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Preschoolers' Diets Need More Fiber

Many American children fall short of recommended fiber intake (search), and it’s costing them valuable nutrients.

But, there’s an easy fix. Just swap foods with some fiber for better options.

“Change to whole-grain products and high-fiber cereals,” says Sybille Kranz, PhD, RD, in a news release. “Also, children usually like sweet potatoes, baked beans, grapes, and oranges — and they’re all high-fiber, high-nutrient foods.”

Kranz, a Pennsylvania State University assistant professor of nutritional sciences, studied fiber intake among American preschoolers aged 2 to 5 years. She and her colleagues studied two-day food records for more than 5,400 children.

Many kids fell short, the researchers report in February’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The goal is to get 14 daily grams of fiber per 1,000 calories. That guideline — set by the National Academy of Sciences’ Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) in 2002 — applies to people of all ages.

On average, two-day fiber consumption was a bit better for 4- and 5-year-olds. They totaled 11.5 daily grams of fiber, compared with 9.9 grams for 2- and 3-year-olds.

There were big gaps among some children. The top-ranked fiber eaters nearly doubled the fiber intake of those consuming the least fiber. They also ate almost twice the servings of fruits and grains, especially among the younger children.

Why Fiber Matters

Fiber helps kids avoid chronic constipation (search). It’s also been shown to help grown-ups cut their risk of some cancers, as well as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Kids who eat fiber-rich foods tend to eat more healthfully. In the study, kids eating the most fiber fared better with many nutrients, except for calcium and vitamin B-12.

“If parents feed their preschoolers fiber-rich foods, they are most likely providing important nutrients for the children as well,” says Kranz, in the news release.

Those children also have another advantage. They’re more likely to keep eating fiber as adults. It’s easier to start that good habit in childhood, instead of trying to shift gears later in life.

Foods to Keep, Foods to Change

The researchers looked closely at the kids’ diets. Most of the fiber (14.2 percent) came from applesauce and fruit cocktail. Second place went to soy and legumes (6.2 percent).

High-fiber cereals including Shredded Wheat and All Bran accounted for 5.5 percent of fiber. But almost the same percentages came from high-fat pizza (5.3 percent) and high-fat salty snacks (5.1 percent).

Kids didn’t eat enough high-fiber fruits and vegetables to help much. Change that pattern, and kids’ fiber intake should increase safely, say the researchers. They favor foods, not supplements, to give kids more fiber.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Kranz, S. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, February 2005. News release, Pennsylvania State University.