Dietary fiber does a whole lot of good for kids’ bodies while having next to no downsides. Found in fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, this prebiotic helps move food through their digestive system, curtails blood-sugar spikes, prevents constipation, and keeps kids pooping regularly. Fiber also fills bellies faster than empty carbs to keep kids from overeating, and certain types of fiber promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. So, yes, dietary fiber is crucial to health. Don’t reach for a fiber supplement just yet. While it’s hard to get enough fiber (more on that below), few pediatric nutritionists recommend supplements. No one said getting enough fiber would be easy.
Despite fiber’s long list of benefits, most American children don’t get enough of it in their diets, even though many kid-favorite foods are rich sources. Apples, pears, berries, bananas, raw broccoli, carrots, oatmeal, popcorn, sweet potatoes — all chockfull of fiber. Why? Because, frankly, they need to eat more of the above. And as any parent knows, that’s not always easy to implement.
To calculate how much dietary fiber your child needs each day, just remember the number five. Whatever their age is, add five to it, and that’s how many grams they should get daily, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. So, if you’ve got a bouncy 2-year-old tot, try to feed them 7 grams of fiber each day. A moody 13-year-old who doesn’t want Dad telling them what to eat? They need 18 grams — good luck!
Five comes in handy again when ensuring kids actually get in all those grams. Give them five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and that should cover their fiber requirements at any age.
However, the reason most children and teens don’t consume enough fiber is because they don’t get those recommended five servings on the daily. As any parent knows, actually getting fruits and veggies down the hatch, let alone whole-grain bread, beans, or lentils, is often easier advised than accomplished. They might have a picky eater on their hands, or maybe a dinner-table dreamer who needs constant coaxing to eat all the cauliflower-and-cheese on their plate. Also, some parents simply don’t have the time, patience, or means to give their kids five full servings of fruits and veggies every single day.
So why not give them a fiber supplement to make sure they hit their fiber quota? It would probably be a whole lot easier. After all, old folks take Metamucil. Can’t kids too?
Although most fiber supplements are generally safe for kids, doctors and pediatric dietitians typically don’t want children to take them unless it’s truly necessary. For example, if a kid is experiencing constipation that just won’t stop, they may recommend a fiber supplement, likely one made specifically for kids instead of an adult product. But generally, they’ll encourage parents to try dietary tactics first, such as the old prune-juice-and-water trick, which really does work. They may also suggest simply upping their fruit and vegetable intake if it’s low, or serving vegetables raw or lightly cooked instead of fully cooking them, which destroys some of the plant’s natural fibers.
Whether your kid is constipated or not, the general rule is food first, supplements as a last resort — and always only under a health care provider’s guidance. If parents are doing their best to feed their kids fiber-rich foods but still worry their intake is low, then it’s time for substitutions and trickery. For example, swap out refined breads, pastas, and wraps with whole-grain varieties. Trade white rice for brown or wild rice. Make raw broccoli, carrots, and celery more enticing with Ranch dip or melted cheese. Sneak some fiber into your waffle or pancake mix. Mix in fiber-rich flakes with their favorite cereal.
These tactics should get enough fiber into their mouths. But if parents are still concerned, call up the family doctor or pediatrician and only go the supplement route if they think it’s wise.
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