By Anne Marie Kuchera, RD
If you are an adult, you have probably read about, heard about, or been counseled about the benefits of eating fiber-containing foods by a health professional. You are probably also aware of the value of fiber for weight management, digestive health, and the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain types of cancers. Fiber is equally important for young people as it is for adults. Yet, the average American adult consumes just 16 grams of fiber per day, falling short of the recommended 25 – 30 grams, and many children miss out on daily fiber as well.
What is fiber?
Fiber, or roughage, is the indigestible part of plant foods that pushes through the digestive system, absorbing water along the way. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble – and both are present in all plant foods. Insoluble fiber promotes regularity and the elimination of waste through the colon. Soluble fiber promotes healthy blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
Fiber and kids
Even in the preschool years, children benefit from eating high-fiber foods, and it shapes their behavior for healthy eating patterns throughout life. Beginning in toddlerhood, ages 1 – 3 years old, 19 grams of fiber per day is considered optimal. Children ages 4 – 8 work their way up to 25 grams per day. Girls and boys, ages 9 – 13 years benefit from 26 – 31 grams per day, and the recommendation jumps to 38 grams per day for teens ages 14 – 18.
What are the best sources of fiber?
When it comes to fiber in food, the less processed the better. Plant foods are the number one source with fruits and vegetables making the top of the list. Unrefined grains like oats, barley, and whole wheat are also close to the top, along with beans, nuts, and legumes. Foods that contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving are considered “high-fiber” and those with slightly less at 2.5 – 5 grams are “good sources”. While the recommendations for children may sound high, fiber quickly adds up over the course of a healthy and well-balanced diet.
In Part II of Fiber for Kids, read more about ways to include fiber-containing foods over the course of a day.
Anne Marie Kuchera, MS, MA, RD, LPC is a registered dietitian, and both a licensed nutritionist and licensed professional counselor. She manages community-based obesity prevention and preventive health and wellness initiatives through Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.