This content originally appeared on Everyday Health. Republished with permission.
By Diana Rodriguez and Kristeen Cherney, PhD
Medically Reviewed by Roxana Ehsani, RD, LDN
Ready to give your health a clean sweep? Then consider fiber — nature’s broom, says Toby Smithson, RDN, CDCES, a coauthor of Diabetes Meal Planning & Nutrition for Dummies.
Found in plant-based foods, fiber is a carbohydrate that the body can’t digest, which helps slow the rise in blood sugar following a meal. There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble, and they’ve both got big benefits. “Foods high in soluble fiber become gummy or sticky as they pass through the digestive tract, helping to reduce the absorption of cholesterol,” Smithson explains.
That’s a plus for anyone but especially people with diabetes, who are twice as likely to develop heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also impressive, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve and is beneficial because it promotes bowel regularity. Oats and apples are two sources of soluble fiber, whereas insoluble fiber is found in foods such as cauliflower and whole-wheat flour, according to the Mayo Clinic. To get enough of each kind of fiber, consume a variety of foods with the nutrient.
According to a study published in 2016, soluble fiber specifically helped increase insulin sensitivity, lowered blood sugar, and reduced cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. Another benefit is weight management because fiber can help you feel full and satisfied. This effect may help keep type 2 diabetes at bay in the first place: Research has shown that only 30 grams (g) of fiber per day may help prevent diabetes when combined with a low-fat diet.
Though a star nutrient, fiber is only one part of the equation when it comes to picking the most diabetes-friendly foods. It’s also important to be mindful of your carbohydrate intake. For weight loss, you may also want to pay attention to calories, and, for general health, total fat and the quality of fat. (FYI: The majority of the picks below are low in fat.)
To take the guesswork out of healthy eating, we rounded up some top fiber-rich foods to consider adding to your diabetes diet.
1. Love Your Lentils
About 37.5 percent of the carbs in lentils come from fiber, which can help keep your blood sugar stable, says Jill Weisenberger, RDN, CDCES, a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the author of 21 Things You Need to Know About Diabetes and Your Heart.
Cooked lentils boast 15.6 g of fiber and 230 calories per 1 cup serving, making them an excellent source, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They specifically provide soluble fiber, notes Mount Sinai. The same serving size offers about 40 g carbohydrates and about 18 g of protein, the latter of which provides additional satiety. In a hurry? Opt for quick-cooking red lentils, and use them in a soup or salad, Weisenberger suggests.
2. Go Bonkers for Beans
The trick for reaping the most benefit from beans? Pick a rainbow of them. According to the USDA, a ¼ cup serving of cooked red kidney beans has about 5 g of fiber, making them a good source; a ½ cup of black beans has about 6 g and is an excellent source; and a ½ cup of white beans has about 5 g and is a good source. Each type of bean contains roughly 120 calories and 21 g of carbs per serving.
In addition to providing fiber, beans, as well as lentils, have a starch that’s resistant to digestion, notes Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This means it doesn’t get into the bloodstream quickly and affect blood sugar, Weisenberger says. Also, like lentils, beans contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Plus, that starch is good news for good gut bacteria. “When bacteria make a meal of resistant starch, some fatty acids are formed,” she says. These beneficial fatty acids promote better use of insulin and healthier colon cells. To get more beans into your diet, try tossing them into your favorite salad, soup, or entrée.
3. Steam an Artichoke
Artichokes are tender and flavorful, and they offer fiber — a ½ cup serving of artichoke hearts has about 4.8 g, making them a good source, according to the USDA. They also provide blood pressure-lowering potassium and magnesium, as well as vitamin C and folate. The same serving amount also contains only 10 carbohydrates and 45 calories. To cook, Weisenberger recommends removing the bottom leaves and cutting off the top third of the artichoke, removing the stem, and trimming the thorns from the top leaves. Steam for about 25 minutes over boiling water. Once cooled, pull off the succulent bracts (leaf-like structures that protect the artichoke flower) and dip them in an olive-oil-based vinaigrette.
