5 Tips for improving your child’s gut health
We are learning more and more about the importance of a healthy gut for overall health and disease prevention. Some signs which may indicate your child has an unhappy gut includes stomach discomfort or upset, constipation, diarrhoea, wind, lethargy, poor mood and frequent infections. If you have noticed any of these symptoms these tips below can be used as checklist to identify potential contributing factors.
1. Provide regular meals and snacks
Offering your child regular meals and snacks helps support their digestion and reduces the risk of overeating and stomach discomfort. It is important to remember that a child’s stomach is much smaller than an adults and therefore they often will need smaller meals with a snack in between. I also often discuss with parent’s letting the child decide how much they want to eat at meal and snack times as it allows their child to adapt their food intake according to their hunger.
2. Include a variety of fibre rich foods
Fibre is essential to help keep your child’s bowels regular and to help prevent constipation. Fibre is found in a variety of foods including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Some strategies to ensure appropriate fibre intake include choosing wholemeal/wholegrain breads and cereals (e.g. oats, weet-bix), using wholemeal pasta or brown rice, including 1-2 serves fresh fruit per day (2 serves for children over 8) and a variety of vegetables each day. Nuts are also great to include however whole nuts are not suitable for children under 3 as they are a choking risk.
3. Ensure appropriate fluid intake
To help keep your child regular it is important to ensure they are drinking enough fluids. As a guide children should be drinking:
- Children 1-3 years – 1000mL
- Children 4-8 years – 1200mL
- Girls 9-13 years – 1400mL
- Boys 9-13 years/Girls 14-18 years – 1600mL
- Boys 14-18 years – 1900mL
Water should be the main fluid offered. Whilst milk is important it is recommended to limit to 500mL per day to ensure it is not displacing other foods from the diet. Fruit juice is generally not recommended and excess intake may result in diarrhoea.
4. Include probiotic and prebiotic rich foods
Probiotics are live microorganisms such as bacteria which can be found in certain foods such as yoghurt and fermented milk products. Probiotics are known to have several beneficial roles in the gut including preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, assisting in the digestion and absorption of nutrients, contributing to short chain fatty acid production and maintaining a healthy immune system.
Prebiotics on the other hand act as the fuel for the good bacteria in your child’s gut. Prebiotic rich food sources include bananas, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, chicory, legumes and wholegrains like wheat, rye, barley and oats.
5. Limit highly processed and fatty foods to only occasional
Frequent consumption of highly processed foods and fatty foods can negatively impact your child’s gut bacteria. It is also known that high fat foods can slow digestion resulting in stomach discomfort and altered bowels.
Other general tips
For younger children it is important to ensure a good toilet routine. Children should be given time to sit on the toilet after meals and not be rushed. They should also be discouraged from ‘holding on’. Active play or exercise should also be included daily to help keep bowels regular.
If you would like more individualised advice on your child’s gut health or are concerned your child may have a potential food allergy or intolerance please get in touch.