We know fibre is critical for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome – the community of bacteria in your gut – but how do you get enough fibre when gluten is not an option? Report by Leanne Mitchell, accredited practising dietitian, and Microba microbiome coach.
It seems more and more Australians are avoiding gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. Fad diets aside, some people need to remove or reduce gluten for health reasons. The most common reasons people avoid gluten are coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is a condition that occurs when gluten produces an abnormal immune reaction, damaging the intestinal tract and impacting nutrient absorption. For a small number of people suffering from coeliac disease, removing gluten is the only treatment to improve the condition and heal their intestinal wall1
Why can’t you have gluten? Is there another culprit?
While those with coeliac disease must completely remove gluten, research has shown that often people who think they are gluten sensitive (NCGS) are actually reacting to fructans. Fructans are a fermentable carbohydrate found in some grains and vegetable products and can be the cause of gut discomfort in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
It can be easy to understand why people might confuse a fructan intolerance with gluten sensitivity, as fructans and gluten are found together in wheat products such as bread and pasta. Understanding the cause of your symptoms is important and prevents unnecessarily restricting your diet. Overly restrictive diets can impact health and nutrition, but also importantly for your gut health, can reduce your fibre intake. Fibre intake is key to a healthy gut microbiome!
What’s the deal with fibre?
We’ve all been told that fibre is important for keeping yourself regular, but a specific category of fibres called prebiotics, are especially important to the gut microbiome. Prebiotics are found in a variety of foods such as grains and cereals, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes. Prebiotics provide your fibre munching bacteria with fuel to produce beneficial by-products such as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) with anti-inflammatory effects Eating a variety of prebiotic fibre sources helps feed a variety of beneficial bacteria and is linked to better health8.
How to get fibre in when gluten is out!
Avoiding gluten can led to lower fibre intake due to reduced intake of grains and cereals items. In fact, restricting gluten has been shown to reduce the good bacteria and their associated beneficial anti-inflammatory by-products9. But fibre is available in all plant-based foods and there is an array of gluten free grain options available. So gluten free does not need to equal low fibre!
Regardless of your ability to eat gluten, everyone should aim for two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables per day to meet fibre and nutritional requirements. Including legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet is another great way to increase and diversify dietary fibre as well as providing heart healthy fats and protein. When it comes to gluten free grains, try to avoid highly processed options with added sugars or fats. Instead, look for wholegrain versions or products that include nuts and seeds to help increase the fibre content. Gluten free grain alternatives include:
- Brown rice
- Buckwheat flour and groats
- Oats (not a suitable alternative for individuals with coeliac disease)
- Sorghum flour
- Legumes and legume flour (note this gluten free option may cause digestive symptoms in people with IBS and requires individualised management).
- Green banana flour.
So those who are gluten free don’t despair… adequate and diverse fibre is achievable!
The Carousel would like to thank Leanne Mitchell, accredited practising dietitian, and Microba microbiome coach.