With an estimated 422 million people living with diabetes worldwide, it’s a chronic condition that’s sadly becoming more and more common. It’s pretty widely accepted that a healthy diet, regular exercise, weight management and avoiding smoking can help – but what about our all-important fibre intake?
A new study has found eating a diet higher in fibre could reduce risk factors for adults with prediabetes or diabetes, including better control of blood sugar levels and other factors associated with cardiovascular disease like cholesterol levels and body weight, compared to those with lower fibre intakes.
What did the study do?
Researchers pooled together a whole bunch of studies (that’s what we call a meta-analysis), including 42 clinical trials and 2 long-term studies (nearly 9 years), across 22 European countries – involving a total of over 10,000 adults with prediabetes or diabetes (type 1 or 2).
They then analysed the data to look at the effects of higher fibre intake, without participants being asked to change anything else in their diet or lifestyle.
What did they find?
With most adults only getting around 20g fibre a day on average, the researchers suggested adding an extra 15g of fibre into your diet and hitting 35g daily could be expected to reduce the risk of early death by 10-48% for those with diabetes. The review also found that compared with lower fibre diets, eating a higher fibre diet resulted in modest improvements in blood sugars, inflammatory markers and cholesterol levels. What’s more, these benefits were seen regardless of the specific source of fibre.
Although low-carb diets seem to be popular among diabetics, it’s still important to get plenty of diversity across vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and pulses. This study found no suggestion that relatively high intake of these carbohydrate-rich foods are associated with negative effects on blood sugar or weight, indeed it found the opposite!
Full disclosure: more studies will need to be done to fully understand the long-term effects and explore whether other factors such as changes in plant-chemical intakes and lifestyle may explain some of this benefit attributed to fibre. More studies in non-European countries are needed too.
Eating a diet high in fibre is not only super important for our GM (gut microbiota – the trillions of microbes living inside of us), it can also be beneficial for managing diabetes and the associated risks. How? There are many different mechanisms involved including our GM’s direct impact on blood sugar regulation.
In many countries, the recommended daily fibre intake is 30g a day, but this study goes to show that this certainly isn’t a golden number. Our ancestors used to eat loads more fibre, so aiming higher (whether you have diabetes or not) seems to only be a good thing! We may well see this in updated European nutrition guidelines for managing diabetes very soon.
There are so many easy ways that I share in my book Eat Yourself Healthy & Love Your Gut, such as going for whole grains and keeping the skins on your fruit and veg. Why not start gradually increasing your fibre intake this week with some simple swaps?