As we discussed in our post on B vitamin deficiency, a gluten-free diet is critical for people with celiac disease but may also result in nutritional deficiencies if care isn’t taken to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Well, not only are B vitamins more difficult to come by, but sources of gluten-free fiber and iron are scarce as well. This is because while the general population consumes pasta, bread, cereal and other products that are fortified with vitamins and minerals, most gluten-free products are unfortified.
Fiber and iron are two important components of a healthy diet and a healthy body that are naturally present in many wheat-based foods or are added by food manufacturers in the fortification process. As much as us gluten-averse folks are quick to malign gluten-containing grains and products made with them, these foods may have been adding nutrients to our diets that we are now missing.
Fortunately, there are ample gluten-free sources of both fiber and iron. Here, we will discuss how you can put fiber and iron back into your gluten-free diet.
Gluten-Free Fiber Sources
Although not a vitamin or mineral, fiber is critical to the functioning of our gastrointestinal system as well as regulation of cholesterol and blood glucose. Even more importantly for people with celiac disease and constipation, fiber is a mostly indigestible carbohydrate that provides bulk to our bowel movements. It also slows down our absorption of sugars in the food we eat, contributes to a sensation of fullness, keeps the colon healthy, and lowers blood cholesterol. We need both soluble and insoluble fiber to keep our body functioning optimally.
Plenty of gluten-free foods contain fiber, but gluten-free processed foods such as pre-packaged gluten-free breads, muffins, cookies, crackers, and cereals are typically very low in fiber. In fact, they tend to be even lower in fiber than their gluten-based counterparts. Fiber is also added to many gluten-based foods, such as pastas and breads. This type of nutritional enhancement is less common in gluten-free foods.
If you are basing your gluten-free diet around gluten-free pasta (even brown rice pasta, which doesn’t contain much fiber), breads, and bagels – or if your main starches are now white rice and white potatoes without their skins – you may find yourself consuming less than the recommended 25-30g of fiber per day. One of the main symptoms is likely to be constipation, but it may also have a negative effect on the stability of your blood glucose, particularly for diabetics and pre-diabetics.
Luckily, there are plenty of sources of gluten-free fiber out there, although you need to make a commitment to building fiber-rich gluten-free whole foods into every meal.
Good gluten-free foods high in fiber include beans, quinoa, millet, ground flax seeds (whole flax seeds pass undigested into the stool), berries, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes with the skin, popcorn, nuts (such as walnuts and almonds), brown rice, kale, chia seeds, broccoli, and dried fruit such as prunes.
If you aren’t able to consume enough fiber from whole foods, consider a gluten-free fiber supplement.
Sources of Gluten-Free Iron
Iron is a critical component of the structure of proteins, and it is essential to the functioning of the immune system, the production of energy, and both cell growth and differentiation. It is truly integral to many vital life processes. Unfortunately, iron can pose a problem for people with celiac disease for 2 potential reasons.
First, celiac disease can cause iron malabsorption which may not heal quickly even after a gluten-free diet is adopted. Malabsorption can persist for quite some time and can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies in people with celiac disease.
Iron-deficiency anemia is also an indirect risk of a gluten-free diet in some cases. Gluten-containing foods are often fortified with iron, so typical non-celiac Americans can rely on getting some of their iron requirements met through gluten-containing foods that are off-limits to celiacs. When you switch to a gluten-free diet, your iron consumption from processed foods is reduced. Children, in particular, tend to get quite a bit of their iron intake from cereals so when switching a child to a gluten-free diet you must be extra vigilant about iron levels.
Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, mouth soreness and cracks and insomnia. Iron supplementation can be useful, although caution should be taken to avoid overdosing, as excess iron can be toxic. Iron supplements are best taken in conjunction with Vitamin C and should not be taken with a calcium-rich meal in order to optimize absorption. Similarly, iron-rich foods are best consumed with Vitamin C-rich foods to promote absorption.
Finding good sources of gluten-free iron is a really important step you must take. Good sources include chicken and beef liver, oysters, beef, poultry, tuna, soybeans, lentils and other beans, spinach and some dried fruits.