Fiber for blood sugar and cholesterol


Supplement-vs-food

Fiber helps manage blood sugar and appetite. We don’t absorb Calories or carbohydrates from fiber; and, it takes longer to digest a high-fiber meal than one with simple carbs, so the blood sugar doesn’t get as high. Since a majority of us don’t get the recommended 30g of fiber/day, could we benefit from fiber supplements? Is there a difference in fiber from food vs fiber from a supplement?

This RD always recommends nutrients (fiber included) from real foods. When we take supplements, we miss out on compounding benefits of food. When we take a fiber supplement, that’s all we get: Fiber. When we eat high fiber food, we get: fiber, vitamins, minerals, energy, satisfaction, and phytochemicals, plus, all of these things work better together. Different vitamins and minerals are needed for other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to be absorbed and used; so, if we take nutrients alone, we don’t get the full benefit.

Not only that, but there are different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble, which do different things. Most high-fiber plant foods have both; but, supplements provide one or the other. Soluble fiber is responsible for blood sugar and cholesterol lowering, making it important for preventing or managing diabetes and heart disease. Let’s not down-play the importance of insoluble fiber for digestions, but research shows that people who eat diets high in soluble fiber may have better blood sugar control.

So, do we need supplements? The average person eats 15-20g of fiber/day compared to the recommended minimum of 30g/day. Research studies show blood sugar benefits when people consume up to 50 g fiber per day. So, yes: we need more fiber.

Ideally, fiber should come from food; and, since soluble fiber is the star for diabetes and cholesterol, increasing intake of: oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and barley may help lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

If you are still concerned that you’re not getting enough fiber, a supplement (Metamucil) can amp up your intake; but, there are only 2-3g of soluble fiber in any Metamucil product (same amount as is in 1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal), which won’t get us to the recommended 30-50g of fiber/day on its own.

I recommend taking fiber supplements with meals to help blunt the blood sugar spike. There is no difference in the way the fiber in supplements works compared to that from food, besides the fact that supplements don’t have the vitamins, minerals, and energy that the food does; so, while we get the best overall health benefit from using high-fiber plant-based foods, we can get some of the blood sugar and cholesterol-lowering effects of fiber from the supplements when taken with meals.

So, fresh food is always best, and adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a sure-fire way to improve overall health; but, be careful. Always talk to your doctor before adding supplements, add fiber slowly, and increase water intake to prevent possible tummy trouble. What are some ways you will increase your fiber intake throughout the day?

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