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Fiber, Sugar, & Carbohydrates - How Do They Relate to Each Other?

Fiber, Sugar & Carbohydrates – How Do They Relate to Each Other?

What is fiber and why is it a carbohydrate? Does it count as a calorie? Many people don’t know what fiber is or what it does. They often wonder why it’s grouped with the carbohydrates and if it really is a part of the total amount of grams that make up carbohydrates. Questions arise such as “Should I be watching my fiber intake along with watching my sugar intake?” and “What is the relationship between sugar and fiber?” We’ll teach you about what fiber is, what it does, and how it relates to sugar and total grams of carbohydrates on the nutrition facts label.

Carbohydrates (aka carbs) are one of the main types of nutrients; the other two are protein and fat. Carbohydrates are the easiest used form of energy for your body. When you digest carbs, your digestive system breaks them down to blood sugars (glucose) that your cells and tissues can easily take up for energy. Extra blood sugars that aren’t immediately used by the body are converted by your liver into stored sugars (glycogen) that are retained in your liver and muscles.

Types of carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates come in a variety of forms. The three most common and abundant forms are sugars (simple carbohydrates), starches (complex carbohydrates), and fiber (complex carbohydrates). When you read the total amount of carbohydrates on a nutrition label, all three forms are included.

  • Sugars are a simple carbohydrate. Simple carbs can be split into natural sugars found in fruits or milk products or added sugars, which are added during processing or baking.
  • Starches are complex carbohydrates made up of many simple sugars linked together and are broken down in the body. Starches are found in certain vegetables as well as certain breads, cereals, and other grains.
  • Fiber is a complex carbohydrate composed of sugar molecules held together by bonds that humans cannot break down. Since the body cannot break these specific bonds, you do not take in any energy when eating fibers. This affects how long it takes to digest fiber-rich foods, thus resulting in an increased feeling of fullness and satiety.  In addition, fiber slows down the digestion of other nutrients, including sugars and starches, and helps prevent large blood glucose and insulin spikes.

Types of fiber:

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Although neither soluble nor insoluble fiber can be absorbed by the body, the two types of fiber react differently when mixed with water.

  • Soluble fiber attracts water and turns into a gel-like substance when digested, which helps make you feel full. Soluble fiber has many benefits, including stabilizing blood glucose levels and lowering cholesterol. Pectins, gums, mucilages, and some hemicelluloses are types of soluble fiber. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats and oatmeal, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), barley, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water. It passes through our digestive system in close to its original form and keeps us “moving!” Insoluble fiber offers many benefits to intestinal health, including a reduction in the risk and occurrence of hemorrhoids and constipation. The scientific names for insoluble fibers include cellulose, lignins, and also some other hemicelluloses.  Most insoluble fibers come from the bran layers of cereal grains.

Moderate evidence shows that adults who eat more whole grains, particularly those higher in dietary fiber, have a lower body weight compared to adults who eat fewer whole grains.1

Most Americans fall short of the recommended amount of daily dietary fiber, consuming an average only 12 to 17 grams per day. Current recommendations suggest that children and adults consume at least 20 grams of dietary fiber per day from food, not supplements. The more calories you eat each day, the more fiber you need; teens and men may require upwards of 30 to 35 grams per day or more.2

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day and men should aim for 38 grams a day. To hit these numbers, try some of the following changes:

  1. Eat your daily goal of 5 vegetables and 4 servings of fruit each day.
  2. Try Meatless Monday and replace meat products with beans and lentils.
  3. Substitute a portion of whole wheat flour for white flour in your favorite recipe. Or give oat flour a try, like in these delicious oat flour waffles.
  4. Add bran or wheat germ to your baked goods or smoothies for a boost of fiber.
  5. Choose brown or wild rice and whole-grain pastas instead of the white or refined versions of the same grains. Don’t love the flavor of the whole grain versions? Start by using 1/4 whole grain and 3/4 white and slowly reverse the proportions.
  6. Read food labels. In order for food to be labeled “high fiber”, they must contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.3

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Published December 2010.
  2. Fiber. Harvard University School of Public Health.
  3. Types of Carbohydrates. American Diabetes Association.
  4. Fiber in Whole Grains. Oldways Whole Grains Council.


  • Dana
    4 years ago

    Very disappointed to see recommendations to diabetics to eat dangerous high carb diets. Diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance so I am clearly baffled why this is being recommended. And I should give up the *one* healthy food mentioned, meat, on Mondays? Why in the world would I do that, since unprocessed meat is the one of the healthiest foods a diabetic can eat?

    What you are recommending is dangerous and I would ask you to check your conscience and take the time to educate yourself. If you are familiar with diabetes, you damn well know the foods you recommend cause insulin spikes which cause errattic blood sugar. Every diabetic who monitors their BS knows this.

  • Kelly McNamara moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Dana,

    We really want to thank you for your feedback. We understand that each individual’s experience may not be relevant to the entire population as a whole, and what works for one person may not work for the next. We really try our best to provide a range of content to meet all segments of the community. We trust community members will determine which works best for them and consult with their healthcare team and nutritionist/dietician.

    As the American Diabetes Association recommends, a general rule of thumb is 40% carbohydrates, 20-30% protein (unless you have kidney disease) and 30-35% of your calories from fat. For some people, a lower intake of carbohydrate, 35-40% may be indicated. Choosing high fiber foods within the 40% carbohydrate recommendation is beneficial as it not only can positively impact blood glucose, but also has anti-inflammatory benefits associated with lower chronic disease risk. A meatless Monday dinner may be higher in fat to offset the carbohydrates, but also high in fiber and anti-inflammatory. We’re not advocating a vegetarian diet as best. Red meat can be part of a healthy diet in balance. You don’t need to become vegetarian to gain the health benefits of choosing the right carbohydrates that do not have their fiber removed through excess processing.

    We really do appreciate the feedback. Without everyone’s perspectives, our community wouldn’t be what it is! Thank you again.


    Kelly, Community Manager

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