How To Get Enough Fiber When You Can't Eat Gluten

How To Get Enough Fiber When You Can't Eat Gluten

You don't need grains to get enough fiber. Blend Images/Getty Images

There are lots of good reasons to get plenty of fiber in your diet, and tons of recommendations out there explaining how to do it.

But so many of those recommendations seem to involve "eat more healthy whole grains!" ... and that's just not helpful to those of us with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, since those whole grains most often involve the gluten grain wheat. There are some gluten-free whole grain products on the market, but they generally don't offer huge amounts of fiber.

But there's a silver lining to our fibery dilemma: some recent medical studies have hinted that fiber from vegetables and legumes may be more important to our overall good health than fiber from whole grains. So you may be better off, health-wise, getting fiber from veggies and beans than those who get their daily fiber by downing a huge bowl of Toasted Mega-Bran cereal.

You're supposed to get so much daily fiber — 38 grams for men, 25 grams for women — that the daily task seems pretty daunting, especially since you, a celiac or someone who's gluten-sensitive, obviously can't eat that bowl of Toasted Mega-Bran for breakfast. At best, getting enough fiber seems like a chore. At worst, it seems impossible.

But I'm here to tell you it's not impossible ... not at all. In fact, getting your fiber can be fun, because good food is fun and lots of fiber-filled foods are good. Click on for 15 fantastic ideas to incorporate fiber into your diet easily and tastily.

Beans Come First. Make Them Safe.

When it comes to fiber, those aforementioned "healthy whole grains" usually are first on every list, followed by beans. But here at Gluten-Free Headquarters, we're moving beans up to the top of our list.

Beans of many varieties are loaded with fiber — a cup of black beans, pinto beans or kidney beans provides nearly 20 grams. Garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas) get you 12 grams a cup, while green peas are more than 13 grams a cup.

If you're going for a fiber one-two punch, then you need to know that lentils, lima beans, and butter beans will only get you partway there: they contain half the fiber or less than some of their legume cousins. Nonetheless, they're still great dietary choices (and can add plenty of flavor to your dinner plate).

But whatever bean you choose, you should know that beans can contain high levels of gluten cross-contamination ... so you need to choose wisely. Here's some advice on how to find safe beans:

Turnip Greens? Kale? Swiss Chard? Yes!

Greens provide plenty of fiber. John Burke/Getty Images

When people think of health food, they often think of kale and kale's sister greens: turnip greens, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and beet tops. Unfortunately, the next thought in some peoples' minds is "yuck."

Kale and its relatives are the epitome of everything people love and hate about healthy eating ... which is sad, because they not only can provide oodles of fiber (between eight and 14 grams per cooked cup), they also can be incredibly flavorful.

Spinach salad with gluten-free bacon? Sign me up — a large, dinner-sized salad will get you between eight and 10 grams of fiber (and a delicious meal).

Coconut: A Fiber Powerhouse

Coconut contains tons of fiber. HD Connelly/Getty Images

Coconut has a lot of fiber ... some seven grams per cup. If you eat the entire coconut (not necessarily recommended, at least if you're not currently living on a deserted tropical island), a single coconut will provide all the daily fiber you need, plus some.

So how can we use coconut (short of eating the whole thing raw, of course)? In plenty of ways, actually. We can toss shredded coconut onto salads, fruit or puddings (two tablespoons gets you seven grams of fiber), we can use coconut flour to bake (half a cup has almost 30 grams of fiber), or we can make delicious cookies.

If you're looking for something you don't have to cook, Jennies Macaroons (one of my favorite sweet snacks) even contain some fiber: about three grams per two macaroon cookies. Just don't overdo it, as most varieties are also loaded with sugar.

Gluten-Free Fiber Goodness from Corn on the Cob

Corn on the cob contains lots of fiber. Ian O'Leary/Getty Images

Few people think of corn as a grain (most believe it's a vegetable). But it is from the grain family, and honestly, you can't get much more whole grain than just-shucked corn on the cob.

Freshly-shucked corn is just about perfectly gluten-free (yes, corn does have a form of gluten, but not the kind that makes us sick). And one ear has five grams of fiber. So if you down two or three ears at a cookout, that's 10 to 15 grams of fiber — a respectable amount.

Artichokes: A Surprisingly Tasty Source of Fiber

Artichokes: An Unusual Fiber Source. Bernd Lippert/Getty Images

I'll bet you didn't think of artichokes when I mentioned fiber. That's okay — I didn't think of them either at first. But it turns out these spiky vegetables are a decent source of the fibrous stuff (perfectly gluten-free, of course).

One artichoke gets you nearly five grams of fiber, while a small handful of artichoke hearts tossed in your salad will provide seven or eight grams.

Broccoli: Fiber Plus Other Health Benefits

Broccoli offers 10 grams of fiber per cup. Tetra Images/Getty Images

I'm not going to bug you to eat your broccoli, but you should know there are numerous good reasons to do so ... not the least of those reasons, broccoli's fiber punch.

