From the first day of your child’s life, there are a few topics that seem to be front and center in your parenting life. Are they sleeping ok? Are they eating ok? Are they pooping ok? The fact that you’ll spend so much time thinking about someone else’s bowel habits is something they don’t tell you about parenting.
But it is a critical piece to your child’s health, and it is linked to how and what they are eating. The big key to healthy digestion is getting enough fiber in your child’s diet, but this can be easier said than done. After all, do you know a lot of elementary kids who love prunes? Neither do we.
Almost every single child needs more fiber in their diet. But as a parent, it can feel like an uphill battle. Are there really high-fiber foods that kids will eat? Absolutely! And it’s not all prunes, we promise.
The team at Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition has all the tools you need to ensure your child gets enough fiber in their diets. Reach out today to see how we can help the whole family.
What Is Fiber?
Dietary fiber comes from plants such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. It is the part of the plant that the body does not absorb into the bloodstream through digestion. Fiber passes through the digestive system mostly intact. Although fiber is a carbohydrate, it doesn’t break down into sugar molecules the way simple carbs do.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, creating a sort of gel-like substance and slowing digestion. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It pulls water into the intestine, softening the stool.
Take caution with animal products that have “fiber” listed on their labels. This is added fiber, not naturally-occurring plant-based fiber. Added fiber can lead to gastrointestinal difficulties for many people.
Why Is Fiber So Important?
To judge by magazine ads and television commercials, you might think that proper fiber intake is only a problem for the elderly. In actuality, it is a critical problem for most Americans. As much as 95% of Americans are not getting adequate fiber in their diets.
Soluble fiber slows down the digestion process, bulking up the stool and making it easier to pass. It also makes you feel full longer. This feeling of fullness helps you avoid overeating and maintain a healthy weight.
A lack of fiber leads to a host of digestion issues and can also trigger other health concerns as well. Long-term inadequate dietary fiber intake is linked to:
- Unstable blood sugar levels
- Weight gain
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Colorectal cancer
Truly, fiber is the unsung hero of nutrients. When your child eats enough fiber, the most significant improvement you are likely to notice is in their poop habits. They should experience less constipation and more regular bowel movements.
But in addition to this short-term improvement, your child will also enjoy these long-term health benefits, too:
Soluble fiber turns into a gel that spreads out in the colon. It helps block the absorption of fat into the bloodstream, making it easier to achieve a healthy weight. Add in the feeling of satiety that comes with fiber, and you have an excellent plan for healthy weight control.
Healthy GI Tract
You know that diets low in fiber cause constipation. But over time or later in life, that issue can then lead to painful hemorrhoids if your child continually has to strain to have a bowel movement. Adding in healthy amounts of fiber ease constipation and take away the strain.
In addition, fiber helps keep things moving enough to stop the formation of pockets of irritation in the colon. These pockets, known as diverticular disease, can be painful and dangerous. They also can be precursors to cancer later in life.
And there is even more good news! Soluble fiber can ferment in the colon, creating super healthy prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for the probiotic bacteria that we need in our lower intestine for good gut health.
Healthy Blood Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol is a silent problem with no symptoms. But it leads to significant health problems if left unchecked. Soluble fiber protects your child’s heart by lowering their LDL levels. LDL cholesterol is often called bad cholesterol because it causes build-up in the arteries. Dietary fiber keeps cholesterol numbers within a healthy range to provide better heart health for your child.
Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Just as soluble fiber slows down fat absorption, it also limits your body’s intake of sugar into the bloodstream. Keeping blood sugar levels stable is critical for avoiding type 2 diabetes. The lack of dietary fiber in the modern western diet is a significant contributor to the rise in diabetes. Helping your child develop a fiber-rich diet now will help establish lifelong health.
What High-Fiber Foods for Kids Will They Eat?
Knowing what your child should eat is very different from getting them to eat it. And when it comes to fiber, you need to move slowly. Quickly adding fiber to your child’s diet will likely lead to intestinal discomfort. Gradually increase the dietary fiber your child takes in each day until they reach the guidelines below.
- Ages 1-3 years old: about 19 grams per day
- Ages 4-8 years old: about 25 grams per day
- Girls ages 9-18 years old: about 26 grams per day
- Boys ages 9-13 years old: about 31 grams per day
- Boys ages 14-18 years old: about 38 grams per day
If you still have visions of prune juice in your head, read on for six kid-friendly ways to introduce more healthy dietary fiber into your child’s nutritional intake.
- Encourage your child to help you make a fruit salad with whatever fruit is on hand. Cut up apples, oranges, bananas, or any other fruit your child likes. Then let your child mix it with some berries for a yummy snack or side dish. Add in some low-sugar granola or some almonds for even more fiber.
- Air-popped popcorn is a kid-friendly snack that is full of fiber. Forego the added salt and butter to keep this choice healthy all around.
- If you and your child enjoy baking, swap in whole wheat flour for regular flour that you usually use. The difference in taste is minimal, but you can add more fiber into your tasty treats.
- Does your child like soup? Soups are fabulous for getting fiber into your family. They can include vegetables and beans and even whole grain pasta. Consider adding some cooked lentils or black beans into your child’s favorite choice.
- Have some cut up veggies out and available in the afternoon or as you prepare dinner. When children start to get the munchies, they can choose these fiber-filled options. As a bonus, serve hummus as a dip for the vegetables for even more fiber.
- Make a cereal switch. Consider changing your family’s cereal routine to an oatmeal routine. Low-sugar oatmeal is a great source of fiber. And if you add in fruit, nuts, or nut butters, the fiber count keeps on climbing. Your child doesn’t have to eat a vast amount to get a good dose of fiber.
Your Pediatric and Family Nutritionist Can Help
Navigating your child’s eating habits is not always easy. It can be downright overwhelming and frustrating at times. At Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition, we understand. We are here to help with everything from picky eating to disordered eating and all the things in between. Reach out today to connect with us. We will be happy to be on your family’s nutritional team.