The American Heart Association’s idea of a healthy diet “emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical vegetable oils and nuts, while limiting sodium, sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats.” Dietary fiber is a nutrient contained in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals. Fiber is important for a variety of beneficial reasons, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Fiber helps make us full and keeps things moving in the digestive tract. A diet that includes good sources of fiber may help prevent constipation. These foods also are good sources of nutrients and vitamins that may help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and obesity.

 

Not all dietary fiber is alike. Purified and synthetic fibers are commonly added to processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, says Markham Heid:

For example, polydextrose is a synthetic fiber added to many packaged foods in order to boost the food’s fiber content and cut down its levels of sugar, fat and calories. Synthetic fibers also tend to pop up in nutrition bars or drinks, some breakfast cereals, and other ready-to-eat products. While the FDA has collected some evidence that suggests replacing unhealthy sugars and refined starches with polydextrose may lead to lower blood-sugar spikes and reduced appetite, […]  synthetic fibers do not contain the minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals found in natural sources of fiber—and so aren’t nearly as good for you.

 

Soluble fiber is the type that dissolves in water, creating a thick gel that passes through the intestines aiding digestion, controlling blood sugar, and lowering blood cholesterol. In contrast, insoluble fiber survives its intestinal passage essentially unscathed:

Insoluble fibers, on the other hand, do not dissolve in water and so tend to pass through the digestive system largely intact. This is a good thing. “Insoluble fiber acts like little scrubbies on the inside of your colon to remove old and damaged cells, thus reducing risk for colon cancer,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, a metabolism researcher and professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. Lustig says insoluble fiber also slows digestion and helps support the health of the microbiome.

 

As important as dietary fiber is to our health, it appears that most Americans don’t get enough — only 15 grams per day according to the National Academy of Medicine. The daily recommended amounts of fiber are age-related:

> Toddlers (1-3) = 19 grams.

> Children (4-8) = 25 grams.

> Girls 9 through adulthood = 26 grams. (Pregnancy = 28 grams/ Lactation = 29 grams.)

> Boys 9-13 = 31 grams.

> Boys 14 through adulthood = 38 grams.

 

Or you could keep this simple trick from the AAP in mind for your children:

Eat 5. A simple way to make sure your children are getting enough fiber is by making healthful food choices. If your children are eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day along with other foods that are good sources of fiber, there is really no need to count fiber grams.

 

KidsHealth.org says reading labels on food packages provides a lot of useful information. High-fiber foods contain 5 grams or more of fiber per serving; “good” sources of fiber provide 2.5-4.9 grams per serving:

Some of the best fiber sources are:

  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • apples
  • oranges
  • bananas
  • berries
  • prunes
  • pears
  • green peas
  • legumes (dried beans, split peas, lentils, etc.)
  • artichokes
  • almonds

 

Heid adds:

Whole grains, too, are a particularly good source of fiber. If the inclusion of whole grains surprises you, you’re not alone. Many popular low-carbohydrate diets call for the elimination of whole grains and other fiber-rich foods. Willett says this is a concern. “We have no long-term studies of these diets,” he says. Meanwhile, “the evidence of benefits for dietary fiber, especially from grains, is strong. If we really consume our grains as whole grains, we can have a relatively low carbohydrate intake and still get plenty of fiber.”

The healthiest whole-grain foods are the ones that can be eaten more or less intact, such as brown rice, wheat berries or steel-cut oats. Other experts add barley, rye and popcorn to his list.

 

The key is to include a variety of different fiber sources in your child’s diet. That way they get a good mix of soluble and insoluble fiber in sufficient amounts and “reap the benefits of both.”

 

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