Dietary Fiber: The Diabetic’s Best Friend

Diabetes and FiberAn apple a day keeps the doctor away, says the old adage.  But modern science has shown that this is more than just a folktale.  Apples are an excellent source of dietary fiber and a vital part of our nutritional intake, which has many implications for our well-being.  This valuable component starts its journey with our teeth, exercising us through chewing. It then travels on through the gut, helping our digestion.  A diet that is high in fiber will reduce the chances of constipation and its associated ills, including hemorrhoids, anal fissures and diverticulitis.  Overweight? Then increase fiber in your food, as it will not only make you feel fuller after eating, but will slow absorption of calories as the food passes along your gut.

Fiber comes in two forms, soluble and insoluble, and it has no calories.  Insoluble fiber is the natural “bulk” in fruit and vegetables, especially in the skins and stalks, and a normal person should eat between 25 and 30 grams a day.  Eat a lovely ripe apple or other fruit to give you fiber instead of candy, or choose bread that has high wheat bran content.

Insoluble fiber, which also comes from vegetable sources, notably from oatmeal, fruits and legumes, is particularly good for you if you are diabetic.  This type of fiber travels through the digestive tract as a gummy substance, trapping sugars and thickening the water layer on the gut wall.  This effect slows the absorption of sugars through the wall of the stomach, keeping blood sugar low and reducing the blood sugar “spike” after eating.  Like soluble fiber, it helps you feel fuller after eating, so it may help reduce your calorie intake. This is very helpful for diabetic people, many of whom are overweight.  Soluble fiber also lowers blood cholesterol, including LDL cholesterol, again benefiting the diabetic person, who is at higher risk of heart disease because of the condition.  As it reaches the last lap, the fiber helps by bulking out and softening the content of the colon, resulting in larger, softer stools that are easily passed.  Soluble fiber also balances pH levels in the stomach, promoting intestinal fermentation and thus short-chain fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

With the average American eating less than half the recommended amount of fiber, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and bowel cancers are on the rise.  Doctors recommend that you eat three parts insoluble fiber to one part soluble, but the important thing is you eat plenty of either kind.  Most fiber-rich foods contain both types, and anyone who makes sure they eat at least five servings a day of fruit and vegetables, plus plenty of wholegrain products such as bread, is doing the right thing.  If you are worried that you aren’t getting enough fiber, there are plenty of ways you can add extra to your diet.  Try sprinkling psyllium seed husks or flax seeds on to a healthy salad, exchange white breads for wholegrain and eat a healthy bowl of oatmeal for breakfast instead of that greasy croissant.  Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the table, and get into the habit of taking a piece as you go out the door.  Eating is surely the nicest way to help your health.

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