Fiber and Your Child: How Much Fiber is Enough?
By Michelle Mirizzi MS Registered Dietitian
Fiber is an important nutrient that keeps your child’s intestines working comfortably. Foods that are good sources of fiber are beneficial because they are filling and therefore discourage overeating. High fiber foods stay in the stomach longer and require more chewing; prolonged chewing will help satisfy your child’s appetite.
Research has shown that there is a positive relationship between fiber in our diet and reduced risk of many diseases including diabetes and certain cancers. Fiber can also reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). When combined with drinking adequate fluids, fiber also helps move food through the digestive system and protect against constipation.
Where is the fiber? Dietary fiber is found in plant foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils and whole wheat grains. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge. It absorbs water in the intestines and forms a gluey gel which 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 Content of Selected Foods (in grams)
|Fiber Content of Selected Foods ||grams|
|Apples (with skin) ||3.5|
|Peas (1/2 cup) ||3.6|
|Kidney beans (1/2 cup ||7.3|
|All Bran cereal (1/2 cup) ||10-13|
|Oatmeal, cooked (2/3 cup) ||3.0|
|Whole wheat bread (1 slice) ||1.5|
So, how much fiber is enough? Here are the most recent recommendations from the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI’s):
|Fiber recommendations per day: ||grams|
|Children 4 to 6 years old ||25|
|Boys 9 to 13 years old ||31|
|Girls 9 to 13 years old ||26|
When increasing fiber in your child’s diet, it is best to do so slowly, because large, sudden increases can cause discomfort, gas and bloating. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water throughout the day. For fiber to do a good sweeping and sponging job there has to be enough water for it to absorb.
Help your child meet their daily fiber needs, by gradually increasing fiber in their diet by following these tips:
- Choose whole grain cereals for breakfast such as Raisin Bran or Wheat Bran. Select cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber or more per serving.
- Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices. Whole fruit has more fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Plus an apple or a handful of berries will keep your child feeling full longer than a glass of fruit juice.
- Use whole grain bread, rolls, pita or bagels for sandwiches.
- Replace white rice, bread and pastas with brown rice and whole grain products. If your kids resist at first, try mixing in half brown rice or whole wheat pasta and gradually add more.
- Cut back on refined foods. In many refined foods, the fiber containing parts have been removed.
- Snack on dried fruits such as apricots, figs or raisins. Have your child make their own trail mix using raisins, peanuts, and oat bran cereal.
- Encourage your child to use the Nutrition Facts label to find out how much fiber is in each serving of food. A good rule of thumb to remember is if the food has 5 grams or more per serving it is considered high in fiber.
- Be a positive role model; children learn many of their behaviors by watching what older siblings and grown-ups do. The next time the fresh vegetables are passed to you, take a serving and say, “I love fresh vegetables!” Soon your child will be eating it and saying they love it too.
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