By deciding to follow a gluten free diet, you lost something far more important than just some of your favorite foods. You lost the sources of most of your fiber.
But what’s so good about fiber, and why do you need it?
Fiber doesn’t serve one function specifically – it’s helpful for many reasons. In fact, it can help prevent a number of immune and gastrointestinal complications.
Interestingly, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 20-35 grams, but the average American’s intake is just 10-12 grams. So, deficiency is common in most Americans – and because celiac puts grains, cereals, and flours off-limits, it makes your job that much harder.
Fiber reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, controls high blood pressure and cholesterol lipid levels (the core component that determines your cholesterol), stabilizes weight, controls blood sugar, makes the immune system healthier, helps proper bowel function, and reduces constipation and diverticulosis, a disease of the colon.
Clearly a lack of fiber creates a serious health risk.
To help you reach your RDA in fiber (20-35 grams) and to help you protect yourself against some of the health problems described above, here are 7 suggestions to get more fiber on your gluten free diet:
- Eat a cup of nuts as a snack each day. Almonds (unblanched, or with the skins, are best), peanuts, and pecans have the highest fiber value of all nuts. A cup of each will gives you 15, 12, and 10 grams, respectively.
- Add berries to cereal, smoothies, or yogurt. My favorite types are blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. All natural and delicious – and they have 8, 4, 8, and 4 grams of fiber, respectively. And they all work great in cereal, smoothies, or yogurt.
- Add flax seed to your recipes and routine. For best fiber absorption, flax seed should be ground or milled, and stored in the refrigerator after it’s opened. Flax seed is also very high in omega 3 fatty acids, another key nutrient that is lacking in people with celiac disease. It goes well in cereal, salads, or yogurt. And for the gluten free bakers out there – you can add it to muffins, cookies, breads, pancakes, or waffles. Because they mesh so well, one easy way is to add it to any gluten free recipe that contains rice bran.
- Choose cereals with 3 or more grams of fiber per serving. With so many options for gluten free cereal emerging, it’s tempting to go for the big brands. For example, Kellogg’s just announced their new Rice Krispies Gluten Free, which I’m sure will be delicious when it comes out in June, but with just one gram of fiber, it won’t be your most nutritious option. I recommend Nature’s Path’s Mesa Sunrise with 3 grams of fiber, or even better, Enjoy Life Foods Perky’s Crunchy Flax with 6.
- Add beans to salads, soup, or as a side dish to other meals. Beans are a fantastic source of fiber, but a little less attractive to add to your regular diet. I understand – but don’t make assumptions without trying them first. Beans are THE most fiber-dense food there is. One to two cups of beans per day will get you to your RDA: cranberry beans (18g), pinto beans (15g), garbanzo beans (13g), kidney beans (13g), navy beans (12g), white beans (11g), or soy beans (10g) are all great options.
- Eat more veggies at and between meals. I’ve written a lot about the benefits of dark green, leafy veggies (see 3 Gluten-Free Carbs for a More Complete Diet). Peas (9g per cup), green beans (8g), and broccoli (5g) are great options, but if you don’t like green veggies, here are a few other options: squash (9g), parsnips (6g), or carrots (5g).
- Eat fresh fruit with skins and seeds. Try raisins (7g), dried apricots (6g), apples (4g), cooked rhubarb (5g), or figs (5g). Just like I said with beans – don’t judge before you try. Test your assumptions. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Again, remember the magic number: 20-35 grams. That’s what you’re going for each day.
Like our friend Elizabeth Smith at ManageCeliac.com says, start little and try a few new foods at a time or you’ll get overwhelmed – over time you’ll see what works for you, and you’ll end up living a lot healthier and more nutritious life.
If you have preconceived notions about certain types of foods like figs or beans, test your assumptions before writing them off. It can make a big difference in your long-term quest to live a nutritious, gluten free life.
What other suggestions do you have to get more fiber as a part of your gluten free diet? Would love to hear them in the comments below!