Ask Dietitian: How Can I Ensure My Child is Getting Enough Fibre?
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Ask Dietitian: How Can I Ensure My Child is Getting Enough Fibre?

Dietary fibre is one of the most important nutrients in our diet, especially for small children, however it is not frequently mentioned when it comes to children’s health. A diet that is too low in dietary fibre is closely linked to abdominal discomfort and constipation, and as children’s diets have become filled with processed foods, they are often getting less than half the total amount of fibre they ideally need for good gut health. So here are the reasons your little one needs fibre, which foods they can get it from, and how to tell if they are getting enough.

Why is fibre important?

Dietary fibre has a number of important roles in the body. Apart from keeping the gut healthy by facilitating the removal of waste through the digestive tract, dietary fibre also plays a role in helping to develop healthy bacteria in the gut, regulating cholesterol absorption, and in keeping us full after eating.

What are the different types of fibre we need?

There are three different types of fibre that we get from different types of food, which also have different roles and functions in the body.

- Soluble fibre - Found in fruits, vegetables, oats, legumes (such as kidney beans) and lentils. Soluble fibre forms a gel like substance when it combines with water and is specifically involved in lowering cholesterol, controlling blood glucose levels and slowing down digestion, which keeps us fuller for longer.

- Insoluble fibre - Found primarily in wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds, and in the skin of fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fibres move through the gut largely undigested and support regular bowel movements.

- Resistant starch - Resistant starch is a type of fibre that remains undigested until it reaches the large intestine where it assists in the production of good bacteria, which helps to keep the gut healthy. Resistant starch is found only in a few specific foods including cooked and cooled potato and green bananas.

How much fibre does my child need every day?

Small children aged between four and eight-years old need 18 grams of fibre each day, while children younger than this need at least seven to ten grams each day. The good news is that once a few basic diet conditions are ticked off these targets will be easily reached.

How can I ensure my children are reaching their daily requirement of fibre?

To ensure your little one is getting enough fibre, the first thing to do is ensure they are eating two pieces of fresh fruit each day and at least half to one cup of vegetables. The vegetables can be fresh, raw or in soups, as long as they are eaten. Next, try to make all of your bread and cracker choices wholegrain where possible, look for high-fibre breads and cereals and brown rice or pasta. Finally, in order for the digestive system to work efficiently, small children also need plenty of water to help move the food waste through the digestive tract. If they are not drinking at least two toddler bottles of fluid each day, or more than 500 to 600mls of milk or formula once they reach 12-months-of-age, this could be one of the reasons they are constipated.