Few kids would say they crave a good fiber-rich meal. However, many appetizing foods are actually great sources of fiber — from fruits to whole-grain cereals. Fiber has mounting research that shows we need to have fiber in our diet every day to fight off disease and promote overall well-being. Kids who eat a wide variety of fiber-rich foods will likely continue with this healthy habit later in life, so jump on the bran wagon now!
What is Dietary Fiber?
Fiber is part of the plant food that our body does not digest. You can find dietary fiber in the following plant foods: fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts and whole grains. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both are important for a healthy diet.
- Soluble fiber acts like a sponge. It absorbs water in the intestines and forms a gluey gel that picks up cholesterol and carries it out of the body.
- Insoluble fiber acts like a broom because it doesn’t dissolve in water. It adds bulk and softness to the stools and keeps them moving along comfortably preventing constipation.
Fiber has the following health benefits:
- It keeps your child’s intestines working comfortably.
- It protects against constipation when combined with enough water.
- It fills up your child’s tummy so they will be satisfied and not overeat.
- It reduces the risk of many diseases including diabetes and certain cancers.
- It reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).
How Much Fiber Do Kids Need?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association both recommend a simple rule of thumb: The total number of fiber grams a child should consume each day should equal the child’s age plus 5, starting at age 2. A 6-year-old, therefore, should have 11 grams of fiber a day
Fiber intake should be increased gradually. This is important to minimize potential adverse side effects such as abdominal distress, bloating, flatulence, cramps and diarrhea. Remember to encourage kids to drink more fluids, especially water, as they eat more fiber.
What Foods Are High in Fiber?
A high-fiber food has 5 grams or more of fiber per serving and a good source of fiber is one that provides 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving. Here’s how some fiber-friendly foods stack up:
Lentils, cooked (1 cup) = 15.6 grams dietary fiber
Artichoke, cooked (1 medium) = 10.3 grams dietary fiber
Raspberries (1 cup) = 8 grams dietary fiber
Pear (1 medium) = 5 grams dietary fiber
How to Boost Your Child’s Fiber Power
Help your child meet their daily fiber needs, by gradually increasing fiber in their diet with the following tips:
- Choose 100% whole grain cereals for breakfast
- Have cut up fruit in the cereal or as a side dish
- Use 100% whole grain bread, rolls, wraps, or pita for sandwiches
- Add fresh fruit and/or vegetables with low fat dipping sauces
- Add a small bag of nuts or seeds in with their lunch
- Replace white rice, white bread and white pastas with brown rice and whole grain products
- Include a fruit or vegetable salad with the skin on
- Add seeds and nuts to liven up the salads
- Replace a side dish with dried peas or beans
- Make a pizza by topping a whole wheat tortilla with pizza sauce, low fat cheese and vegetables
- Toss in extra vegetables in home-made or low sodium canned soups
- Offer a bowl of air-popped or low fat popcorn
- Make a baggie of 100% whole grain crackers
Changing your child’s diet should be a positive experience. Explain to them why fiber is important for the whole family to feel healthy. You don’t want to get upset and frustrated with your child if they don’t want to try higher fiber foods. Just be positive with your encouragement and keep introducing higher fiber foods.