My most recent session at the nursery was titled “Let’s Make Pitta Pizzas” with the aim of raising awareness on the importance of fibre in toddler years. This was a great opportunity to allow the children to get creative and design their own pizzas.
There is a wealth of studies outlining the link between dietary fibre, disease prevention and health optimisation but, probably due to ethical reasons, there isn’t much for children.
So what is fibre anyway, and why is there so much hype around it?
Fibre is defined by the British Dietetic Association (BDA) as : “…the edible parts of plants resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine. It is completely or partially broken down by bacteria in the large intestine….”
Sources of fibre include:
- wholemeal/wholegrain/bran varieties of carbohydrates and cereals
- fruits and vegetables
- beans and pulses
- nuts and seeds
The health benefits of eating a high fibre diet can be summarised into 3 categories
1) Reduce risk of developing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer
2) Reduce and treat constipation by making stools softer and so easier to pass
3) Improve heart and vascular health by reducing blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure. (1)
Higher fibre diets (increased intake of fruits and vegetables) are also associated with being a healthy weight and having an active role in helping to promote sustainable weight loss.(2)
A 2012 review of existing evidence about dietary fibre intake on constipation, obesity, and diabetes in children indicated that children who eat diets with higher intakes of fibre are:
- more likely to have regular, soft bowel motions
- more likely to be a healthy body mass index
- associated with a lower percentage of visceral fat (fat around the organs) (3)
Studies around the link between type 2 diabetes prevention in children and fibre intake are lacking so all we have to go on at the moment is research that uses adult participants.
High fibre diets in adults are related to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and better controlled blood glucose levels. (3) Based on this, it makes sense for toddlers to eat a diet which is rich in dietary fibre to help prevent development of type 2 diabetes.
Children are too busy playing (as they should be) to be thinking what they eat and how it can help to prevent a lifelong health conditions, so it is important that they are introduced to these foods by their parents. This can be particularly difficult with children who are ‘picky’ or ‘fussy’ eaters where getting a child to eat a wide range of foods can be extremely difficult. Causes of fussy eating can range from difficulties at weaning ages, late introduction of solid foods and pressures to eat by primary care givers. A recent study showed that low intakes of dietary fibre, as a result of low intakes of fruit and vegetables, are associated with constipation in ‘picky’ eaters. (4)
Useful tips to help to increase food variety in a picky eater include repeated exposures to unfamiliar foods or and the creation of positive experiences around mealtimes. More information on tips to combat fussy eating can be found here:
Between the ages of 2-5 years old children only need 15g of dietary fibre a day, which is half of what an adult is recommended. For more info on what food has fibre and how much, follow the link here: http://bit.ly/2XuB7SX
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Thanks for reading.
1. British Dietetic Association (September 2016) Fibre, Available at: Bda.uk.com. (2019). Fibre. [online] Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/fibre [Accessed 23 Jun. 2019].
2. R. D. M. Varkevisser M. M. van Stralen W. Kroeze J. C. F. Ket I. H. M. Steenhui (2018) 'Determinants of weight loss maintenance: a systematic review', Obesity Reviews, 20(2), pp. 171-211 [Online]. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12772 (Accessed: 23 June 2019).
3. Sibylle Kranz, Mary Brauchla, Joanne L. Slavin, and Kevin B. Miller (January 2012) 'What Do We Know about Dietary Fiber Intake in Children and Health? The Effects of Fiber Intake on Constipation, Obesity, and Diabetes in Children', Advances in Nutrition, 3(1), pp. 47-53 [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3945/an.111.001362 (Accessed: 23 June 2019).
4. Taylor, C., & Emmett, P. (May 2019) 'Picky eating in children: causes and consequences', Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78(2), pp. 161-169 [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665118002586 (Accessed: 23 June 2019).