The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey data (2014) highlighted the lack of fibre consumed in the UK diet. With recommendations to increase our current intakes, it’s useful to know a little about why it’s important, the role it plays and how to increase consumption in a child’s diet.
Fibre constitutes the cell wall of plants, which provides them with their support and structure. It is a carbohydrate comprised of different sugars, which are indigestible to humans. It passes through the small intestines relatively intact and is principally fermented in the large intestine by our gut bacteria. It supports our digestive bacterial ecosystem and its by products of gases and short-chain fatty acids are also used for energy. Aside from playing a huge role in our digestive health it also plays a significant part in our overall health and vitality, including our immunity.
There are many different types of dietary fibre, which are primarily described as soluble and insoluble. All plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans all contain a variable amount of different fibres.
Types of soluble fibre include: inulin, beta-glucans, mucilage and pectin, which are found in fruit, lentils, oats, beans and vegetables. This fibre can slow the passage of food through the digestive system, increase a feeling of fullness and help control blood sugar levels.
Insoluble fibre such as cellulose and lignins found in nuts, flax, rye, seeds and some vegetables add volume to stools by holding water and improving transit time. This can significantly reduce the risk of constipation, which is a common childhood condition that can affect 30% of school age children.
An increase of fibre has also been linked to reduced risk of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, therefore the importance of a high fibre diet should not be overlooked.
How to talk fibre with children
Helping children to understand the benefits of fibre can be challenging but a story can always help. ‘The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of His Business’ and ‘It Hurts When I Poop! a Story for Children Who Are Scared to Use the Potty’ can be great starting points for a discussion that creates much hilarity amongst children. There are several other stories available on the markets, which help to create a link between diet and going to the toilet, which is the key message.
Some high fibre foods to encourage children to consume at snack/lunchtime
- Raw fruit with the skin – apple, pear, plum, peach
- Berries with seeds – raspberries, strawberries
- Raw tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, celery
- Seeds – handful of seeds with fruit
- Oats – porridge for breakfast, flapjacks (Oat and Banana Bites)
- Whole wheat products – pasta, bread
- Dried fruit – dates and apricots (Coco-Choc Mousse)
- Make smoothies – use a range of raw fruit/seeds (Blueberry Smoothie, Coconut Strawberry Smoothie)
- Beans and cocktail sticks – for snack time try a range of beans from butter beans, kidney and cannelloni
Please note it’s also important to increase fibre gradually in the diet, as too much too quickly can cause gas and bloating and also increase water consumption.
The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years.
Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. She has also published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’.