Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Finding fiber in wheat-free diets

Q. Is the avoidance of wheat a good thing? I feel better since I've been on a wheat-free diet, but I've noticed it's harder to get the amount of fiber I need.

A. You're right that we all benefit from fiber in our diets. We need about 20-35 grams a day, but most of us get less than half of that. Getting adequate fiber reduces a person's risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and many gastrointestinal disorders. Wheat, rye and barley are all good sources of fiber, but they also contain a protein called gluten.

Gluten is the cause of symptoms in celiac disease. People with severe celiac disease, when they have even just a little gluten in their diets, can develop severe diarrhea—so severe that they can die of dehydration. Other people who don't have celiac disease, however, also can get symptoms when they eat foods with gluten—gas, bloating, belly cramps, milder diarrhea and fatigue. They have a condition called "gluten sensitivity," and it sounds like you may be one of them. We think the symptoms are caused by a hyper-activated immune system in the gut.

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