Gut health seems to be on everybody’s mind at the moment, with more exciting new research coming out every day. Science is showing how our gut health may link to a variety of health issues, from our immune system to our weight. However, you may not realise how essential gut health is for your children.
A child’s developmental period is an incredibly influential time for a number of reasons, but the cultivation of good gut bacteria in early life can contribute to our overall health in adulthood. So, we’ve compiled some top tips to help you look after your child’s gut, and ultimately, their general wellbeing, too!
Drink plenty—you should always make sure your children are drinking enough water. This helps promote healthy digestion and reduces the risk of constipation and digestive upset.
Reduce stress—stress and anxiety can affect your child’s gut health in many different ways, so if your little ones are worrying about something it may affect their digestion. There’s also increasing evidence in support of the so-called ‘gut-brain axis’, the idea that the gut and the brain are closely linked and interact with one another. If you’re concerned that your children are feeling stressed-out and their digestive health is suffering, why not try some simple mindfulness exercises aimed specifically at kids, or dispel some of that nervous energy through exercise?
Reduce unhealthy foods—junk foods, particularly sugar, wreak havoc on our guts, and can decrease our levels of friendly bacteria. Furthermore, sugar can feed bad bacteria and yeasts, which may then cause an imbalance in the gut (also known as dysbiosis). This may also lead to further sugar cravings—it’s a vicious cycle! Lots of children’s snacks are very high in sugar, so keep an eye on what they’re eating, and try to encourage healthy habits.
Embrace dirt!—you may have heard the term ‘hygiene hypothesis’ before, as in recent years there’s been growing support for the idea that we keep our children too clean, and that they will actually benefit from getting dirty. Our gut microbes and immune system are heavily interlinked, with 70 percent of the immune system residing in our guts – what affects one will affect the other. Exposure to ‘unclean’ conditions means kids come into contact with lots of new microbes, and this contact can help to challenge and improve their immune response and boost the diversity of gut bacteria. A little bit of dirt can go a long way!
Eat lots of fibre—we know that fibre helps to maintain regular bowel movements, but prebiotic fibre specifically helps to feed only our friendly bacteria and foster a healthy microbial composition. You can find prebiotics in lots of foods, such as onions, Jerusalem artichokes or garlic, but a more viable option for your child might be to choose a supplement that contains prebiotics.
Try probiotics—probiotics are friendly bacteria that help to support and maintain a healthy gut flora and digestive system. They can be found in foods like miso and sauerkraut, but little fussy eaters probably won’t thank you for fermented cabbage at dinnertime… Lots of yoghurts also contain probiotics, but are often quite sugary, and as discussed above, this could undo all the good the probiotics are doing. A good option is a specially formulated children’s probiotic, that’s easy to take and free of added nasties; for example, 'For babies & children’ from OptiBac Probiotics.
Children’s gut health is so important; we all want to provide our kids with the best start possible, and hopefully by taking on board these tips your child will reap the rewards.