Food allergies and getting enough fiber

Dear Alice,

I currently have food allergies to wheat, corn, and sugar. I can eat rice, quinoa, and millet for carbohydrates but can rarely find these items on menus when I regularly entertain clients at dinner. I know I need 25 grams of fiber per day but find it difficult to get those in with my travel schedule through just food. Is it okay to eat a diet of mainly fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, fish and lean meats and take a fiber supplement to help "bridge the gap?"

Dear Reader,

It sounds like you're being really thoughtful about your food choices! Getting the recommended amount of fiber can be a challenge, especially if you're limited in your food choices. Eating healthy foods other than whole grains is certainly one option, but with a bit of planning ahead, there are some other ways to make sure you're fulfilling your body's fiber and carbohydrate needs. If your body is still getting the nutrients it needs, a fiber supplement may be a way to help boost the fiber it gets. 

Fiber has the power to relieve constipation, help maintain a weight that meets your body's needs, and lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, all while remaining indigestible by the human body. Found only in plant-based foods, fiber passes through the stomach, small intestine, and colon relatively intact. One form of fiber, insoluble fiber, absorbs water as it travels through the gastrointestinal tract, helping to form healthy stool and promote regular bowel movements. Vegetables and gluten-free whole grains are good sources of insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, forms a gel-like substance with water that binds to cholesterol and helps remove it from the body. Soluble fibers, such as legumes and fruits, are great for lowering cholesterol. As mentioned, fiber works by interacting with water, thus, adequate water consumption is a crucial step to aid a diet with increased fiber.

As you work to incorporate more fiber into your diet, you could consider gradual increases to avoid discomfort from bloating or gas and be sure to drink plenty of water! Additionally, daily physical activity may help improve gastrointestinal health when paired with adequate fiber intake. The “Daily Value” or goal amount of fiber recommended to be consumed per day is about 21 to 25 grams for those assigned female at birth and 30 to 38 grams for those assigned male at birth. When cooking at home or out at a restaurant, you could consider choosing dishes that incorporate the following fiber-rich foods:

  • Fruits: raspberries, pears, apples (with skins), bananas, oranges, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, pineapple, mango, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, papaya, prunes, figs
  • Vegetables: green peas, broccoli, turnip greens, Brussels sprouts, potatoes (with skins), sweet corn, cauliflower, carrots, squash, spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, beets, mushroom, peppers
  • Legumes, nuts, and seeds: split peas, lentils, black beans, baked beans, chia seeds, almonds, pistachios, sunflower kernels, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, hazelnuts
  • Whole grains: teff, quinoa, cornmeal, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, sorghum

Eating out is a challenge for anyone who has dietary restrictions, but thankfully some restaurants are adapting their menus to cater to clients that can't eat certain foods, including wheat, dairy, gluten (a compound found in wheat and some other grains) and other common allergens. It can be wise to talk with your server about your food allergies so they can notify the chef. They may also have some recommendations for you from the menu. If this is uncomfortable for you to do in front of a client, you could consider calling or emailing ahead to ask about what items on the menu are free of wheat, corn, and sugar, or how other dishes can be adapted to fit your needs. You might also consider ordering foods you can eat, such as salads, potato- or rice-based dishes, lean meats and seafood, and soups while out with clients, and snacking on complex carbohydrate- and fiber-rich foods before or after your business meals.

When getting enough fiber through your diet isn't enough, a supplement may easily bump up how much fiber you consume in a day. While there's no evidence that daily fiber supplements are harmful, they lack the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that whole foods provide. If you do plan to take fiber supplements, it's wise to consult a health care provider beforehand.  Fiber supplements can cause abdominal bloating and gas. For this reason, it's advised that they be incorporated into your daily routine slowly, for a limited time, and with ample water consumption. Additionally, they could affect how other medications are absorbed into your body. A consultation could trigger new ideas for getting the right amount of fiber and making sure the supplements don't interfere with other foods or medications. With creative planning, you can be sure you're getting what your body needs to stay healthy. It might take some extra time and effort, but your health is worth it!

Last updated Mar 04, 2022
Originally published Feb 27, 2009

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