The 5 Best High-Fiber Foods for Diabetes, According to a Dietitian
Fiber is super helpful for a lot of reasons, one of which is that it helps regulate blood sugar levels. For a person with diabetes, it's important to manage blood sugar to prevent it from sharply spiking and crashing. If we were to look at a line graph of our blood sugar throughout the day, we want to see nice rolling hills with gentle slopes. And fiber can help us achieve that.
Pictured Recipe: Ricotta & Yogurt Parfait
When we eat foods that contain carbohydrates, we break them down into glucose that the body's cells can use as energy. However, we cannot actually digest and absorb fiber as energy. Therefore, fiber is not converted into glucose and won't raise blood sugar levels. Because we are unable to digest it, it functions to slow the entire process of digestion down—i.e., it makes the digestion and absorption of glucose (and other nutrients) significantly slower.
For example, when you eat a slice of white bread on its own, the body primarily focuses on digesting the carbohydrates in the bread. This is because carbs are the body's preferred fuel source, and there's not much fat, protein or other micronutrients in that piece of bread. However, if you eat a slice of whole-grain bread, the body also has to work to digest protein and fiber, thereby slowing the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates and making that rise in blood sugar a much slower process.
To be clear, that doesn't mean you need to run and replace all of the food in your kitchen with high-fiber substitutes. Sometimes it simply means adding a thing or two to a meal to boost the fiber content. Here are some great dietitian-favorite high-fiber foods to add into any meal or snack.
Pictured Recipe: Chopped Salad with Chickpeas, Olives & Feta
Chickpeas are an excellent high-fiber addition to any salad, sauté or grain bowl. They score a 28 on the glycemic index. For reference, the glycemic index is a rating system for foods that contain carbohydrates, telling us how quickly a particular food will raise our blood sugar level two hours post-consumption. The glycemic index ranges from 0 to 100. Foods that rate close to zero are those that are digested and absorbed slowly, creating a slow and steady rise in blood sugar. The foods that rate closer to 100 are those that cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, like simple carbs and sugar.
A ½-cup serving of canned chickpeas contains about 132 calories, 7 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fat and 7 grams of fiber. The fiber and protein serve to slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates in the chickpeas, allowing them to raises blood sugar slowly and steadily, which is especially helpful when you have diabetes.
Recipes to Try: Healthy Recipes That Start with a Can of Chickpeas
2. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are a fiber powerhouse. One tablespoon of chia seeds (1/2 oz.) contains about 70 calories, 3 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, and almost 5 grams of fiber … in just one small spoonful!
In a 2019 study, rats with diabetes that consumed chia seeds were found to have significantly lower levels of fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and liver enzymes, as well as higher levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). Other research suggests that chia seeds may also help improve heart health, promote weight loss and fight off inflammation.
Chia seeds are super universal, too. You can add them to just about anything for a boost of fiber, protein and healthy fat. Add chia seeds to oatmeal, overnight oats, toast (sweet or savory) or smoothies to reap the benefits.
Pictured Recipe: 3-Ingredient Teriyaki Edamame Sauté
Edamame is an excellent protein- and fiber-filled food. One cup of shelled edamame contains about 188 calories, 18 grams protein, 13 grams of carbs and 8 grams of dietary fiber. The high protein and fiber content help slow down the digestion of these tasty green soybeans, making them a great option to add to a diabetes-friendly eating pattern.
There are so many different ways to incorporate edamame into your diet. Add ½ cup shelled edamame to any salad for a plant-based protein boost. You can boil frozen edamame for 5 minutes, drain and season with salt, and enjoy as a high-protein snack at any time. Going out for sushi? Order the edamame as your appetizer! Starting the meal out with a high-protein, high-fiber appetizer can help you feel satisfied until your entrees arrive, and may help you enjoy your meal in more balanced portions.
Raspberries are an excellent fruit option for those with diabetes. One cup of raspberries contains about 64 calories, 14 grams of carbs and 8 grams of dietary fiber. They rank at 25 on the glycemic index, making them a low-glycemic-index food. This reflects the high fiber content slowing the digestion of the other carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugar in the fruit.
There are tons of ways to incorporate raspberries into your diet, whether it's combined with chia seeds for our Chia Berry Jam on toast or sprinkled on top of a parfait. That said, fresh raspberries can be expensive and spoil quickly, so opt for frozen to save some money and extend their shelf life.
Pictured Recipe: Polenta Cakes with Poached Eggs & Avocado
Avocados are known for their healthy fat and omega-3 content, but don't overlook them as an excellent source of fiber, too. One half of an avocado contains almost 7 grams of fiber—that's 33% of the daily recommended amount for women and 23% for men. One half of an avocado also contains about 15 grams of unsaturated fat, which is a type of fat that has some heart-healthy benefits. Unsaturated fats can help to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol to help keep your arteries free of plaque and functioning a their best. The high fat and fiber content of avocados makes them a super-slow-digesting food. They rank at 15 on the glycemic index, making them a great choice for those with diabetes.
Yes, avocado toast is delicious, but there are many other delicious ways to use avocados for a flavorful fat and fiber boost. You can add mashed avocado to a sandwich in place of mayo. Or add cubed avocado to a salad for more healthy fats and fiber. Have avocados that are on their way out? Peel, pit and cube them and throw them in the freezer in a zip-top bag. Add a couple of frozen avocado cubes to smoothies for healthy fat, fiber and tons of creaminess.
The Bottom Line
Fiber is a super-important nutrient to include in any eating pattern, especially if you have diabetes. But remember, increasing your fiber intake should be a slow and steady endeavor, as eating too much fiber right off the bat can lead to some unpleasant digestive symptoms. Upping your fiber intake can be as simple as a few additions of high-fiber foods like these throughout your day.