Fiber, which is important for good health, is often lacking in a GF diet. Adequate fiber in the diet is thought to protect against heart disease, lower bad cholesterol, help fight constipation, may help control blood sugar levels, and may help our bodies absorb important minerals such as calcium. It may also help keep weight down, as foods high in fiber are usually lower in calories.
Those that must eat gluten-free can still consume a diet high in fiber, it just may require some extra thought and planning. The following is useful information for understanding what fiber is, and how to increase your daily dietary fiber intake. Two great informational sources are a booklet by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) titled Adding Fiber to Your Gluten-Free Diet and an article about whole grains in the GF diet by Shelly Case, RD.
- Fiber is the part of plant foods and whole grains that the human body cannot digest.
- Fiber is classified as soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber binds certain nutrients in the small bowel and is associated with lower cholesterol levels, improved blood sugar control and decreased risk for some cancers. Insoluble fiber attacts and holds wter in the large bowel resulting in soft and bulky stools. It improves symptoms of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, IBS, and other gastrointestinal disorders.
- Whole grains contain good fiber and nutrients. Refined or processed grains have not only less fiber, but also less vitamin and mineral content. Most of the gluten-free grain foods, such as bread, pasta, and cereals are made using refined flour or starch.
- The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture recommends getting 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1000 grams consumed.
- Clinical studies have found that fiber supplements may not be as beneficial as including fiber-rich foods in the diet. It is recommended to talk to your doctor before starting to take fiber supplements, as they can interfere with other medications and can affect blood sugar levels.
- Food labels list the dietary fiber. This figure is the sum of both soluble and insoluble fiber content. A food should have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving to be classified as high fiber.
- Fiber supplements like Citrucel and Metamucil contain surprisingly low levels of fiber - only about 3 grams a serving.
- fruits and vegetables (the skins have soluble fiber, the insides insoluble.)
- legumes like peas, soybeans, lentils, and other beans
- whole grains (see below)
- Montina (Indian rice grass)
- flax seed meal
- flax seeds
- wild rice
- millet, cracked
- brown rice
- Increase your consumption of fiber slowly or you may have excessive gas and bloating as your body adjusts.
- Limit your consumption of highly processed commercially sold gluten-free food products, and instead concentrate on the naturally high-fiber foods listed above. For example, add beans, peas, and lentils to salads, soups and salads. Replace white rice with brown rice, including in flours. Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption.
- Consult with your physician before trying any supplements. An all-natural supplement like acacia fiber may be the most appropriate supplement to boost your fiber consumption.
- Increase your fluid intake.
- The magazine Living Without gives a recipe for "High-Fiber Flour Blend" in their "Flour Substitutions" section that can be used in breads, pancakes, snack bars and some cookies.