Why fibre is fabulous

 Images of your grandfather or grandmother taking insulin shots flash through your mind’s eye.  Your mother cautioning, and then literally fighting with your father to keep him away from sugary foods, is a poignant reminder of what you may have to give up.  To top it all, the papers have screaming headlines that November 14 is World Diabetes Day, and this year, we in India should take note that diabetes cases are escalating in number, as we gain the dubious distinction of becoming the diabetes capital of the world.

Don’t panic. From being a death sentence, diabetes is a wake-up call, which suggests the need for lifestyle changes that are sure to prove beneficial.
There are two types of diabetes, and while this article refers to diabetes in general, the management of type 1 and type 2 or Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes (NIDD) is different. 

For accurate definitions and diagnosis you will need to consult your doctor and dietician, but here are some encouraging words on making friends with fibre. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and you’ll digest loads of vitamins and minerals. What you won’t digest is fibre. Fibre is that part of plant-based foods that is nearly indigestible. Rather than being absorbed through digestion like other nutrients, two types of dietary fibre get to work in ways that can be extra beneficial for people with diabetes.

Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. This is ‘roughage’  — skins and peels of fruits and root vegetables, and of certain types of seeds and nuts — and it passes through the body’s digestive system mostly intact.

On its passage through the body, insoluble fibre soaks up water, softens and adds bulk to stool, and ‘cleans’ the digestive tract, helping food move through the system. In this way, insoluble fibre prevents constipation.

Insoluble fibre may also be a boon to those trying to lose weight. Since it takes a while to go through the digestive tract, it may help you to feel fuller and eat less.
 
Soluble fibre dissolves in water. You consume soluble fibre when you eat certain green vegetables, fruits, dals, oats, rice bran, isabgol and barley. Soluble fibre becomes a gel-like substance that traps substances related to cholesterol, slows gastric emptying, and delays the small intestine's absorption of glucose.

Lowered cholesterol could help to reduce the risk of heart disease that people with diabetes face.

The slower absorption of glucose makes it easier to manage post-meal blood glucose spikes among diabetics. Some researchers believe that over time, repeated post-meal blood glucose spikes could double a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.

The recommended daily intake of fibre should be about 26-35 grams. If you have diabetes, you need to consume up to 50 grams of fibre a day.

The good news is that fibre can be found in many foods. And since it is not digested, you won’t have to worry about fibre adding calories to your daily count. Do add extra fibre to your diet gradually as it can be a load for your digestive system at first. Bloating is common, but will go away in a few weeks.

When choosing your sources of fibre, consider both fibre content as well as where that fibre falls on the glycemic index. Glycemic Index measures how much of an effect a particular type of food will have on blood glucose levels. Research has found that adults with type 2 diabetes who ate a diet rich in high-fibre, low glycemic-index foods had improved cholesterol profiles and better control of blood glucose.

I will personally attest to the fact that I was taking medication for cholesterol control (statins) and after being diagnosed as diabetic, which I managed with diet and exercise (no medication), my cholesterol was controlled such that I could discontinue the statins.

People with diabetes who are on insulin therapy must closely monitor their carbohydrate intake with help from their doctor and dietician.

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