What Filling up on Fiber Might Do for Your Diabetes Risk

Type 2 diabetes risk lowered with high dietary fiber intake, especially with cereal and vegetable fibers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) You often hear that vegetables, fruits and whole grains are healthy, and now new evidence is supporting this claim for a new reason — the fiber in these foods might help prevent a common and serious health problem.

A new study found that people who ate more fiber had a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

"Fiber helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check," according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

This type of carbohydrate can't be broken down into sugar like other carbs. Instead, it passes through the body. Because of this link to blood sugar, the authors of a new study, led by Dagfinn Aune, a PhD student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, wanted to explore how fiber — commonly found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains — might affect diabetes risk.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body has problems using the hormone insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. The condition can lead to serious complications, such as stroke, nerve damage and vision problems.

Aune and team looked at data from the large European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-InterAct study.

Over the 10.8 years of this study, 11,559 type 2 diabetes patients were identified out of a group of 26,088. The patients' fiber intake was recorded.

Patients who ate the most fiber — over 26 grams per day — had an 18 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least amount of fiber — under 19 grams a day.

Aune and team also looked at different types of fiber. They found that those who ate the most cereal fiber — found in grains — had a 19 percent lower diabetes risk than those who ate the least of this type of fiber. Those who ate the most vegetable fiber had a 16 percent lower risk. No link was found between consuming fruit fiber and risk for diabetes.

However, when the data was adjusted to include weight factors like being obese or overweight, these results no longer held. These study authors suggested that fiber might play a role in maintaining a healthy weight, which might have the biggest effect on type 2 diabetes risk.

These researchers also looked at data from 19 international studies involving over 41,000 cases of type 2 diabetes. Data from these studies suggested that with each 10-gram increase in daily fiber, type 2 diabetes risk dropped 9 percent.

For cereal fiber, the results were even higher — each 10-gram increase in daily intake of this fiber was tied to a 25 percent lower type 2 diabetes risk.

"Taken together, our results indicate that individuals with diets rich in fibre, in particular cereal fibre, may be at lower risk of type 2 diabetes," Aune said in a news release.

Aune noted that many reasons might be behind this link, such as hormonal responses, how the body absorbs nutrients from fiber and the tendency for fiber to help people feel full for longer. Further research is needed to better understand a possible link between fiber and type 2 diabetes, these researchers noted.

HSPH reported that people need at least 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day, but that many Americans only eat around 15 grams.

In an interview with dailyRx News, Anjali Shah, a board-certified health coach and author of health and lifestyle blog The Picky Eater, suggested a number of ways to include more fiber in the diet.

"Make sure you are eating fresh fruits and veggies with every meal," Shah said.

Shah added, "Switch from refined white grains to whole grains (oatmeal, whole wheat/sprouted wheat, quinoa, brown rice)."

Shah said that any fiber coming from whole foods is a great addition and recommended relying on these whole-food fibers versus fiber supplements as much as possible.

Patients should discuss how to achieve a healthy and balanced diet with their doctors.

This study was published online May 26 in the journal Diabetologia.

The study authors received funding from a number of groups, such as the European Union, the World Cancer Research Fund, Novo Nordisk, and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 26, 2015
Last Updated:
June 3, 2015