Top Ways to Improve Your Child’s Gut Health
A healthy gastrointestinal tract helps kids thrive. But sometimes it needs a little TLC. When you boost your child’s gut health by supporting the microbiome, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of health, plus fewer colds, less severe stomach bugs, and many more benefits as science is showing more and more how a healthy microbiome is crucial to overall health. The human microbiome is largely a product of lifestyle and environment and is most malleable in infancy and childhood. By the time our kids reach school age, the general makeup of their microbiome has been established and will remain with them for years, decades, or most likely their entire life.
Maintaining or improving a healthy gut in your child begins with simple choices in your everyday life. The good news is that with very little intervention, the good (probiotic) bacteria often flourish and are able to support a healthy body and mind in your child.
If you’re interested in testing your child’s gut health, read our article about How to Read Your Child’s Results of Viome Gut Intelligence Test.
Add More Beneficial Bacteria to the Mix
Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and any naturally fermented food will contain naturally occurring probiotics which help colonize your child’s digestive system with healthy bacteria. Kefir and kombucha may be easier and better initial choices, especially for younger children. Kefir can really help with digestion. The active yeast, good bacteria, and excess digestive enzymes can provide more nutritive value than yogurt by helping digest the foods you eat. It has been suggested to try offering 2-3 servings per week of probiotic fermented foods.
Feed the Good Microbes in the Gut
Vegetables and minimally processed grains provide prebiotic fiber, which fuels healthy bacteria. Fiber in grains, fruits, and vegetables helps keep gut bacteria healthy. These fiber types are found in whole grains (like whole wheat bread and brown rice), bananas, and berries. Getting plenty of fiber from food can also help reduce the odds for constipation, a common childhood problem. Children need up to about 25 grams of fiber daily. Feeding your child a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes ensures that their developing microbiome has lots of nourishment.
Cut Back on Processed and High Sugar Foods
Eliminate foods that harm your gut. Processed foods and sugar can cause some level of gut damage for most people. Bad bacteria feed off sugar, so an important way to prevent damage or to heal your gut is to minimize the amount of sugar you eat. Diet drinks and artificial sweeteners can also mess with good bacteria.
Take Probiotic Supplements
For many kids, a probiotic supplement is a great way to boost healthy gut bacteria, especially if they’re picky eaters or need extra support. Probiotics are generally safe for kids, but because there is limited data on proper dosage, especially for children under 2, it’s important to consult with your child’s pediatrician before starting any probiotic regimen.
Play in the Garden and Snuggle With Pets
Get outside and play in the dirt with your kids! It’s one of the best ways to boost your child’s gut health and immune system. Whether it’s gardening or making mud pies, this is therapeutic as well as healthy. Shielding kids from dirt may weaken their immune systems. Our pets, especially dogs and cats, can actually serve as an ideal conduit between the bacteria-laden dirt in our yards and our children. A study published in JAMA suggested that babies who grow up exposed to dogs are less likely to develop asthma before they reach age 6. When your child nuzzles with your dog think about the benefits that the bacteria he’s carrying can bestow on them.
Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics
Antibiotics can cure a raging ear infection and strep throat. However, they can kill off good gut bacteria at the same time. Use these drugs only when needed. Avoid using them for viral infections like colds, flu, and many ear and sinus infections.
We’re only just beginning to understand the vast and complex connection your child’s microbiome has upon their body and mind. The factors discussed above are meant to be guidelines to help your child develop a healthy gut microbiome and in turn a healthy digestive system. However, these are not medical interventions. Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician if he or she has constipation for more than a few days or any ongoing digestion-related symptoms that concern you, such as stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating or gas. The pediatrician may refer your child to a pediatric gastroenterologist, a digestive-disease expert who can diagnose and treat a wide variety of gastrointestinal health concerns in children and teens.