The cute green stalks contain close to 10 grams of fiber per cooked cup, ranking them high among green vegetables for fibrous content.

And broccoli is versatile — you can eat it raw with salad or dips (or even with gluten-free salsa), or blend it into soups or your favorite gluten-free pasta dish.

Yams Provide A Sweet Way To Get Your Fiber

Yam on left, sweet potato on right. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Do you know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? Although the names are used virtually interchangeably in grocery stores, the two gluten-free foods (from completely unrelated plants, no less) differ in important ways ... not the least of which is in their fiber content.

A sweet potato (the orange tuber you're probably more accustomed to seeing in your local supermarket) actually has less fiber than a true yam: three grams of fiber for the medium-sized sweet potato, compared to five grams for the same sized yam.

Yams also come in different colors, including white and purple. Their skin looks like tree bark, and they're a starchier, more fibrous vegetable — plus, believe it or not, they're sweeter than sweet potatoes. Recipes for sweet potatoes will work for yams. Just don't eat yams raw, as (like many root vegetables) they're toxic that way.

If you can't find yams, go with sweet potatoes — they may not have quite as much fiber, but they're still a healthy choice.

Apples and Pears Pair Well

Put them together and get 12 grams of fiber. Andrew Unangst/Getty Images

You probably realize that fruit is filled with fiber. Of course, some fruits have more fiber than others. So if you want a real one-two punch, consider apples and pears.

Both apples and pears contain about four grams of fiber per each piece of fruit. Combine them in an apple-pear salad or for a snack, and you're well on your way to meeting your day's allotment of fiber.

You also can consider grilling your apples and pears, which gives them a unique, smoky-sweet flavor while still preserving their fiber content.

Cauliflower 'Rice' or Just Cauliflower ... Whichever Works

Cauliflower offers lots of fiber ... and color. Westend61/Getty Images

Many people who follow the gluten-free diet also avoid grains or eat low-carb. For you (and for everyone else) I offer this low-carb, grain-free rice substitute made of cauliflower:

Not only does this simple recipe provide the perfect white rice substitute for low-carbers and those not eating grains, it boosts your daily fiber intake: one large head of cauliflower contains 21 grams of fiber and makes up to eight cups of "rice." You can use it wherever you planned to use rice.

For an even more interesting twist on "rice," try using purple or orange cauliflower ... or even a combination of both.

Of course, if you don't feel like doing the prep work involved in cauliflower rice, you can skip the rice part and just eat cauliflower — it's got 2.5 grams of fiber per cup, regardless of color.

Use Brown Rice or Wild Rice To Boost Fiber

Brown and wild rice have more fiber. David Marsden/Getty Images

As you probably know, white rice doesn't have much fiber -- just a little more than half a gram in a cup. At that rate, you'd need to eat 50 cups of rice (or more!) to get your daily allotment.

That's the bad news. The good news is, brown rice and wild rice have considerably more fiber: some 3.5 grams per cup. Although they're not up there with some of our top vegetables (artichokes, you don't need to worry), these more fibrous forms of rice can provide a nice lift towards your daily fiber goals if you sub them for white rice. We mix them together before cooking at home, and almost always have some on hand.

Lundberg Rice has several varieties of brown and wild rice, all gluten-free. Learn more about choosing safe rice here: Is ALL Rice Gluten-Free? (Sometimes It's Not!)

You also can consider buying some gluten-free rice bran (Bob's Red Mill makes it) — you can sprinkle it on cereal and even salads, and add it to muffins and other baked goods. Rice bran contains 18 grams of fiber per cup.

Celery: Fiber, and Not Just for Dips

Make soup or salad out of celery. Tobias Titz/Getty Images

From the crunchiness of raw celery, you'd probably think it has lots of fiber ... and you'd be right: raw celery contains eight grams of fiber per cup.

Gluten-Free Fiber Runners-Up: Carrots, Asparagus, Beets, Berries

Carrots and asparagus can add fiber. Janeanne Gilchrist/Getty Images

And those are just some of the biggest gluten-free fiber sources — gluten-free foods where you can easily knock off a third or even more of your fiber needs for the day. But obviously, you'll find some fiber in many, many foods. Here are a couple of runners-up, plus how to use them:

  • Carrots. These orange root vegetables contain 3.5 grams of fiber per half cup. Eat them raw, steamed or sauteed, perhaps in a stir-fry dish.
  • Asparagus. This is my favorite vegetable. Asparagus has multiple health benefits, including about 1.5 grams of fiber per half cup. As with carrots, you can eat fresh stalks raw (choose the tender, thinner ones), or steam, boil or sauté them.
  • Beets. These are fun, once you get the hang of working with them, and they've got nearly four grams of fiber per cup.
  • Berries. All are delicious (I'd have trouble choosing a favorite). Blackberries and raspberries may be the most fibrous, with four grams of fiber per half cup. Blueberries contain about two grams of fiber per half cup, while strawberries and cherries contain a little more than one gram. If you can find them, try boisonberries (3.5 grams per half cup) or loganberries (four grams per half cup).

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