Children, like adults, require a high-fiber diet; and, like their grown-up counterparts, rarely eat enough natural fiber sources. There are many practical ways to incorporate high fiber foods for kids into your child’s diet.
The Value of Fiber for Children
What are the health benefits of eating fiber? Fiber is necessary for digestive health, and indirectly for overall well-being. An indigestible complex carbohydrate, fiber is linked with the prevention of heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Both soluble and insoluble fiber work to promote an efficient and clean digestive tract. The viscous fibers of soluble fiber food sources bind with waste compounds, which are then eliminated, instead of contributing to LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol build-up in the blood. Natural fiber sources of an insoluble nature slow digestion, promoting a feeling of fullness after eating. As simple as this concept may be, it is a crucial aspect in the prevention of childhood obesity.
Fiber also helps the body retain water, forming more fluid stools. By promoting regularity, fiber-rich foods play a key role in facilitating elimination, which means a clean colon, and a reduced risk of colon cancer. Although few young children have dangerous cholesterol build-ups, or are on the brink of contracting colon cancer, they still benefit from learning to eat a diet rich in natural fiber sources. Forming good habits, and making fiber for children a priority, will ensure they enter adulthood with the tools for optimum health.
How to Introduce Natural Fiber Sources to Children
The best sources of fiber are whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables. There are many simple ways to make these foods a central part of your child’s diet. The first thing to consider is transition. If children are very young, start them out with fiber-rich food choices. Serve brown rice instead of white rice, whole grain bread as opposed to white bread, a warm bowl of oatmeal in the place of cold cereals. Serve fresh fruits and vegetables, before overcooked ones. Some children are accustomed to the taste of low-fiber foods. In this case, blend the white grains with the whole grains, until they are used to more natural fiber sources.
The second aspect of introducing high fiber foods for kids is creating dishes that have fiber, but also kid-friendly flavors. They may not enjoy quinoa with arugula and roasted red peppers, but they are unlikely to resist quinoa with ripe avocado, parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of butter. Add white navy beans to chicken noodle soup; serve raw vegetables with dip; add sliced bananas, strawberries, and brown sugar to oatmeal; mix mashed potatoes with braised cabbage. Whatever foods your child does enjoy, serve them with natural fiber sources.
And finally, experiment. Try different types of grains, from amaranth to wheat berries. Make muffins and other baked goods with oat flour and corn flour, which are naturally sweeter and more interesting than wheat flour. If your child doesn’t like apples, buy pears, plums, and strawberries. Beets might not work, but caramelized cauliflower and carrots may. There are some foods that your child will never enjoy, and others that they may love. Fortunately, the list of natural fiber sources is endless.
Recommended Fiber Intake for Children
As a general rule, fiber intake should be around fourteen grams of dietary fiber for every one thousand calories consumed. Younger children eat much less, and require less fiber – around nineteen grams for toddlers (keeping in mind that children under two years of age still should eat a higher fat diet). From four to eight years, children require twenty-five grams; and, from nine to thirteen, they should eat twenty-six grams for girls, and thirty-one for boys. There is a such thing as too much fiber. Talk to a health care provider before giving children fiber supplements, as an excess of fiber can eliminate vitamins and minerals along with waste.
There is no reason to underestimate the importance of fiber for children. Simple changes while they are young can manifest as profound differences when they are older.
Jackie Hogan, MS, RD is a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles. She is a member of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (CAND-LAD) and the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Practice Group and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Jackie has been featured on Women’s Health, Fitness Magazine, Women’s Fitness, and Men’s Fitness magazine.