Often an underestimated, and under consumed nutrient, dietary fibre is an essential nutrient required for optimal health. Fibre is a form of carbohydrate that moves through the digestive system undigested, making carbohydrate containing foods the only source of fibre. While insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool for the prevention of constipation and soluble fibre promotes slower digestion for sustained energy, there is much more to fibre than this.
- Fibre prevents constipation by promoting regular bowel movements
- Fibre promotes sustained energy between meals
- Fibre improves appetite control
- Fibre aids in the reduction of cholesterol
- Fibre is responsible for feeding important gut bacteria
Dietary fibre recommendations are in place for the promotion of optimal digestive health and disease prevention. Children older than 8 years of age require 25 - 30 grams of dietary fibre per day. These may not appear to be large numbers but it is a mistake to assume that these requirements can be easily met without effort. It is easy to skip fibre altogether when substituting healthy meals and snacks with nutrient empty convenience foods such a pies, fried chips or crisps. These foods, when eaten at random, will also spoil small appetites ahead of healthy meals.
Plant foods supply dietary fibre. Fibre rich foods therefore include whole grains and whole grain products, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. The table below gives an idea of the fibre content of various foods.
Apple, medium with skin
Potato, medium, baked with skin
Raisins, 1/2 cup
Peanut butter, 1 Tablespoon
Baby carrots, 1/2 cup cooked
Green peas, 1/2 cup cooked
Lentils, 1/2 cup cooked
Popcorn, 3 cups homemade
In order to meet daily fibre needs, a fibre rich food should be consumed with every meal and snack. School time fibre intake is therefore significant and as a bonus, fibre consumed during school hours promotes stable energy levels and satiety for good concentration. With an insufficient intake of fibre, kids are likely to be very hungry on leaving school which leads to over eating on arrival at home or impromptu stops at fast food outlets. If consumed regularly, fast foods or convenient snack foods reduce the likelihood of a child meeting their nutrient needs, including fibre.
10 practical ways to increase fibre intake for children
- Add peanut butter to a snack of apple wedges
- Add lentils to white rice
- Add lentils and oats to meat balls rather than bread crumbs
- Replace white bread or bread rolls with brown varieties
- Add lettuce to meat sandwiches
- Steam baby carrots with cinnamon for homework snacks
- Replace crisps with homemade popcorn (3 cups popped)
- Offer unsalted peanuts and raisins as a convenience snack (1/4 cup or 50 grams)
- Blend butterbeans with baby potatoes to make high fibre mashed potatoes
- Add chopped fruit to plain yoghurt rather than buying flavoured yoghurt
A daily intake of vegetables and fruits with brown bread rather than white bread will go a long way towards meeting a child’s fibre requirements for optimal gut health, sustained energy and meal satiety. In the long run, a diet with adequate fibre intake can protect a child against diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease.