Fiber Important for Kids' Health

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Girl eating berries; UW Health Nutritionist Amy Caulum discusses the importance of fiber in kids' dietsMADISON – Chances are, when you think about your child's diet, the last thing you consider is whether she is getting enough fiber. But, it is an important part of a healthy diet.

"There are a lot of nutritional benefits to fiber," said Amy Caulum, nutritionist with UW Health. "Some of the main ones are heart health, improving blood sugar control, digestive health. And, it provides a feeling of fullness for kids, which is particularly important for those trying to maintain a healthy weight."

Not surprisingly, many people, adults included, fall short on their daily fiber intake. White flour and processed foods often are staples in the average diet.

"We forget about all of the snacking kids do," commented Caulum. "So there's a lot of white flour and processed foods that go into kids in the forms of chips, crackers and snack foods."

The challenge is to get parents thinking and assessing their family's fiber intake.

"I think fiber just isn't on the radar for parents sometimes," said Caulum. "As parents, we are hit with so many things we should do for our kids in terms of meals. It can be difficult to keep everything straight."

On average, Americans only consume approximately 15 grams of fiber per day, which is less than half of the recommended amount for children and teens.
American Heart Association
Recommended Daily Fiber Intake
Age Recommended Daily Fiber Intake 
1-3  19 g
4-8 25 g
Girls 9 - 13 26 g
Boys 9 - 13 31 g
Girls 14 - 18 36 g
Boys 14 - 18 38 g
 14 g/1000 calories eaten
(28 g in a 2000 calorie diet)

Adding more fiber to the family diet doesn't have to involve a lot of preparation or extra steps.

"Families so often are just struggling to get meals together. Adding fiber can be done through simple changes," commented Caulum. "We're already eating these things, so it's really only a difference between grabbing one bag of bread over another."

Caulum recommends choosing whole-wheat breads over white breads or the split-top wheat bread, neither of which is high in fiber. She cautions that when trying to determine how much fiber is in a food item, labels can be misleading. Just because an ingredient is listed as multi-grain, whole-grain, or whole-wheat doesn't mean there is fiber in the food.

"Take a look at the nutrition label and see what the grams of fiber are per serving," explained Caulum. "Bread should have at least three grams of fiber or more per slice, for example."

And she points out that waffles, pancakes, tortillas and many other breakfast and snack items are now available in whole wheat varieties.

"They are tasty and kids are very accepting of the whole-wheat varieties if they are available in the house," Caulum said.

In addition to switching types of bread, Caulum offers a few other simple suggestions for increasing fiber in the family diet:

  • Choose a higher-fiber cereal for breakfast or use as a snack. There are many varieties offering four to five grams of fiber or more per serving. These fiber-filled cereals start the day off right for school-aged kids. Add in some fruit and milk for an especially healthy breakfast.
  • Make the switch to whole-wheat or smart-blend pastas. These are readily available and offer good sources of protein and fiber. Pasta is easy, versatile and typically well-liked by the entire family. Start by mixing this pasta into the regular kind and gradually switch the family over to the higher-fiber variety. 
  • Don't forget snacks. Snacks are a large contributor to calories, especially for younger children. Instead of serving pretzels or crackers, make a trail mix using these foods and high-fiber cereals, nuts (if appropriate) and dried fruit. Popcorn, homemade muffins using oatmeal or whole-wheat flours, or oatmeal raisin cookies are also welcome changes from the usual snack standbys. There are also many convenience items offering higher-fiber choices, like Kashi™, Fiber One™ and Quaker™ products. 
  • Fruits and vegetables can add extra fiber (not to mention vitamins and minerals) to their meals and snacks. Enjoy them on their own, or mixed into yogurt, baked goods, pastas, salads and the like.

Date Published: 10/29/2008

News tag(s):  pediatric fitnesschildrenschild nutrition

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