If there’s something that I talk about almost every day as a pediatric dietitian, it’s poop. (Glamorous, isn’t it?). That’s because almost every parent, at some time or another, has questions about what might be normal for their child. Many times, these conversations start as we are taking about their child’s belly pain. Often times, the answer to a lot of upset stomachs is in the cupboard, fruit bowl, or veggie drawer.
We are talking about fiber! Neither children nor adults are eating enough of this good stuff, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Eating adequate amounts of fiber is not only important for adults to help prevent certain cancers and control cholesterol; fiber is the answer to many common tummy complaints in kids. More than 5 percent of all “sick visits” to the pediatrician, and up to 25 percent of visits to a GI specialist are associated with constipation. When children eat enough fiber, it helps them stool more regularly. This prevents the straining and discomfort commonly caused by constipation.
But a healthy GI tract isn’t the only benefit of a high fiber diet. Children who eat a diet high in fiber are often eating foods that are more nutrient dense, helping them to meet their other vitamin and mineral needs for growth. Just like in adults, eating a high fiber meal helps children feel satiated, which can prevent overeating. Another bonus to jumping on the fiber wagon early? Children who incorporate healthy eating habits early on are more likely to continue those eating habits as adults.
What are the goals for fiber intake? Personally, I suggest that children eat at least 5 whole fruits and vegetables per day, and to make “half of your grains whole.” Following these general rules will help to encourage adequate fiber intake throughout the day. If having a number helps you, the Institute of Medicine recommends the following grams/ day of fiber based on age:
- 1-3 years: 19 grams
- 4-8 years: 25 grams
- 9-13 years: 26-31 grams
- 14-18 years: 26-38 grams