The importance of digestive health is a buzz right now both in the media and the scientific community, where the health of digestive system bacteria is recognised as being essential to our overall health and wellbeing. We are not just what we eat, but what we absorb.
As parents, it’s really important that we understand how to best support a healthy microbiome (the good bugs that live in our gut), for our own wellness, but also for our precious kids. But why is the gut microbiome so important? A healthy digestive system is really essential for kids to be happy and healthy. There are many reasons why having a diverse range of gut bacteria is important for good health, but these are the most critical…
Four ways to support your child’s gut health
1) Strictly limit processed foods
Processed food, especially food with a long shelf life that doesn’t spoil quickly (because it is sterile) is a double whammy for gut health. Firstly, it doesn’t support the health of your kids’ bodies, nor does it ‘feed’ the gut microbiome. The long-term effects of artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, emulsifiers and genetically modified ingredients is poorly understood. However, studies that have compared the gut flora of cultures that eat no processed foods have found them to be 50 per cent more diverse than those eating a Western diet. Also, when processed foods replace whole foods, it’s a wasted opportunity to nourish and develop your kids and their gut microbiome.
2) Plant-based nourishment
Kids’ gut bugs rely on the complex carbohydrates found in plant material, primarily vegetables, but also fruit and well-prepared legumes and whole grains, to thrive and grow. Plants also provide prebiotic fibre that passes through the body undigested and this feeds and stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. So teach your kids to love eating whole foods, especially those plant-based. Just as you wouldn’t give up on teaching them to read, write or toilet train, don’t give up on them enjoying veggies. I have lots of tips and strategies for helping parents to raise whole food loving kids over at www.wellnourished.com.au
3) Use antibiotics only when necessary
Antibiotics are a therapy that should be reserved for when they are needed most. The benefits need to outweigh the risks and if they are absolutely necessary, then please talk to your medical or naturopathic practitioner about restoring gut health after antibiotics. This is essential for your kids’ long-term health and to avoid the development of subsequent infection and health issues related to poor gut flora.
4) Probiotic foods
Probiotic foods are gut-friendly foods that support gut bacteria diversity. There are many widely available options for kids to include in their diet so pick their favourite:
- Yoghurt. The best choice is unflavoured and unsweetened, full-fat (preferably organic) natural yoghurt.
- Kombucha. My hubby calls this ‘healthy soft drink’ and my kids feel they are getting a real treat when we buy it. There are many flavours available so find one that your kids like.
- Kefir. This is another probiotic drink my kids enjoy. Like kombucha, there are many flavours and varieties to try.
- Fermented vegetables. Think sauerkraut and kim chi. Again, there are many different varieties, so if your kids don’t like one kind, perhaps try another.
- Fermented soy, such as tempeh and miso paste. My kids love miso soup (made with a naturally fermented paste and boiling water – simple).
When our gut is healthy, so are we. I hope this article has given you some ideas as to how best to support your kids gut microbiome.