Did You Know - Kids Need Fiber, Too.
When you talk about fiber, most people immediately associate it with old age. But fiber is important for children, too, especially given the nation’s current obesity crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of American children are obese, but fiber can help kids return to and maintain a healthy weight.
Fiber is the part of plants and carbohydrates that people can’t digest. It helps satisfy hunger because it requires more chewing. Since it’s filling, it discourages kids from overeating and keeps them fuller longer. Fiber slows down digestion and the absorption of nutrients, so kids can avoid sudden blood sugar spikes. Because it helps stool pass more quickly through the intestine, it also lowers constipation. Finally, fiber is calorie-free and can lower cholesterol, which can protect children from diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.
You can find fiber in complex carbohydrates, like oats, almonds, beans, lentils, barley, wheat bran, whole-wheat flour, fruits (especially pears, prunes, apples, berries, oranges, and bananas), and vegetables (especially peas, potatoes, and artichokes). A food is considered high-fiber when it has five or more grams of fiber per serving.
Most kids get less than half the recommended amount of dietary fiber per day. Getting all that healthy food into kids can require creativity. Here are some ways to add more fiber to your children’s diet:
- Stock whole-grain breads, rolls, crackers, cereal, tortillas, and pasta. (For kids who balk at the brown spaghetti, many stores carry white whole-grain pasta.)
- Encourage kids to eat two to three pieces of whole fruits a day. Allow no more than one small glass of fruit juice. While whole fruit has a lot of fiber, most juices carry very little.
- Start breakfast with oatmeal.
- Serve vegetable and bean soups.
- If your child is over 4, offer him or her air-popped popcorn, which is a whole-grain food. (Popcorn can be a choking hazard for kids under 4.)
- Bake with whole-wheat flour.
- Add a little bran to cereal, cookies, muffins, and even meatloaf and hamburgers.
- Top ice cream or yogurt with berries, almonds, or whole-grain cereal.
- Spice up salads with beans, berries, almonds, chickpeas, or artichoke hearts.
- Get creative with vegetables. Cut them into fun shapes, dip them in peanut butter, introduce sweet vegetables, like plantains and sweet potato, and create vegetable pizzas and veggie kebabs.
The American Heart Association advises the following daily totals:
- ages 1–3 - 19 grams of fiber
- ages 4–8 - 25 grams of fiber
- ages 9-13 (girls) - 26 grams of fiber
- ages 9–13 (boys) - 31 grams of fiber
- ages 14-18 (girls) - 29 grams of fiber
- ages 14–18 (boys) - 38 grams of fiber