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If your kids have ever been constipated, you probably tried to get more fiber in their diets. Although fiber-rich foods can combat constipation, they’re an important part of a healthy diet and something kids should be eating throughout the day.
Studies show however, many kids aren’t getting nearly enough. When it comes to whole grains which are one source of fiber, 39 percent of children and teens consume none at all, a January 2014 study in the journal Nutrition Research found.
Highly processed foods, fast food and frozen foods that make up a majority of what kids eat are partly to blame but without plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, they can’t meat their fiber needs.
Read on to learn why fiber is so important to your children’s health, how much they need and how to get it in their diets.
Why Do Kids Need Fiber?
Fiber Satisfies Hunger
If your kids constantly ask for snacks, it could be that they’re not getting enough fiber in their meals.
Fiber is filling, slowly digested and satiates hunger so if they’re not eating enough, they’ll be hungry in no time.
Fiber Prevents Constipation
Perhaps the most compelling reason for your kids to eat foods high in fiber is that fiber prevents constipation. Without enough fiber, your child’s poop can become hard and difficult to pass.
Fiber May Improve Academic Performance
Eating plenty of fiber may support your kids’ brain health. A January 2015 study in the Journal of Nutrition found for children between ages 7 and 9, consuming adequate levels of fiber was positively correlated to cognitive control, such as the ability to multitask.
Fiber Prevents Childhood Obesity
Eating a diet rich in fiber can help to ensure your children maintain healthy weights.
Fiber keeps kids feeling fuller longer so they’re less likely to reach for refined carbohydrates and sugary fare to stave off hunger.
Fiber May Prevent Cancer
Studies show getting enough fiber may ward off certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.
What’s more, a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatrics suggests increasing fiber intake during the teen and early adult years may lower the risk for developing breast cancer. Women who consumed about 28 grams of fiber a day during high school had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer than those who consumed 15 grams or less a day.
Fiber Is Heart-Healthy
Studies show eating fiber can lower the risk for high cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.
Heart disease may not be on your mind now, but the way your children eat today can affect their diets and eating habits for the rest of their lives.
Fiber Supports Stable Blood Sugar Levels
If your kids are frequently cranky or seem to melt down, it could be due to a lack of fiber in their diets.
Refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, crackers and snack foods can spike blood sugar levels. Over time, eating these high glycemic foods could increase your kids’ risk for developing type-2 diabetes, a 2007 study in the journal PLoS Medicine found.
Fiber Boosts Gut Health
A diet rich in soluble fiber helps to produce healthy bacteria in the gut. A healthy gut strengthens your child’s immune system, can prevent certain GI issues like diarrhea and may prevent health problems due to leaky gut later on in life.
A November 2016 study in the journal Cell suggests diets low in fiber cause healthy bacteria to begin to eat away at the natural mucus in the gut lining which leaves the colon susceptible to infection.
Insoluble Fiber vs. Soluble Fiber: What’s The Difference?
There are two main types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Kids need both but they each play different roles in your children’s health.
Often referred to as “roughage,” insoluble fiber is found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts. As the name suggests, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, is undigested and bulks up waste which makes it easier to pass.
Soluble fiber, which is found in foods like beans, legumes, oats and fruits (avocado included), absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance that softens waste. Soluble fiber also sticks to cholesterol and sugar, which prevents or slows down the absorption in the bloodstream.
How Much Fiber Do Kids Need?
Kids need between 19 grams and 38 grams of fiber a day, depending on their age and gender. The American Health Association has recommendations here.
You should speak to your children’s pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist however, to make sure they get the right amount of fiber.
How To Get More Fiber In Your Kids’ Diets
The American Academy of Pediatrics says instead of counting grams of fiber, aim to get 5 fruits and vegetables each day. If your children are picky eaters however, it can seem like a lofty goal. With some simple tweaks to your their diets however, you can make sure they gets enough fiber.
Here are some ideas:
1. Serve vegetables for breakfast.
2. Offer fruit, nuts or seeds for snacks.
3. Add avocado to smoothies, sandwiches, salads and stews.
4. Swap refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and snack foods with whole grain alternatives.
5. Eat more beans. Add them to eggs, in place of meat on taco night or as snacks. Swap out eggs and oil in brownie recipes with pureed beans.
6. Add chia seeds to smoothies, baked goods or make a chia seed pudding.
7. Serve salads more often.