Eye on Nutrition: Fiber

Food Packages Nutrition Education

Make Every Bite Count

WIC food packages and nutrition education are the chief means by which WIC affects the dietary quality and habits of participants. Did you know that these two benefits are among the top reasons for continued participation in WIC (in addition to the work of WIC personnel!), and that consistent 4-year participation in WIC was associated with better diet quality?

Eye on Nutrition brings focus to the foods and nutrients in the WIC food packages to shine a light on their importance to WIC participants. The Dietary Guidelines consider fiber to be a nutrient of public health concern for those 2 years of age and older since low intakes are associated with health concerns. Since more than 90 percent of women don’t meet the recommended dietary fiber intakes, Eye on Nutrition is highlighting this nutrient.

Be sure to check out fiber-rich recipes WIC staff have shared with us.

What is Fiber?
Why is Fiber Important?
What WIC-Eligible Foods Provide Fiber?
Is Fiber on the Nutrition Facts Label?
Education Resources

 

What is Fiber?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plants. You also might know it as “dietary fiber” or “roughage”. Fiber adds bulk to our meals and helps us stay fuller for longer periods of time.  There are two types of fiber - soluble and insoluble fiber. Both are important in our diet.

Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
Soluble fiber slows digestion by attracting water and turning into a gel-like substance, working to ensure a healthy microflora in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Research shows that soluble fiber can lower cholesterol levels, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. Soluble fiber is found in most fruits, oats, nuts, beans, and peas.

Insoluble fiber tends to speed up the passage of foods through the GI tract and adds bulk to the stool, reducing constipation. Examples of insoluble fiber sources are wheat bran and non-starchy vegetables.

It’s important to get a balanced amount of both types of fiber in your diet, as both aid in digestion and overall health.

 

Why is Fiber Important?

Fiber has many health benefits, like helping to maintain a healthy weight (by keeping us feeling full) and promoting prebiotic growth in the gut (which feeds the probiotics that keep our guts healthy!).  Prebiotics are fibers that get fermented in the gut and act as food for the bacteria in your microbiome, improving overall health. Food sources considered to have prebiotic effects include some whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, and artichokes.

Fiber also lowers the risk of, or can prevent, many conditions, such as:

Since it can alleviate constipation, fiber is especially beneficial in childhood and during pregnancy, instances during the lifecycle where this GI stressor might be a bigger issue.

Since fiber also keeps us satisfied longer, it can help with preventing excessive weight gain during childhood and pregnancy.

Fiber-rich foods are also good sources of other nutrients.

 

What WIC-Eligible Foods Provide Fiber?

Foods beyond those in the WIC food packages that are high in fiber include additional whole grain products and nuts and seeds (check out this list).

Ingredient Swaps and Tips to Increase Fiber

Help participants get more fiber into their diet by using simple ingredient “swaps” and fiber-rich additions to their meals and snacks. Choose better-for-you options to increase fiber intake, such as:

  • Whole wheat or whole grain bread vs. white bread
  • Whole wheat pasta vs. traditional pasta
  • Brown rice vs. white rice varieties
  • Whole wheat or corn tortillas vs. white flour tortillas
  • Breakfast cereals with closer to 20% DV dietary fiber vs. those with closer to 5% DV
  • Whole fruits and vegetables vs. juice

Keeping the edible skin on fruit, adding leafy greens, and/or adding a tablespoon of oats when making smoothies can also help boost fiber intake.


 

Is Fiber on the Nutrition Facts Label?

Dietary fiber is a “nutrient to get more of” and is required to be on the Nutrition Facts label, which lists this nutrient as a sub-group under Total Carbohydrates.

 

Education Resources

The Dietary Fiber Fact Sheet offers tips to compare food labels to choose the item with more dietary fiber (of course, choosing the foods with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar is best!), such as:

  • Look for whole grains on the Ingredients List (e.g., barley, brown rice, whole grain corn, quinoa, etc.). The closer an ingredient is to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food.
     
  • Use the % Daily Value to identify a high- (or low-) fiber food (for adults):
    • 20% DV or more dietary fiber per serving is considered high
    • 5% DV or less dietary fiber per serving is considered low

For children, parents and caregivers can use the amount listed in grams. (Fiber needs vary depending on age and gender. Children aged 2-3 years old should aim for 14 grams of fiber per day, and those 4-8 years old should aim for 17 g per day.)

MyPlate offers something for everyone, including:

Additional professional resources can be helpful in planning fiber lessons for WIC participants, including MyPlate for My Family that has Educator’s Handbook, Discussion Sessions, and handouts in English and Spanish (while designed originally for SNAP-Ed, this resource can be used by WIC too!).

Foods in general can be challenging to chew for young children since they are still learning how to chew food properly. Parents and caregivers can reduce the risk of choking by preparing food in certain ways.

Fiber Sources Grains Fruits Vegetables
Developed by: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
HHS, Food and Drug Administration
HHS, National Institutes of Health
HHS, NIH, Medline Plus
USDA, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
USDA, Food and Nutrition Service