My child is constipated. What are some good sources of fiber, and how can I incorporate them into my child’s diet?
Fiber is crucial to your digestive system's functioning by keeping things moving through the digestive tract. There are 2 types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a sort of gel in your system, slowing down digestion. The most common source of soluble fiber is oat, and it has been shown to help reduce heart disease. This gel makes your stomach empty more slowly, meaning you feel full longer. It also interferes with the absorption of certain "bad stuff" into your body, like LDL cholesterol and sugar.
Insoluble fiber is what we think of as roughage. It adds bulk to your diet and goes through the system mostly intact because it doesn’t dissolve in water. The most common type of insoluble fiber is wheat bran fiber and it has been shown to help prevent certain cancers, such especially of the colon. It serves as a laxative and helps move food through your system faster. Both types of fiber are healthy and necessary, but insoluble fiber is the one you particularly want to pay attention to for constipation.
A useful formula for getting enough dietary fiber for kids is Age + 5 = grams of fiber per day. So if you have a 6 yr old, they should be getting at least 11 grams of fiber per day. When you increase fiber, it’s important to increase intake of water or you can make the constipation worse.
For constipated kids, try increasing their intake of the following:
- Water—Increase water consumption throughout the day. Hydration is important to help keep everything moving.
- Veggies—Eat veggies, veggies, and more veggies for roughage!
- Broccoli—Raw broccoli will provide the most fiber, but steamed is also good. Serve raw broccoli with hummus for a fibrous snack.
- Dark leafy greens—Spinach, kale and chard are very high in fiber, and taste delicious sautéed or steamed. If your kids are not into eating their greens, add leafy greens into omelets, soups, and salads.
- Root veggies—Winter is upon us, and root veggies are definitely in season. Stock up on carrots, celeriac, and parsnips! Kids love how sweet they are. Roast them together for a nice wintry mix.
- Whole wheat and whole grain products—Make sandwiches on whole wheat bread instead of white bread, and use whole wheat pasta or couscous. Brown rice is another great grain to incorporate into your regular menu.
- Bran cereal—Kids actually often love raisin bran cereal thanks to the natural sweetness of raisins. Try to find a cereal with little or no added sugar. You can also mix bran cereals into their favorite cereals to slowly introduce this new food.
- Fruits—Fruits, especially grapes (and raisins), apples, and, are high in fiber. Dried plums (formerly known as prunes), of course, are also known for being effective in keeping your digestive system moving. Sunsweet offers a wide variety of options for snacking and their Plum Smart juice is delicious and helps a lot. Avoid bananas because they have a binding effect, adding to the constipation problem.
- Beans—Toss chickpeas into salads, serve hummus or white bean dip alongside raw veggies for dipping instead of salad dressings. Our White Bean Dip (recipe below) gets double thumbs up from kids for lunch as a spread, or for a snack with veggies or chips, like Stacy’s Pita Chips or Beanitos! We also always get double thumbs up for our Fudgy Brownie Bites, with special ingredient: black beans!
- Flax—Ground flaxseeds are a great way to boost fiber in smoothies, baked goods, pancakes, or sprinkled on top of yogurt. Many of our recipes in Appetite for Life contain ground flaxseeds to boost omega 3 fatty acids and fiber, too!
Share fiber sources that work for your kids or you!
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White Bean Dip
from Appetite for Life
For those of you who love to dip into something really yummy, break out the sliced veggies or pita chips. This natural dip can also do double-duty as a spread for sandwiches, instead of mayo or mustard. The vitamin C will boost your immune system while the omega 3 fatty acids will benefit your heart and memory, too!
1 can (19 ounces) low-sodium, white kidney beans (cannellini), rinsed and drained
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
Juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons water
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic
Sliced raw vegetables and/or pita chips
- In food processor, place all ingredients except vegetables and pita chips. Pulse until ingredients are well blended and mixture is smooth.
- Serve with cut-up vegetables or pita chips or cover and refrigerate up to 4 days.
Makes 10 servings (2 tablespoons per serving).
Nutrition Facts per serving: 80 calories; 5g fat (1g sat fat, 2g mono, 1g poly, 0g trans fat); 0mg cholesterol; 8g carbohydrate (2g fiber, 1g sugar); 3g protein; 30mg sodium; 4% Daily Value (DV) vitamin A; 10% DV vitamin C; 2% DV calcium; 6% DV iron.