If you want to set your child up for good health, it’s essential to bolster the bacteria in their belly. UNCLE TOBYS Nutritionist and mum of three, Kathleen Alleaume shares the importance of a whole grain diet to support your kid’s gut health.
The importance of good gut health in children
By now, most of us have heard about the “friendly” and “unfriendly” bugs that live in our gut. These diverse range of tiny critters that inhabit our gut (aka the gut microbiome) is established in the early years of life. Whilst every child’s gut is like a unique fingerprint, emerging evidence suggests that a healthy balance of gut microbes may influence a wide range of important functions, including supporting their immunity, ability to extract nutrients and energy from food, to even how they respond to certain foods.
You are what you eat
What your child eats has a huge influence on maintaining a balanced microbiome. Fortunately, nurturing your child’s gut doesn’t have to be hard. Here are my top five simple tips.
1. Focus on fibre
Making sure our kids eat enough protein for growth and development is one thing, yet studies show we often overlook the importance of dietary fibre, with only 42.3% of children meeting their adequate daily intake of dietary fibre. Not getting enough fibre every day may significantly change the way your child’s gut functions. Why? Fibre isn’t just a bulking agent to ease their daily bowel movements. It’s also the meal choice for the beneficial bacteria in the gut to survive and thrive.
Unfortunately, dietary fibre consumption is generally below-par in Australia. It’s recommended for adults to consume at least 30 grams of fibre every day from whole foods, most of which can be found in plants. Children aged (4 to 8 years) need roughly 18 grams per day.
2. Start with breakfast. Make sure that the family is starting their day with a wide variety of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, and nuts to help pack in a diverse range of dietary fibres for optimal gut health. Wholegrains not only provide a source of carbohydrates to ensure the little ones stay energised but will typically dish up more fibre compared to refined grains. UNCLE TOBYS Low Sugar CHEERIOS with milk and fresh fruit is a high-fibre choice or wholegrain toast with avocado and boiled egg make up a balanced option for a great start.
3. Sensible snacking. Snack on fruit, nuts or a muesli bars made with whole grains. Look for snacks that have 2g of fibre or more per serving. My kids and I are loving the new UNCLE TOBYS Chewy Milo muesli bars.
4. Eat a rainbow. Opt for a variety of vegetables across meals and snacks. When preparing dinner, chop extra veggie sticks for the following day. Store in containers and pack in the lunch box. Team with high-protein dips like hummus or cheese. Think a serve of veg is hard to achieve? Think again. One serve is equal to ½ a cup. Kids between the age of 5 to 10 years need between 2.5 to 5 serves every day.
5. Up your grain game. According to the Australian Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council, most Aussies eat ‘core foods’ every day (like bread, breakfast cereals, pasta and rice), but only around 30% of these are whole grain, so most of us are falling short of their health benefits, which include up to three times the amount of dietary fibre, and 80% more minerals like iron and zinc.
How to identify if core foods are in fact, whole grain foods
Watch out for labels mentioning “Multigrain”; these products have several grains, but they may be refined and stripped of their natural fibre nutrients. “Made with whole grain” is another one to be cautious of, as this may indicate that the food has 30% or less whole grain, with the rest being refined grains such as flour. While these foods are a better alternative to having no whole grain at all, it may not be what you were expecting!
Instead, reach for products that read “100% whole grain” or contain only the following types of grains, as these ensure it is a whole grain product:
- Oats, including oatmeal
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Corn (should be listed as “whole” and may be referred to as cornmeal)
- Bulgur (may be referred to as cracked wheat)
- Rye (should be listed as “whole rye”)
- Wheat (should be listed as “whole wheat”)
If these grains are listed first on the ingredient list followed by only one other refined grain, the product is probably at least 50% whole grain. If the whole grain comes after a refined grain on the list, it’s hard to decipher how much whole grain the product actually contains.
Make sure you’re checking product labels following the above process and are eating a variety of whole grains each day, such as breakfast cereals made with whole grains, whole grain noodles or bread for lunch, and add brown rice or barley to soups and casseroles.