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food for thought

Gluten is a protein found in the grains of wheat, barley and rye. In traditional bread made from wheat flour, gluten forms a protein network that makes dough cohesive and stretchy and gives bread that quintessentially satisfying, chewy texture.Aileen Son/The New York Times News Service

Q: I avoid eating gluten for health reasons. Without wheat, how can I get enough fibre?

Fibre can be a harder-to-get nutrient from a gluten-free diet. That’s because gluten-containing whole grains, such as wheat, rye and barley, are excellent sources of fibre.

As well, many processed gluten-free breads, crackers, cereals and snack foods are made with fibre-poor flours and refined tapioca, corn, rice and potato starches.

Removing gluten, though, doesn’t have to lead to a deficit of beneficial fibre. Here’s a guide to getting plenty of roughage from a gluten-free diet.

Why a gluten-free diet?

A gluten-free diet is a necessity for people with celiac disease, a lifelong genetically-based disorder that occurs when gluten triggers the body’s immune system to attack and damage the lining of the small intestine.

People who don’t have celiac disease but react poorly to gluten also benefit from a gluten-free diet. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, fatigue, joint pain, brain fog and headache.

Other people may drop gluten because they perceive a diet without it to be healthier than one which contains gluten. (Not necessarily true.)

Reasons to focus on fibre

A high-fibre diet is tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Fibre-rich foods may also assist in weight control by helping you feel satiated longer.

Getting enough fibre benefits digestive health, too, by helping prevent constipation and reducing the risk of diverticulitis. Diverticulitis occurs when small balloon-like pouches in the wall of the large intestine, called diverticula, become inflamed.

Eating lots of fibre also supports a healthy gut microbiome, the community of microbes that reside in our large intestine.

Daily fibre recommendations, established by the U.S.-based National Academies of Medicine, are 25 g for women ages 19 to 50 and 21 g for older women. Men, ages 19 to 50, are advised to consume 38 g of fibre each day; older men should aim for 30 g.

Fibre-packed, gluten-free foods

Whether you avoid gluten or not, the following fibre-rich foods are worthy additions to your diet. While not listed below, fruits and vegetables are, of course, gluten-free sources of fibre.

Gluten-free whole grains. Brown rice and quinoa are go-to gluten-free grains, each supplying 3 g and 5 g of fibre per one-cup cooked, respectively. There are other whole grains, though, that deliver even more fibre.

Sorghum, an ancient grain that looks like a tiny ball, delivers 9 g of fibre per one-cup cooked. It’s also a good source of iron, vitamins B6 and niacin and magnesium.

Teff, a type of millet, provides 7 g of fibre per one-cup cooked, along with 10 g of protein, plenty of magnesium and more than a day’s worth of manganese, a mineral needed for immune function and bone health.

Other high-fibre gluten-free grains include amaranth, buckwheat, millet and oats.

Enjoy cooked gluten-free grains as a hot cereal or add them to smoothie bowls. Blend cooked grains into muffin and pancake batters, toss into salads, add to grain bowls, stir into soups, stews and curries or use as a stuffing for bell peppers.

High-fibre flours. Use gluten-free flours made from amaranth, teff, quinoa, chickpeas, coconut, buckwheat and almonds for baking and cooking.

Chickpea flour offers 20 g of fibre per one-cup, as well as folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Amaranth flour, at 16 g of fibre per one-cup, is also a good source of protein (20 g per one-cup), iron and calcium. One-cup of almond flour has 12 to 16 g of fibre (depending on how finely the almonds are ground) and supplies iron, calcium and brain-friendly vitamin E.

For comparison, one-cup of whole wheat flour as 12.8 g of fibre.

Each gluten-free flour has its own properties when it comes to baking, so you may need to experiment to get the ratios right.

Pulses. Beans (e.g., black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas), lentils and dried peas deliver a hefty amount of fibre, 14 to 16 g per one-cup. So do soybeans, though technically they’re not a pulse. Serve pulses in salads, soups, chilis, stews, curries and tacos.

Alternate lower-fibre brown rice and quinoa pastas (3 g fibre per 85 g dry) with pasta made from lentils, black beans, chickpeas or edamame (9 to 20 g fibre per 85 g).

Chia seeds. All nuts and seeds provide fibre, but chia seeds stand out: 10 g per two tablespoons. Add chia to smoothies, mix into yogurt, bake into muffins, sprinkle over oatmeal and salad or make chia pudding.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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