4. Pop Some Fresh Popcorn
Don’t reach for a bag of chips when you want a salty snack — air-pop homemade popcorn instead. Skip the salt and butter (this isn’t movie theater popcorn). Instead, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle on some dried herbs, or add a dash of hot sauce. Three cups of air-popped popcorn contains about 3.5 g of fiber, the USDA reports. The same serving size also offers 93 calories and about 18.6 g carbohydrates. Popcorn is cholesterol free and has almost no fat and very few calories. It’s also a low-glycemic-index food, the USDA says, meaning that it’s slowly digested and has a gradual impact on blood sugar levels.
5. Adore Avocados
Great mashed into dip or used as a spread instead of mayo, avocados provide both soluble and insoluble fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, according to research. A ¼ cup serving of avocado has more than 3.3 g of fiber, according to the USDA. The same serving size also has 80 calories and 3 g carbohydrates. It also has nearly 7 g of fat, so remember that a little goes a long way. Weisenberger suggests substituting 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of mashed avocado for 1 tbsp of butter when baking and opting for a slice of avocado in place of cheese on your favorite sandwich.
6. More Peas, Please!
These starchy, high-soluble-fiber veggies offer vitamins A, C, and K and make a great substitute for rice and other grains, Weisenberger says. A ½ cup serving of canned, drained green peas boasts about 3.5 g of fiber, according to the USDA, making them a good source. The same serving size has about 11 g of carbohydrates and about 59 calories, which is far less than rice. At the same time, you gain about 3.8 g protein per serving. Yellow or green split peas are also good choices. A ¼ cup cooked serving contains 9 g fiber, 120 calories, and 21 g carbohydrates for an excellent source, the USDA reports. To help manage your carbohydrate intake while gaining these benefits, consider tossing peas into your favorite salad for added nutrients and fiber, or enjoy them on their own, sprinkled with a little fresh mint and parsley.
7. Score Big With Broccoli
A cup of chopped raw broccoli offers about 2 g of fiber and about the same amount of protein, says the USDA. The same serving size also contains about 5 carbohydrates and fewer than 30 calories. Plus, this cruciferous green veggie is an excellent source of vitamins C and K. Weisenberger suggests steaming broccoli florets, tossing them with a garlicky olive oil, mixing them into a pasta or casserole, which you can enjoy in moderation, or adding them raw and crunchy into your favorite green salad.
8. Take a Bite Out of Berries
Bite-size and sweet, berries are loaded with fiber and antioxidants. Any choice will offer benefits, but raspberries and blackberries are two examples of insoluble fiber choices, as the Cleveland Clinic notes. “Berries are loaded with health-boosting compounds, including those thought to help prevent certain types of cancer and improve the health of the heart,” Weisenberger says. According to the USDA, a 1 cup serving of raspberries contains about 9.75 g fiber, 17.8 g carbohydrates, and 78 calories. For a sweet dessert, enjoy berries topped with a few dark chocolate shavings.
9. Pick Pears
Green, red, or brown, all pears offer the same health benefits. A large pear contains nearly 6 g of fiber, making it an excellent source, according to the USDA. “For a fancy treat, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over slices of a grilled pear,” Weisenberger suggests. Enjoy it for dessert, or serve the slices over salad greens at the start your meal. A large pear contains about 27 g carbs and 18 g natural sugars, so be sure to plan ahead when incorporating this fruit into your daily meal plan.
10. Try Barley and Oatmeal
Both of these whole grains are good sources of insoluble fiber. Try barley in place of rice or pasta in your favorite dishes, and replace bread crumbs with oatmeal in meat loaf or for coating baked chicken or fish. Both contain the fiber beta-glucan, which improves insulin action, lowers blood sugar, and helps sweep cholesterol from the digestive tract, Weisenberger says. A ¼ cup serving of cooked barley contains more than 7 g of fiber, 37 g carbohydrates, and 170 calories, making it an excellent source, according to the USDA. The USDA also reports that a ½ cup serving of rolled oats contains about 4 g fiber, 150 calories, and 27 g carbs, which also make it a good source of fiber.