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Fiber Facts

In addition to its health benefits, fiber can help control kids’ weight.

Eat more fiber. You hear it all the time. Here’s what you need to know.

Why?

Fiber is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But fiber can provide other health benefits as well:

• Lowers cholesterol. One type of fiber called soluble, found in beans, oats and flaxseed, may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels.

• Helps control diabetes. Fiber can also slow the absorption of sugar, which for people with diabetes can help improve blood sugar levels. A high-fiber diet may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

• Controls weight. High-fiber diets are usually less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food. And a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and stay in your stomach longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time. Also, most high-fiber foods require lots of chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry — so you’re less likely to overeat.

• Might reduce cancer risk. Links between fiber and cancer risk are weak, but the American Cancer Society still recommends eating high fiber foods. Fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains contain other nutrients that may help reduce cancer risk.

Who?

Don’t Overdo It

While most kids are not getting enough fiber, adding too much too quickly can cause intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your child’s diet gradually over a period of a few weeks.

Also, high-fiber diets can reduce the amount of calories that children get, because foods high in fiber tend to be bulky and low in calories. Too much fiber can bind minerals so that they are not available for the child to absorb.

To avoid these problems, give children a balanced diet, as described at www.mypyramid.gov

Fiber is not just for senior citizens. The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine recommends anywhere from 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily for adults, depending on age and gender.

For children older than age 2, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) gives this formula for determining recommended fiber intake: A child’s age plus five equals the grams of dietary fiber he or she should eat daily. For example, a 5-year-old child would need about 10 grams of fiber: 5+5=10.

For infants and children younger than age 2, no recommended daily dietary fiber intakes have been established.

What?

Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs, fiber isn’t digested by your body. Therefore, it passes virtually unchanged through your stomach and intestines.

Where?

Dietary fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, nuts). Here are some of your best sources.

Food Grams Fiber
Split peas, cooked, 1 cup 16.3
Red kidney beans, boiled, 1 cup 13.1
Raspberries, raw, 1 cup 8.0
Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup 6.3
Oat bran muffin, medium 5.2
Medium pear with skin 5.1
Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup 5.1
Whole wheat English muffin 4.4
Medium apple with skin 4.4
Oatmeal, quick, regular or instant, cooked, 1 cup 4.0
Green beans, cooked, 1 cup 4.0
Brown rice, cooked, 1 cup 3.5
Almonds, 1 ounce 3.5
Medium apple with skin 3.5
Raisins, 1/2 cup 3.5
Medium orange 3.5
Popcorn, air-poped, 2 cups 2.3
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 1.9
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

How?

Below are some fun, good tasting ways to incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your family’s diet throughout the day.

Breakfast
  • Choose whole-grain cereals that have 3 grams or more fiber per serving. Top fiber-rich cereal with apples, oranges, berries or bananas. Add almonds to pack even more fiber punch.
  • Make pancakes with whole-grain (or buckwheat) pancake mix and top with apples, berries or raisins.
  • Serve bran or whole grain waffles topped with fruit.
  • Offer whole-wheat bagels or English muffins, instead of white toast.

Lunch and Dinner

  • Pack fresh fruit or vegetables in school lunches.
  • Make sandwiches with whole-grain breads (rye, oat or wheat) instead of white and use fiber-rich fillings such as peanut butter and bananas.
  • Use whole-grain pastas instead of white.
  • Serve wild or brown rice with meals instead of white rice. Add beans (kidney, black, navy, and pinto) to rice dishes for even more fiber.
  • Spice up salads with berries and almonds, chickpeas and beans (kidney, black, navy or pinto).
  • Use whole-grain (corn or whole wheat) soft-taco shells or tortillas to make burritos or wraps.
  • Order pizza with veggie topping.
  • Add bran or oatmeal to meatloaf or burgers.
  • Leave the skins on for all potato dishes.

Snacks and Treats

  • Bake cookies or muffins using whole-wheat flour.
  • Offer air-popped popcorn, a whole-grain food, while kids watch TV or movies. (Note: Don’t give popcorn to children younger than age 4. It can pose a choking hazard.)
  • Top ice cream, frozen yogurt or regular yogurt with whole-grain cereal, berries or almonds for some added nutrition and crunch.
  • Leave the skins on when serving fruits and veggies as snacks. Use peanut butter as a dip.

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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