Fiber facts

Fiber plays a very important role in a healthy diet.

Fiber is found in plants, and dietary fiber comes to us inside the fruits, vegetables and grains we eat.

Fiber provides no calories, as it cannot be digested by humans. Why is it so important then?

Fiber adds bulk to the diet. This bulk aids digestion by making food move faster through the system; not only preventing constipation but preventing the absorption of unhealthy substances as well. Fiber also protects the intestinal wall. With this function in mind, fiber helps to prevent diabetes, heart disease and diverticulosis, which sometimes develops into colon cancer.

Fiber makes you feel full faster and keeps you satisfied for longer, a priceless function when you are trying to control your weight.

Daily Recommended Amount of fiber

Older children, teenagers and adults should aim to have 20-35 grams fiber per day. Fresh fruit, vegetables and cereals should be introduced to younger children, but without counting grams. The amount of food young children should eat in a day doesn’t allow to reach this level of fiber in their diet.

How to get fiber

The way to ensure adequate fiber intake is to eat a variety of foods, including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals, and dried beans and peas.

If you are not having enough, add fiber to your diet gradually. Water aids the passage of fiber through the digestive system, so drink plenty of fluids. Take a few weeks to build up the amount of fiber in your diet to avoid discomfort.

When you don’t peel fruits and vegetables, you are actually getting some more fiber. Cooked food may actually increase your fiber intake by decreasing the volume of the food that you eat. Eating fiber rich food is beneficial, no matter if it is cooked or raw.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, slowing it. Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol, which can help prevent heart disease.

Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. Insoluble fiber seems to speed the passage of foods through the stomach and intestines.

The dark side of fiber

Eating too much fiber in a short period of time can cause bloating and cramps. This usually goes away once the natural bacteria in the digestive system get used to the increase in fiber in the diet. This is the reason to take some weeks to reach the recommended amount of fiber.

It has been mentioned that too much fiber may interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. As high fiber foods are usually also rich in minerals, this should not take your sleep away. However, consider this effect in the case of young children.

Source: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: fiber.

Where an adult would be considered (borderline) obese with a BMI of 30 or greater, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) charts would designate a child as obese at the 95th percentile. The two are roughly equivalent, but it's necessary to look at the charts for a more careful breakdown.

Percentage of body fat is another important measurement and here again the numbers differ by sex. An obese boy would be identified as one whose body fat was 25% or more of total body weight. For girls the number is 32% of body fat as a percentage of total weight.

One major reason for the difference is simply that females naturally have a higher percentage of body fat their entire lives. For adult males the number is roughly 15% for a healthy, fit individual. But for women the number is around 27%.

As with adults, the way to reduce body fat and excess weight involves the twin partners of proper diet and regular exercise. This will usually involve some lifestyle changes. These are often easier to implement for younger children, and have the added advantage of establishing good habits that typically carry on into the teen years and beyond.

Start on the road to good health young and it will be easier to maintain into adulthood.