Whenever I meet a patient who is new to starting a gluten-free diet, the first food I hear they are eating is rice. Rice cereal for breakfast, rice cakes for lunch, white rice for dinner. It's safe, it's bland, it's the perfect food for going gluten-free.
The problem is, you can get tired of rice pretty quickly.
Besides, regular white rice and white rice products are low in fiber, and if they are replacing foods like whole grain cereal and whole wheat bread, you may be eating a diet much lower in fiber than before you started this gluten-free journey.
What is fiber and why is it important?
Dietary fiber is a substance found in plant products that gives the plant structure. Foods high in fiber, then, have more bulk and structure than foods low in fiber. This is good for the human body because you cannot digest it; instead, your digestive tract sends it on through to the large intestine and out with waste products, or stays and ferments in the large intestine, adding healthy bacteria to your system.
Dietary fiber benefits can be summarized as helping to:
You can find more good information about fiber benefits here from the Mayo Clinic and here from The Nutrition Source at Harvard.
What does this have to do with non-celiac gluten sensitivity? A gluten-free diet can potentially be low in fiber. As mentioned, white rice is a common substitute for wheat in the diet, and is also a common ingredient in gluten-free products such as breads, crackers, cereals, and snack foods. That often leads to a very low fiber intake. Most Americans already eat less than half of the recommended amount of fiber daily, so taking away whole wheat and whole grain products in your diet could make the problem worse.
Of course, fiber is not found just in whole wheat products, so the solution is easy. Fiber is found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. A plant-based diet filled with these food groups can contain the 20-30 grams of fiber you need per day. Try these great high fiber foods!
Sometimes it helps to have a tangible example. Here’s what a day might look like with adequate fiber:
As always, make sure your oats, nuts, and seeds are gluten-free. Then, start to add fiber-rich foods slowly, one serving at a time, until you are eating fiber at every meal. Be sure to increase your water intake as well, drinking about ½ cup with each meal and 8 cups per day.
Gluten-free and high fiber can both be a manageable part of your life!
What does a dietitian, nutritionist, and health professional do when she discovers she has to avoid gluten? I mean, avoid it to prevent painful symptoms, not to follow a trend!