Why is fibre important?
Fibre is essential in your diet for many reasons. It helps your gut to work as it should and makes your stools softer and easier to pass, meaning you’ll be less likely to get constipated. A good intake of fibre can also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer. These aren’t conditions we normally think about in relation to children, but remember – healthy habits start in childhood.
Fibre also helps with ‘satiety’ – meaning it helps you to feel full. This, in turn, helps to support a healthy weight, as you’ll be less tempted to fill up on higher calorie foods. Given the rising levels of obesity among children, this is a really important issue to tackle. Adults, on average, don’t eat anywhere near the recommended 30g of fibre a day, so getting it right with your children might even help you to improve your own diet.
How much fibre should my child eat?
The amount of fibre a child needs changes depending on their age. For infants (under the age of two) there are no specific rules to follow. During this early stage of your child’s life, the focus is more about introducing a varied diet that provides plenty of energy and a wide range of nutrients. Naturally, fibre will be one of these, but it’s important not to fill infants up with fibre or they won’t eat enough energy-rich foods during a time of rapid growth.
Below lists roughly how much fibre different age groups should consume a day. As a reference, one slice of wholemeal bread contains around 2.5g of fibre and one apple contains around 1.8g of fibre.
- Children 2–5 years: 15g
- Children 5–11 years: 20g
- Children 11–16 years: 25g
- Adolescents 16–18: 30g
- Adults: 30g
What are good sources of fibre?
There are two different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble; both of which are essential and should be included in your diet. Many high-fibre foods will contain both types of fibre, but it’s good to know that:
- fruits, vegetables and oats are good sources of soluble fibre
- wholegrains and cereals are sources of insoluble fibre
Below lists some typical foods and how much fibre each contains, per 100g.
Cereals and carbohydrates
- Fibre flake/bran cereals: 13–24.5g
- Wholemeal bread (two slices): 5g
- Brown rice (boiled): 0.8g
- Wholemeal spaghetti (boiled): 3.5g
Fruits and vegetables
- Apple: 1.8g
- Banana: 1.1g
- Broccoli (boiled): 2.3g
- Carrots (boiled): 2.5g
Nuts and seeds
- Almonds: 7.4g
- Peanuts: 6.4g
- Sunflower seeds: 6.0g
Peas and beans
- Peas (boiled): 4.5g
- Baked Beans (in tomato sauce): 3.7g
- Chick peas (boiled): 4.3g
Is it dangerous to give children too much fibre?
It can be. Children grow rapidly, which means they need lots of energy and nutrients from their food. Too much fibre can fill them up quickly and therefore they won’t eat enough from other food groups to meet their nutritional needs.
What if my child doesn’t eat enough fibre?
It’s very much a balancing act to get the right amount of fibre – too little can also cause problems. Constipation is a potential consequence of not eating enough fibre, which can be incredibly uncomfortable and distressing for children.
A diet that’s low in fibre might be due to a lack of variety, or selective ‘picky’ eating, which can also mean a lower intake of some essential vitamins and minerals. If your child is constipated, try to up their intake of fruit and vegetables, and healthy cereals or grains, which all offer additional health benefits alongside containing fibre.
My top tips to including fibre in your child’s diet
- Add fresh fruit, nuts or seeds to their morning porridge.
- Bran cereal, such as bran flakes, is a good breakfast option for little ones who are constipated.
- Choose wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice.
- Offer snacks such as vegetable sticks, oatcakes and unsalted nuts.
- Include pulses like beans and chickpeas in cooking – they go really well in curries and stews, which the whole family can enjoy.
When increasing fibre, it’s important to do so gradually to avoid bloating and wind. Also, make sure your child drinks plenty of water throughout the day. This is because fibre needs water to work properly in the body.
If you’re struggling to get the right balance for your little one, or they have recurring constipation, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and support. Speak to your GP – they’ll be able to assess your child and may refer you to a dietitian if need be.