This is the ninth article in our 10-part series that drills down on each individual point in 10 Ways to Make Your Kid Fat. One last one to come, so stay tuned...
Fiber is very important for a healthy body, yet many children are not eating anywhere near enough fiber-rich foods. Neither are adults, by the way…
What is fiber and what does it do?
Fiber is the indigestible portion of plant food and is found in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
There are two forms of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and insoluble fiber does not.
Soluble fiber slows down the absorption of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. Your child’s energy levels will be a lot more balanced if she eats foods rich in soluble fiber. Many foods kids love are low in fiber and high in added sugar (white bread, fast food, sugary, puffed cereal…), causing unwanted sugar spikes followed by a “crash.” These rapid drops in blood sugar make kids hungry again quicker, cause low energy levels and can make it harder for them to concentrate.
Soluble fiber also helps to lower blood cholesterol. Think cholesterol levels are only a concern for older people? Think again. As a consequence of childhood obesity, heart disease affects people at a younger and younger age. A fiber-rich diet now helps protect your children’s health in the future.
Insoluble fiber, along with drinking plenty of fluids, helps kids go number two normally and regularly. Foods with insoluble fiber, like whole-grain breads, whole-grain pasta, nuts and seeds, travel through the digestive system faster and prevent constipation. And did you know that healthy bowel function is essential for your kid’s immune system to function well? Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the bowel movement, if you will, and so helps prevent constipation, which can make kids moody just like it does adults (and you know you want to avoid that!). Insoluble fiber also provides food for intestinal bacteria to grow. Another important benefit of insoluble fiber is that it makes kids feel full longer and therefore helps prevent overeating.
How much fiber do healthy kids need daily?
It’s important to know that fiber comes from the whole grain. So the white, fluffy bread your kids (and likely their Dad) beg for doesn’t do much for their digestive health. Rule of thumb: The more refined or processed the food, the less fiber it is likely to contain. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 25 grams per day for children ages 4 to 8; 26 grams per day for girls ages 9 to 13 and 31 grams per day for boys ages 9 to 13. In their Guide to Your Child’s Nutrition, they say, “people who eat a lot of fiber are less likely to be obese, have heart disease, or develop problems affecting the bowel, including constipation and cancer.”
Tip: If your kid doesn’t eat a lot of fiber now, increase the amount of fiber in his daily diet gradually. Advancing his fiber consumption too quickly can result in bloating and gas, if his body isn’t used to getting more fiber. Have your child drink more water as you increase the fiber.
Great sources of fiber for kids
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.
- Fruits and vegetables are probably the easiest source of fiber for children, as most kids already like at least some varieties.
- The “right” breakfast cereal – not the cardboardy, sugar-coated kind.
- Replace part of the meat in your meat loaf, burger and casserole recipes with oatmeal.
- Buy whole grain products instead of refined, white – brown or wild rice, whole-wheat pasta. Check the nutrition label – whole grain should be the very first ingredient listed!
- Add beans or barley to soups, salads, dips, etc.
- Use whole-wheat flour in your home baking – our nutritionist recommends King Arthur’s white whole-wheat flour. It’s fiber-rich whole-grain flour but makes their cookies (and you) look totally unsuspicious.
- Legumes (dried beans, split peas, lentils, etc.).