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Fiber Good, and Not Just for Your Gut

Studies Show Fiber Fights Heart Disease, Diabetes
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Fiber Fights Diabetes in Overweight/Obese People

People who are overweight are at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, the most common kind. Fiber might help, suggests Martin O. Weickert, MD, of the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Germany. Weickert noted that people who eat a lot of cereal fibers, such as bran, are less likely to get diabetes.

His research team studied 17 overweight or obese women. For three days, three times a day, the women ate some white bread. Half the women got plain white bread. The other half got bread spiked with 10.4 grams of oat fiber.

Over time, the bodies of overweight people become less and less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. This lack of sensitivity results in diabetes in some people. Weickert and colleagues found that the women who ate the oat fiber over the short three-day time period became significantly more sensitive to insulin.

What's going on? Cereal fiber is also called insoluble fiber. It can't be digested, but it does give bulk to the stool. That's good in and of itself. But Weickert suggests that increased insoluble fiber leads to more fermentation at the lower end of the bowels. This might set off a chain reaction that changes the way their body responds to insulin.

The molecular mechanisms leading to improved insulin sensitivity after consumption of insoluble cereal fibers are not clear at present," Weickert tells WebMD.

He's planning a larger clinical trial to answer this and other questions.

Weickert's study appears in the April issue of Diabetes Care.

Where to Find Fiber

People need both insoluble fiber and soluble fiber, Bonci says.

"You have to mix it up. Don't put all your bran in one box," she says. "Foods tend to have both. Apples, for example, have insoluble fiber in their skins and soluble fiber in their flesh. So foods are a better way to get fiber than supplements. You get the whole package with foods."

Foods with a lot of soluble fiber include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes (peas, beans, and lentils)
  • Apple
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries

Foods packed with insoluble fibers include:

  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals
  • Wheat bran
  • Seeds
  • Many vegetables, including carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, celery, and tomatoes
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