When talking about a well-balanced diabetic diet you will hear the word fiber thrown around quite a bit. We know that it is an important nutrient, but what does it do? And how can people living with diabetes benefit from adding more of it to their diet?
When I was young and recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was never taught anything about fiber in relation to my diabetes control. All I was told was to count my carbs and watch the amount of sweets I had. So that’s what I did for many years. But as I got older, I started hearing people talk about fiber and how they always accounted for fiber when counting carbohydrates. I thought this was so strange and didn’t really pay any attention to it because I had fairly good control with my existing regimen.
As I started to interact with more people that had diabetes, I heard more and more about the benefits of fiber. But I still didn’t understand it. As my desire for better control grew, so did my curiosity about fiber. I knew that it was good for me but I didn’t understand how I could use it in a practical way to assist me in my diabetes care. So I finally started doing some research to see if I really could benefit from more fiber.
Some of the most understandable information I found came from the experts at the Joslin Diabetes Center. What I found is that fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but it isn’t broken down by the body. In addition, Joslin experts say that “fiber does not raise blood glucose levels. Because it is not broken down by the body, the fiber in an apple or a slice of whole grain bread has no effect on blood glucose levels because it isn't digested. The grams of fiber can actually be subtracted from the total grams of carb you are eating if you are using carbohydrate counting for meal planning.”
Bingo! There was the nugget of information that I was looking for that had confused me for so long. Grams of fiber can be subtracted from the total carb count.
Unfortunately though, it isn’t that simple. A lot of the foods that contain fiber also contain other carbs and sugar. And it is often the carbohydrate-packed foods we try to avoid. So fiber is good, but foods full of fiber shouldn’t be the bulk of our diet. We need to keep in mind the total amount of carbs to avoid any blood sugar spikes.
I also found that fiber has other benefits than helping with carb counting. Many people living with diabetes struggle with comorbidities and other ailments due to a weakened immune system caused by diabetes. I learned that fiber can help the body handle other medical conditions that aren’t directly contributed to diabetes. Again I turned to the experts at Joslin for help to further unfold the complexities of fiber. According to Joslin, “There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber keeps your digestive tract working well. Whole wheat bran is an example of this type of fiber. Soluble fiber can help lower your cholesterol level. Oatmeal is an example of this type of fiber.”
Fiber is a great addition to your diet to help keep your body healthy and well and avoid complications from diabetes such as high cholesterol and heart disease. By sustaining overall wellness, we can better control our diabetes, which is our ultimate goal.