I am going to jump right in here and say that I am not a health professional. And I LOVE sweet treats far more than I should. However, I do share the struggles and concerns of many coeliacs to eat reasonably healthily on a gluten free diet. And I am so aware of how hard that can feel sometimes when many products that are marketed specifically for those who are gluten free are made from refined starches and sugar. So, I thought I would share a few of the strategies that I use to make my family’s diet healthier and more fibre-full.
1. Swop carbs for higher fibre grains
The default gluten free carbs in a Western diet are white rice and potatoes and these do provide cheap carb options which can be helpful when eating gluten free can be expensive. However, for more fibre, you could swop these for higher fibre carbs at least some of the time. Good options include brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and corn.
2. Use chia seeds, linseeds and psyllium husk as the gluten replacer in breads
Chia seeds, linseeds and psyllium husk make great gluten replacers in homemade gluten free bread. I usually use them in combination with each other or with another ingredient like eggs for best results. Using these ingredients does make for a more wholegrainy taste so might not be your best option if you really love white bread.
3. Choose higher fibre gluten free pasta, such as wholegrain or pulse pasta
A lot of gluten free pastas are made from white rice or corn and I find these to be good options when serving gluten free pasta dishes to gluten eaters as the taste is often closer to regular gluten pasta. However, for more fibre consider one of the many gluten free wholegrain or pulse pastas that seem to be available. I find it best to use these with generous amounts of sauce when first getting used to the taste and love that you can match the taste of the pasta to the rest of your dish.
4. Bake with higher fibre flours
For an easy way to increase fibre intake on the gluten free diet, look for recipes that make use of higher fibre flours or experiment with substitutions of your own. Sometimes brown rice flour can be used in place of white rice flour without too much effect on final flavour and texture
(although this does depend on the individual bake). Coconut flour and almond meal can give a fibre boost to sweet baking and there are many high fibre flours that can be included in delicious gluten free breads, including flours made from buckwheat, sorghum, millet, and a variety of pulses such as chickpeas.
5. Add pulses to lunch and dinner
Pulses include beans, lentils and peas, all of which can make great additions to lunch or dinner. I often add a can or two of beans to one pot dinners, and mince-based meals can be bulked out with lentils with minimal change to the final taste and texture. Lentils or beans can also be a great addition to some salads, and we enjoy beans blitzed into soups. Or, alternatively, scrap the meat and make lentils or beans the star of a vegetarian dinner!
6. Have a vegetable with lunch if you don’t already
This is probably the tip I have found easiest to implement of all those listed here. When I am organised, this might mean ensuring there is enough leftover coleslaw for lunch from the previous night’s dinner or making a salad. However, on busy days (read most days!), we just have a carrot, piece of cucumber or tomato alongside whatever else we’re having for lunch. For kids, one way to increase lunchtime vegetables is to make a big platter with protein, carbs and a few veggie options and then leave them to choose – it is rare that anything is left over when I do that for my kids!
7. Snack on popcorn or higher fibre crackers
Snack time can be a great opportunity to include more fibre in your diet. I love popcorn (it was all I could eat for a long time whilst pregnant with my twins) and there are many higher fibre gluten free cracker options available. For example, try swapping regular white rice crackers with crackers that include brown rice in the ingredients or experiment with seed-based crackers to see if you like any of them.
8. Snack on fruit and vegetables
As I just said, snack time can be a great opportunity for fibre. Whole pieces of fruit and some vegetables are very easy and transportable options, including apples, bananas, carrots and tomatoes or try veggie sticks and slices. For more fibre, add in a bean or nut based dip, such as hummus. This isn’t to everyone’s taste (including mine!) but my kids also love peas and sweetcorn for a snack – some prefer it frozen straight from the freezer whilst others prefer them warmed first in the microwave but either way it is a cheap, easy option for me as a parent!
9. Choose fruit-based desserts
This is probably the tip here that I follow least often – chocolate is a big weakness for me! However, there are great fruit-based desserts that will increase your fibre intake more than most chocolatey options. We particularly enjoy fruit crumbles, but also enjoy mixed fruit salads or ‘treat’ fruit (those that are seasonal or too expensive to have often) as is, such as strawberries, watermelon and grapes.
10. Add hidden veg to dinner
There are many people who are far more expert than me in adding hidden veg to dinner. However, the variation of this I use most often is grated carrots, which can be a great way to thicken and add veg/fibre to curries and mince-based dishes. I am also a big fan of not-so-hidden-but-cheap-and-easy frozen spinach chunks, which I add to nacho sauce, curries, bean soups and bolognaise-style dishes.
11. Thicken sauces with higher fibre flours
This is one I discovered by accident! I had a bag of a bean flour in the pantry and just couldn’t figure out a use for it until I realised that the flavour actually worked well when used in small amounts to help thicken meaty-saucy dishes. If that isn’t for you, another option is to try using brown rice flour in place of cornflour or white rice flour for thickening sauces and in white sauce. You might need to experiment with this substitution and start with some brown rice flour in addition to your regular flour/starch.
12. Have fruit or veggies with breakfast
This is another tip that I love but am not always very good at implementing in the busy-ness of family life. This can include including a piece of fruit with breakfast, sprinkling fruit on to your breakfast or using it as a sweetener (I use blitzed dates and raisins to sweeten rice porridge for breakfast sometimes), or including tomatoes, spinach, avocado and peppers in a savoury breakfast. I even know someone who has stir-fried vegetables for breakfast every day, but I don’t think that would be received very well in our house if I implemented that daily!
13. Add nuts and seeds to your food
This is an easy way to include fibre and so one I use regularly. For breakfast, this could mean sprinkling nuts, seeds and shredded coconut on cereal or seeds over toast or eggs. For lunch and dinner, this could mean including nuts or seeds in or on anything that it might be appropriate for. Nuts and seeds both go well with leafy salads, toasted pumpkin seeds or almonds are delicious on roasted vegetable salads, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds add extra texture to coleslaw. Lots of soups taste delicious with toasted nuts or seeds sprinkled over them and toppers like dukkah enhance the flavour and texture of many dishes, including eggs and vegetables.
What other ways do you use to increase your fibre intake? I would love to hear any other ideas!