The human microbiome is comprised of the trillions of bacteria populating the human gastrointestinal system. This collective of microorganisms is complex enough that some experts have begun to consider it as its own organ system. It makes sense that the gut microbiome plays a role in digestion and metabolism, but it may also play an intrinsic role in supporting immune function. The gut has also been found to have a unique, bidirectional link with the brain, referred to as the gut-brain axis. This suggests that maintaining good gut health may potentially contribute to better mental and emotional health, and vice versa.
This implies that good gut health is important for all ages, especially for kids. Unlike other aspects of your health that may seem fixed at birth, gut health can be altered and improved through some simple changes to diet and lifestyle. Here are some easy ways to boost your children’s gut health.
Probiotic Foods and Supplements
A great place to start is with probiotic-rich foods. These are foods that have been fermented and contain live and active cultures of beneficial bacteria. Consuming the right probiotics can help to repopulate your child’s gut and potentially introduce new beneficial strains into their gut microbiome.
Fortunately, there’s a wide range of foods and beverages that contain probiotics. Fermented dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, offer a mix of probiotics, dairy, and fruits. Just remember to go easy on the sugar content. Consider a plain, unsweetened yogurt and add fresh or cooked fruit to appeal to children’s taste buds. Other probiotic food options include kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Prebiotics and Fiber
While probiotics introduce bacteria into the gut, prebiotics feed the bacteria that already exist in the gut. Prebiotics generally comprise foods high in dietary fiber, which is composed of complex carbohydrates that come from indigestible plant material. “Indigestible” is important here. This ensures that the fiber can survive the harsh digestive acids and enzymes of the stomach to reach the intestines (where most of the gut bacteria reside) relatively intact.
Fiber generally appears in two forms, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber will dissolve in water and transform into a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in any liquids, whether it’s water or digestive juices. While these two types of fiber may have their own individual characteristics, gut bacteria will thrive when they have access to either or both
Unfortunately, a lot of the foods that are highest in fiber tend to not be the most kid-friendly. Broccoli, kale, and cruciferous veggies can be difficult for some kids to swallow, so start basic. Beans, steamed edamame, carrots, and celery offer plenty of fiber. Whole wheat and oatmeal also offer an easy source of fiber, though be aware of incorporating too many processed foods in your child’s diet.
Polyphenols are a type of compounds naturally found in plant material. They are best known for their antioxidant properties, but some studies suggest that polyphenols may play a role in maintaining gut health by modulating the microbial balance. These compounds are conveniently found in dark chocolate, but if you want to give your kids a polyphenol-rich treat with less sugar, calories and fat, other options include grapes, cherries, and most other berries.
Rich in numerous different vitamins and minerals, colostrum is a milky fluid produced by mammals that provides newborns with their first nutrients to support a healthy immune system. Colostrum supplements from bovine sources are packed with antibodies, growth factors, and lactoferrin, a protein involved in immune response. Along with its nutritional value, colostrum may also support gut health by strengthening the gut lining..
The good news is that it’s never too early to start supporting good gut health, and with some simple additions to your child’s diet, you can help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome for years to come. Colostrum supplements can be beneficial for people of all ages, and especially for an infant or child who did not receive the benefit of mother’s colostrum and/or of extended breastfeeding.