Updated: Jan 14
So, I know what you are thinking. Does my child really need to eat more fiber? My child is a picky eater and there is no way I can get him to eat more fiber! Is fiber really that important?
Believe me, I get it. Kids are picky eaters and they often don’t eat what you want them too. But the answer is yes, fiber is really that important. And here’s why.
THE CLINICAL PERSPECTIVE
Imagine your child comes to you in excruciating abdominal pain – nothing like he’s ever experienced before. You are frightened and for a moment you don’t know what to do. The pain is getting worse. He’s crying and moaning in pain. He can’t walk. You panic on the inside. The pain is so bad that you take him straight to the emergency room. They do a full work-up and then the doctor comes back in the room and says, “Your child has constipation”. Come again. Constipation! All of this for constipation!
I’ve seen scenarios like that happen ALL the time. I’ve seen kids of all different ages admitted for bowel cleanouts. This means your child will get a tube placed in her nose that goes to her stomach. A special fluid is given through that tube to help get the stool out. She also has to have rectal enemas every two hours. The child is miserable. You do this all day and night. It’s still not enough. She now needs to go to the Operating Room for a manual disimpaction. Yes, this means your child needs sedation because of constipation. She finally gets cleaned out and she is able to go home. But, in a few weeks later, she’s back, FOR THE SAME THING. This ACTUALLY happens in kids. More frequently than it should. Can you imagine doing this every few weeks?
I’ve also seen kids come into the hospital looking nine months pregnant. Instead of a human baby, they have a stool baby. No joke. The child’s colon has stretched and stretched to hold all that stool that it no longer works the way it should. It can’t push the stool out like it should. A vicious cycle. Once all of the stool is out (see above), we need a new plan. The new plan is to send her home on daily large volume rectal enemas. For 6 months to 1 year until her colon shrinks back down.
All of the above scenarios can be prevented. More fiber, more fluids, more activity.
PUBLIC HEALTH PERSPECTIVE
Children, teens, and adults in the U.S have very low intakes of dietary fiber. It is so poor in fact, that dietary fiber intake for the U.S population is now considered a public health concern. This is coming from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. What does this mean exactly? And what is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025?
If you haven’t heard of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is a science based guideline of what Americans should eat and drink every day with the goal of promoting health, reducing chronic diseases, and meeting nutrient needs. Basically, it’s the bible for what we should eat every day. It is updated every 5 years by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). And now it provides guidelines for each stage of life, from infants through older adults
This guideline states that there are four dietary components of public health concern for Americans: calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and dietary fiber. Americans simply do not eat enough of these powerful nutrients and low intakes are associated with health concerns.
According to this guideline, kids of all ages do not consume the recommended intake of whole grains and dietary fiber. Plus, as kids get older, the gap between how much they should eat verses how much they actually eat widens.
Okay, enough of that. Let’s talk about fiber!
WHAT EXACTLY IS FIBER?
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that is found in plant foods. Your body does not use it for energy but it provides other health benefits. There are two types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble
Soluble fibers dissolve in water and forms a gel-like substance when water is added to it. This helps to soften the stool and make stool easier to pass. Soluble fibers are mainly found in fruits, vegetables, and beans.
Insoluble fibers do not dissolve in water, but they can trap water to increase stool bulk which makes the stool easier to pass. Insoluble fibers are mainly found in whole grains, bran, and certain cereals.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF FIBER?
Fiber can help reduce cholesterol and help to prevent heart disease
Fiber can help control blood sugar levels and reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes
Fiber helps to keep food moving through the digestive track to help keep kids “regular”
Fiber may help prevent constipation by making stools easier to pass. This is because fiber makes stool softer and increases the weight and bulk of the stool. A bulky, soft stool is easier to pass.
Fiber helps you feel full longer, which may help with weight management. Plus foods higher in fiber usually are lower in calories.
Foods that are higher in fiber, also have a higher content of other vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A, C, B6, B12, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus. So kids who eat a high fiber diet, also get the benefit of these powerful vitamin and minerals. It’s a win win.
HOW MUCH FIBER DOES MY CHILD NEED?
A simple way to know how much fiber your child needs every day is to take your child’s age and add 10. However, this only applies to kids over 2 years of age.
Don’t forget that fiber needs fluid to work well. Kids who start eating more fiber, also need to start drinking more fluid. And milk doe