When you decide to raise a whole foods plant-based family, one thing is for sure: your fiber intake is going to skyrocket pretty significantly. And you know what that means, right? Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat…. Well, you know the rest.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, or chain of sugar molecules, from plant foods that the body cannot digest (aka it moves right through). It is often sometimes referred to as “roughage”. Fiber plays a really important role in maintaining overall health, especially digestive, and even plays a role in the prevention of things like colon cancer, obesity, diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestines), constipation, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
So, starting your littles out on a diet that is adequate in fiber is a good idea.
Fiber is considered a public health “nutrient of concern” by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, because most American do not consume enough of it. This makes sense because national surveys have shown that most Americans eat about half of the recommended daily servings for fruits and vegetables – and the ones we do eat are often soaked in added salt and fat.
What Does Fiber Do?
- Helps move food through the body and normalize bowel movements
- Supports gut health through fermentation
- Lowers cholesterol
- Promotes satiety and supports healthy weight maintenance
- Helps stabilize blood sugar levels
Types of Fiber
Though plant foods typically contain both types of fiber, some are higher in either soluble or insoluble fiber. A widely varied plant based diet that incorporates a balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds will provide a healthy range of both types.
Soluble Fiber dissolves in water and plays a primary role in lowering blood sugar levels when eating and helping to lower cholesterol. Some foods high in soluble fiber include oatmeal, lentils, beans, barley, oat bran, nuts, seeds, and peas.
Insoluble Fiber does not dissolve in water, and plays a large role in digestive regularity. Some foods high in insoluble fiber include whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, carrots, corn, bran, lentils, and flax.
Daily Fiber Needs for Kids
Children, ages 1-3 years: 14 grams
Female, ages 4-8 years: 17 grams
Males, ages 4-8 years: 20 grams
What Does This Look Like?
To give you an example, here is the fiber content of some common foods on a plant-based diet:
1 medium apple, with skin: 4.5 grams
1 slice whole grain bread: 2 grams
1 medium banana: 3 grams
2 Tbsp peanut butter: 2 grams
1/4 cup green lentils: 5 grams
1/4 cup raw split green peas: 11 grams
1 cup canned green beans: 2.5 grams
1 packet homestyle oatmeal: 4 grams
2 Tbsp ground flax seed: 4 grams
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds: 3 grams
1/2 cup baby broccoli florets: 1 gram
Ways to Increase Fiber Intake
- Replace white breads and pastas with whole grain breads and pastas
- Replace fruit and vegetable juices with whole fruits and vegetables
- Sprinkle nuts and seeds onto pastas, soups and salads
- Provide raw vegetables and fruits as snacks in place of packaged food items like chips
- Add beans to soups, pasta sauces, on salads and on top of pizzas
- Leave the crust and skin on things like whole wheat breads, potatoes, zucchini, and raw fruits
On the other hand, is there such a thing as eating TOO MUCH fiber?
Yes! Because fiber plays a major role in satiety, it’s important that your kids find a healthy balance in how much they’re eating. If you notice that your child is not eating enough at meals due to feeling full more quickly, is losing weight, has a significant change in bowel habits (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, bloating or other stomach discomfort when eating), or has plateaued in growth and it doesn’t seem normal to you – you may need to reduce his or her fiber intake. Fiber can make kids feel full early, preventing them from getting enough calories from eating other, lower-fiber foods as part of a well balanced meal. This is something that would warrant a visit to your registered dietitian to create a meal plan that incorporates adequate, but not too much, fiber and increased calorie and fat intake.
Ways to Reduce Fiber Intake (only if needed):
- Replace some whole grains and pastas with white, enriched grains and pastas
- Peel the crusts off of bread and the skins off of produce
- Use 100% fruit juices occasionally in place of whole fruits with their skins
High Fiber Meals and Snacks for Vegan Toddlers
Whole grain tortilla topped with marinara, vegan cheese and kidney beans
Trail mix made with nuts, seeds, raisins and dark chocolate
Whole grain cereals or cereals made with beans and lentils as the first ingredients
PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread
Raw carrot sticks with hummus
Almond yogurt topped with ground flaxseed and pumpkin seeds
Apple slices dipped in peanut butter and chia seeds
Homemade granola bars with oats, nuts and seeds
Oatmeal with hemp seeds, blueberries and almonds
Whole grain crackers with bean dip
Whole wheat toast with avocado, tomatoes and hemp seeds
Grilled vegan cheese with spinach on whole grain bread
Bean and vegan cheese quesadillas
Whole grain spaghetti with marinara and lentils
Poop output is proportional to fiber intake, so you can expect your plant-based toddler to get into a pretty regular bowel routine. Just sayin’.
General guidelines are that some toddlers for #2 every couple of days, while others go multiple times a day. I’d venture a guess that plant-based kiddos are typically more on the latter, as has been my experience thus far. And this is healthy! Like I said, fiber helps keep things moving through the body, so keep offering those whole foods, plant foods. Just make sure you keep a nice stock of diapers on hand while they’re little. 😉