have more of it. And as you eat more of these good-for-you foods, you’ll naturally eat fewer processed foods that aren’t as nutritious.
Good choices for more fiber with fewer net carbs
Fruits: Blackberries, coconut (unsweetened), Hass avocado, red raspberries
Vegetables: Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, chard, chicory, collard greens, eggplant, endive, mustard greens, radishes, Romaine lettuce, spinach
Whole grains: Wheat bran, rice bran
Nuts: Almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans
Seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds
Want to see exactly how much fiber, carbs, and other nutrients each of these foods contains? Simply Google the name of the food followed by the words “nutrition facts.”
Should you try fiber supplements?
Supplements may seem like an easy way to get more fiber, and some have no net carbohydrates. But supplements don’t give you all the nutrients found in natural high-fiber foods. And recent research has raised questions about whether fiber pills and high-fiber additives you sprinkle on your food are as beneficial as high-fiber foods. Talk to your doctor before using a fiber supplement.
Bonus tip: adjusting your body to a high-fiber diet
Suddenly eating a lot more fiber could cause gassiness and intestinal distress. It’s a good idea to increase your fiber intake gradually over a few weeks. Fiber also absorbs water, so as you eat more fiber, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids. Fiber may also interfere with the absorption of some drugs, so take your medicine an hour before or two hours after a high-fiber meal.
Add a comment below to share your tips and favorite foods for a high-fiber diet.