There are many elements to consider when it comes to mapping out a meal plan for yourself and those considerations compound when you add in the needs of your young children.
Everyone knows to avoid foods high in sugar and to focus on healthy and minimally processed foods.
One element that can be much more tricky to think about, though, is fiber. We’ve all been told at one time or another to make sure we’re getting ‘enough’ fiber in our diet, but what on earth is ‘enough,’ where does it come from, and what’s the darn point of eating it in the first place?
There’s fiber all around us, and you’ve most likely eaten some already today. Great job – as we’ll soon see, that fiber goes a long way to helping your little ones feeling satisfied all day long with a healthy diet.
Let’s take a look!
What Exactly is Fiber?
Outside of a food context, the word ‘fiber’ is typically used to refer to small strands – you may have heard someone refer to the fibers on a cable-knit sweater.
When it comes to dietary fiber, what we’re talking about are the building blocks that hold together plant cell walls.
These parts of the plant are not easy for our stomachs to digest.
While that might sound like a problem, it’s the main reason for all the benefits we’re about to discuss.
Fiber is made of starches that are not digested by the stomach, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help prevent cancer and lend a helping hand to the immune system.
- Insoluble Fiber– does not absorb water, and moves through the digestive system adding to stool bulk. Examples include whole wheat products, beans, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and berries.
- Soluble Fiber– absorbs water to form a gel-like substance. A few examples include oats, beans, oranges and even sweet potato.
In people of all ages and sizes, fiber provides a few consistent, key benefits that make it an important part of your diet.
Not only that, but the fiber we eat tends to stay in our gut longer than other foods. This helps delay the onset of hunger after a meal, again helping us manage portion size.
Studies have also shown that a diet high in fiber also helps reduce the amount of foods eaten that are high in fat and sugar, helping to prevent weight gain or aide with weight loss and improve unhealthy eating habits.
Managing Energy Levels
Fiber also helps regulate the way our body absorbs glucose from sugars in our bloodstream.
When carbohydrates are digested and broken down into simple sugars, they create a spike in blood sugars.
The increase in energy followed by the dreaded “sugar crash” about an hour later. Some of these calories are used for energy, while others are stored as fat.
Fiber-rich carbohydrates can help smooth out the spikes in blood sugar that your little ones might experience with eating foods higher in carbohydrates. Consuming these foods helps minimize the amount of calories stored as fat in the body.
Since fiber is not digested in the stomach, it travels relatively intact throughout the digestive system until it reaches the colon.
The colon is where the “good gut bacteria” can digest and use this nutrient to benefit the body.
You may have heard the term “gut bacteria” and “prebiotics” thrown around the nutrition world when it comes to fiber.
Fiber acts as a pre-biotic, or food, for the good gut bacteria.
These fiber-rich foods help keep the bacteria healthy so they can keep us healthy! Our gut bacteria helps to strengthen our immune system and is essential for brain health, managing weight, and even helps with blood sugar control.
Foods High in Fiber
Essentially, all fruits and vegetables contain fiber. Check out this list of high fiber foods to incorporate into your families meals times!
Other fiber-rich foods include whole grains and beans. Just a few servings of these foods each day will quickly get your child to their desired levels.
One of the best things about fiber is that the majority of the fiber is not lost during most cooking processes. So unlike other nutrients which we might lose by overly manipulating vegetables and fruits, the fiber always tends to stick around.
So whatever way you can find to get your kids, and yourself, excited about some vegetables with dinner – go for it!
Tips for Adding Fiber
- Try different types of pasta such as whole wheat, quinoa, or veggie pasta noodles
- Keep fruits and veggies easily accessible as a snack at home
- Pick whole grain cereal, bread, and crackers
- Opt for the whole wheat pancake/waffle mixes
- Sneak shredded veggies into marinara or other sauces
- Add flax seed or use whole wheat flour when making muffins
- Mix brown rice and beans together with a little cheese for a tasty combo
- Try making some chocolate chia seed pudding for dessert
People rarely talk about fiber when they look at their overall satisfaction with their diet, but it really might be the key ingredient that makes everything else better.
Fiber helps us feel satisfied with a reasonable amount of food, and it comes nicely packaged with so many great health benefits.
It’s about time we all start to take fiber a bit more seriously and make sure that we’re giving it a prime place in the diets of those we love.