Fiber is important to health and this post will focus on gluten-free fiber choices only. If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity and are on a gluten-free diet, you may need to think about boosting your fiber intake. Actually, most of us should add more fiber to our diets – for a variety of heath-enhancing reasons.
First things first – what exactly is fiber, anyway? Fiber is the Cinderella* of the plant world. It does your internal housecleaning.
According to Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, fibers are the nonstarch polysaccharides that are not digested by human digestive enzymes, although some are digested by GI tract bacteria. Fibers include cellulose, hemicelluloses, pectins, gums, and mucilages and the nonpolysaccharides lignins, cutins, and tannins.
You don't need to remember the sciency words or confusing details, what's important is that we get lots of fiber from the foods we eat – about 25 to 35 grams per day.
Let’s look at the different types of fiber and what their actions are in the body. You’ve probably heard the terms soluble and insoluble fiber, but all that really means is how soluble, or dissolvable, they are in water. The effects of these two fiber types don’t divide neatly along the lines of solubility, but for general health purposes, that’s how they’ve been classified.
Soluble fibers and action on the body Delays GI transit, which benefits digestive disorders. Delays glucose absorption, which benefits people with diabetes and also helps prevent it. Lowers blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad one), which reduces the risk of heart disease. Hooray, bravo, yippee! Very good stuff. Now, were do we find it?
Where to find soluble fiber Oranges, apples, flax seeds, nuts, legumes, certified gluten-free oats (if you and your doctor determine you can tolerate GF oats - not everyone can)
Insoluble fibers and action in the body Moves bulk (poo is the scientific word) through the system and prevents constipation (we don't want any part of that). Helps control the pH balanace in the intestines, which is a good thing. Helps remove toxic waste and who's opposed to that!? It's not like we want to save it for later. Helps protect against colon cancer. So, soluble or insoluble, it's all good stuff.
Where to find insoluble fiber Dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, cabbage, carrots, seeds, nuts, Brussels sprouts
Whole grains provide fiber as well, but we’re only interested in gluten-free whole grains. Here’s a list of good grain choices with the fiber shown in grams per cup.
Gluten-free grains grams of fiber in 1 cup of grain Amaranth 18 Buckwheat 17 Corn meal 10 Flax seed 43 Millet 17 Oats (GF) 16.5 Quinoa 11.9 Rice (brown) 6.5 Rice (white) 2.4 Rice (wild) 9.9 Sorghum 12.1 Teff 15.4
To sum it up, fresh fruits and veggies, and some gluten-free grains contain fiber. Add fiber slowly as increasing intake too quickly can cause intestinal discomfort – add a little extra each day until you’ve reached your goal. Drink plenty of water. I’m talking LOTS of water, at least 8 to 10 glasses per day. And get some exercise! Strengthening abdominal core muscles and toning your GI tract helps everything flow along the way it’s suppose to. Now, go forth and eat your fiber! It’s good for you.
* Cinderella – according to my online dictionary, the word Cinderella describes a person or thing (fiber, maybe) of unrecognized or disregarded merit or beauty.
In good health, Melissa
Disclaimer: All material is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.