“Gluten-Free” Doesn’t Have to Mean “Low Fiber”

Commenting on last month’s post about whole grains, a reader raised an issue that’s often overlooked: How to get enough fiber when eating gluten-free. “I’ve been looking for more fiber in foods,” she wrote, “and find that often, but not always, whole grain labeled foods have more of it.” Gluten-free choices, she added, “typically have little fiber in them.”

And that’s true – but only insofar as you think of grains as your main source of fiber. Gluten and fiber, however, do not go hand in hand.

Unlike gluten – a protein composite – fiber isn’t a nutrient. It’s the part of edible plants that we can’t digest (“roughage”), yet it affects how nutrients are absorbed and the composition of gut flora. Most known for promoting regular bowel movements (keeping a person “regular”), it’s also been shown to lower cholesterol, normalize blood glucose and insulin levels, and reduce risk of some cancers.

Only some edible plants contain gluten, but all contain fiber. This leaves you with an incredibly diverse selection of foods!

Colorful vegetables and fruitsRather than looking for gluten-free grain-based products, look to fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as legumes (beans, peas), nuts and seeds.

Eating a wide variety of these foods can ensure a healthy fiber intake (a minimum of 25 grams daily is generally recommended). Some, of course, deliver more fiber than others. One serving of white beans, for instance, gives you almost a whole day’s worth: 19 grams! Individual vegetables and fruits can range from 2 or 3 grams per serving to more than 10. Mix a variety together with salad greens, and again, you’ve met a good part of the recommended daily intake.

You can learn much more about these gluten-free, high-fiber foods here.

When you have any kind of food sensitivity that makes you define your diet by what you can’t have, it can be all too easy to overlook the wealth of things you can. Focusing more on the latter, you may find yourself depending less on finding analogs to replace foods you miss – gluten-free bread or pasta, for instance – and enjoying the adventure of discovering new foods you like and that deliver the nutrition you need.

Image by 365 Dias que Acalmaram o Mundo, via Flickr

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