McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Opinion

March 29, 2014

Kids need fiber, too

McALESTER — Most parents try hard to feed their children healthy meals, but one crucial nutrient often left off the menu is fiber.

Fiber keeps us full and helps maintain proper working order in the digestive track.

However, those are not the only reasons to make sure kids (and adults) are getting enough of the key nutrient.

A diet full of good sources of fiber could help prevent constipation.

Fiber-rich foods also can provide important nutrients and vitamins that could help cut the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and obesity.

What are good sources of fiber?

Vegetables, fruit, beans, peas and nuts make the list.

So do fiber-rich whole-grain breads and cereals.

Specific examples of fiber-rich foods include broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, apples, oranges, whole-wheat breads, pastas and cereals and legumes.

Feeding your children at least five age-appropriate-size servings of fruits and vegetables every day, in addition to other good sources of fiber, is one way to make sure they are getting enough of the nutrient.

Another trick is to add five to your child’s age to get an idea of the appropriate amount of daily fiber.

For instance, a 3-year-old would need about eight grams of fiber every day.

Read the Nutrition Facts label to figure out the amount of dietary fiber in various foods.

The best sources of fiber contain five or more grams per serving and good ones have at least three grams per serving.

When purchasing grains and breads, be aware not all foods labeled as whole grain are equal.

Not only can the amount of fiber in a product vary from brand to brand, but also whole-grain wheat contains more fiber than whole-grain brown rice or oats.

There are some easy strategies for incorporating fiber into kids’ diets.

Try serving uncooked vegetables such as raw carrots and broccoli as snacks or in salads. Lightly steaming raw vegetables and fruits can help soften the fiber and make it easier to chew.

Also, do not be shy about leaving the peels on apples, cucumbers, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables with edible skins because the skin is packed with fiber.

Just remember to thoroughly clean the foods before eating them.

Toss some poppy, pumpkin or sesame seeds in salads or add bean or alfalfa sprouts to sandwiches for a unique taste. 

To get more fiber in breads and pastas, swap enriched flour products for whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals.

Popcorn is another whole grain and a fun snack that doubles as a great source of fiber.

Just go easy on the butter and salt.

Finally, as parents increase the fiber in their child’s diet as well as their own, it is important to also increase the amount of water they drink. If fiber is increased too quickly, it may cause cramping.

Think about one new fiber-rich food a week until kids and parents are eating the right amount.

Slow and steady is the best approach.

What parent doesn’t want happy, healthy kids?

Incorporating the right amounts of fiber in their daily diets is a good way to help accomplish that goal.

LaDell Emmons is the family and consumer science Extension educator for Pittsburg County.

Contact her at ladell.emmons@okstate.edu or 918-423-4120.

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