When I was diagnosed with celiac disease in April 2012, I knew little about nutrition. In my quest to feel normal, I filled my plate with gluten-free packaged foods. I ate gluten-free cookies, gluten-free breads and gluten-free pastas, all products that were devoid of any redeeming qualities and certainly no fiber.
I learned that a lot of people suffering from celiac disease or gluten sensitivities also were not getting enough fiber in their diets. Mainstay fiber sources, like wheat, rye and barley, were now off limits, robbing us of the usual fiber sources prevalent in today’s Standard American Diet.
Fiber, however, is essential to lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease, maintaining a healthy digestive system and sustaining a healthy weight. That’s why those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities need to make sure they’re getting plenty of fiber in their diet every day.
Last week I attended a nutrition seminar at Sprouts Farmers Market in Denver (Yale and Colorado Blvd.). Sprouts brought in its nutrition partner, Suzanne Farrell, to talk about how food can help us maintain a healthy heart. Sprouts provided me with a goodie bag filled with heart-healthy treats as well as a Sprouts gift card in exchange for attending the event and writing this blog post.
Feeling inspired by the Sprouts seminar, I wanted to spend some time talking about the importance of heart-healthy fiber in your diet, specifically how those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities can ensure they are getting enough of it in their gluten-free diets.
The best sources of fiber comes from naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. When you eat naturally gluten-free foods, fiber is rarely of concern. Whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, sorghum and certified gluten-free oats are also excellent sources of fiber.
Sprouts nutrition partner, Suzanne Farrell, says you should strive to get at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day – the target amount is 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories in your diet. Of course, you are a unique individual – so you should adjust these amounts depending on your age, gender, lifestyle and digestive strength. For example, if you are suffering from bloating and gas, perhaps gradually adding a little fiber to your diet over time will strengthen your digestive system as you build up to higher levels of fiber intake.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is a nondigestible carbohydrate, which means the enzymes in your body cannot break down the fiber in the food you eat. Fiber aids in slowing digestion and helping you feel fuller longer. In contrast, when you eat a non-fiber grain, like white rice flour, the flour is quickly digested in the form of sugar, giving you energy spikes and then leaving you feeling hungry an hour later. Fiber is therefore essential to helping you maintain a healthy weight and even blood sugar.
The nutrition community classifies fiber in two categories, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber is the kind of fiber that turns to gel in water like chia seeds, oats, flax seeds and psyllium. Soluble fiber soaks up water and things like cholesterol and sugar as it runs through your digestive track. It is responsible for helping your stools stay soft as they exit your bowels. Soluble fiber also is known to help lower your LDL cholesterol, which can help in the fight against heart disease (Farrell says a good way to remember LDL is the bad type of cholesterol is to think of the “L” standing for “loser” – clever!)
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, does not turn to a gel-like substance in water. Its job is to get things moving through the digestive tract as well as giving your stool bulk. Sources of insoluble fiber are found in vegetables and whole grains.
Best Sources of Fiber
Are you wondering what to eat so you get enough fiber in your diet? Below are the some of the best sources of dietary fiber that will help keep your digestive tract healthy and happy:
Whole Fruits and Vegetables: Load up on these fiber-rich and naturally gluten-free fresh fruits and veggies. They are not only packed with fiber, but also they contain nutrients your body needs to maintain good health. Grab those berries to not only get fiber, but also to benefit from those natural disease fighting properties contained in fruits and vegetables. (BTW, any fruit that ends in “berry” is so good for you, so eat up!)
Whole Grains: You can enjoy the exciting world of gluten-free whole grains including brown rice, oat (certified gluten-free), buckwheat and sorghum. Whole grains are slowly digested, helping you feel full longer. A little goes a long way in meeting your fiber needs for the day.
Nuts and Seeds: Get your fiber (and omega-3 fatty acids) on when you load up on things like pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts. Sprinkle flax or chia seeds on your oatmeal or cereal each morning to add an extra boost of fiber to your diet.
Beans: Beans, also known as the musical fruit, are loaded with fiber. I enjoy bean pastas like the one pictured below from Explore Asian that I purchased at Sprouts. Yum!
Lentils: I love love love me some lentils. They are so good for you and cheap – you can make a meal for 10 people for less than a few bucks! My lentil soup recipe is a favorite around my house.
Garbanzo Beans: Yes, you gotta love those chickpeas because they are delicious and they offer up a fantastic source of dietary fiber. Try my chickpea stew recipe for a cheap, easy and amazing gluten-free and fiber-rich meal!
Something amazing happens when you add more fiber to your diet. You start eating healthier foods. Your bowel movements regulate. You may lose weight (or maintain your healthy weight). And last but not least, you may even lower your LDL (loser) cholesterol to stave off heart disease. Cheers to a healthy you!