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A Little More Fiber Can Help You Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes



More and more children and adolescents are considered overweight or even obese, leading to a related rise in the cases of insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and type 2 diabetes among children. This is usually attributed to the amount of sugar in their diets combined with the poor quality carbohydrates they eat.

Latino kids are even more at risk of overweight and obesity than white kids: 40% of Latino boys and 37% of Latina girls are overweight compared to 35% of white boys and 32% of white girls. In Los Angeles, about 30% of Latino children are on their way to developing type 2 diabetes, alarming researchers at the Keck Medical School at the University of Southern California.

As part of a larger study, Latino Adolescents at Risk of Diabetes, the researchers recruited 85 Latino boys and girls between the ages 8 and 13 who were clinically overweight for their age and had at least one family member with type 2 diabetes (Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90(5):1160-6). At the start of the study their whole-body fat and soft lean tissue amounts were measured using highly accurate equipment and the amount of fat in their abdomen and around their internal organs was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The children also received glucose tolerance tests.

(Why was their abdominal fat measured, when the scientists already knew the children were overweight? Having more body fat in the abdomen – being apple-shaped as opposed to pear-shaped – is by itself a risk factor for diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This is true even when a person is of normal weight.)

Twice each year for the following two years, the children (with their parents) responded to detailed interviews regarding their diet. At the end of the two year period, the clinical tests were repeated and the children's diets were compared with those results, adjusted for the children's change in age.

The researchers had theorized that those children who decreased the amount of sugar they ate and increased their fiber would have less abdominal fat and have better glucose scores. But they were wrong: changes in the children's sugar intake had no effect on their glucose scores. Only increases in the amount of fiber the child ate. What's really significant is that eating more fiber – as little as about 3 grams per 1000 calories in the child's diet – reduced the amount of fat in their abdomen along with improving their glucose scores.

What this means for you

If your recommended daily caloric intake is about 1500 calories per day (which is what is often recommended for children under fourteen, as well), that means that getting just 5 or 6 more grams of fiber per day can help you reduce your risk of diabetes. That's about a half a cup of beans or three slices of your average whole-wheat bread (although some brands have more; check the label). Here's a column I wrote early this year about getting the best quality starches (read: more fiber) in your diet: Dr. Tim Says... Practical Starch Choices

First posted: November 25, 2009