5 tips for building better gut health in kids
September 08, 2022
Child smiling at table with yogurt and raspberries

    There are 100 trillion bacteria in the human gut! The good ones are important in reducing risk of diseases and unwanted symptoms like stomach aches and uncomfortable digestion. Health benefits go even beyond the belly – gut health helps foster an overall healthy immune system too.

    “Good bacteria help maintain the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract, provide nutrients and vitamins, and protect against pathogens,” said Heather Agnew, gastroenterology and nutrition nurse practitioner. “The trillions of microorganisms in the intestinal tract make up the gut microbiome, which is developed when we’re young, so childhood is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of good health.”

    The concept of the gut-brain axis – or the physical and chemical connection between the gut and the brain – points to the gut’s impact on mental health too!

    Feeding kids to keep the gut microbiome healthy

    Many factors go into gut health, but diet is a key one. Parents can help kids build a healthy gut by:

    1. Serving foods high in dietary fiber, like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains

    Good bacteria feed off dietary fiber, so why not give them plenty of nourishment! Fiber also helps us feel full and can prevent constipation. Make it fun for your family by selecting new fiber-rich foods and recipes to try each week.

    1. Limiting sugar, which feeds the bad bacteria and suppresses the immune system

    While good bacteria like fiber, bad bacteria love sugar and can infringe on the good guys doing their work for gut health. Stifle those bad bacteria by backing off the sugary treats and drinks. Water is the best beverage choice not only in terms of limiting sugar, but in helping to keep dietary fiber moving through the system.

    1. Encouraging foods with good bacteria, such as yogurt

    Eating foods with live and active cultures – another way of saying good bacteria – is an easy way of adding beneficial bugs to the digestive tract. Other fermented foods like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut can do this too, though they’re not typically as kid friendly as yogurt.

    1. Staying away from processed foods and artificial sweeteners that irritate the gut

    Processed foods, like chips, packaged cookies and fast foods, lack the dietary fiber we know is so important for gut health and have additives that can increase gut inflammation. Artificial sweeteners often produce gassiness due to the way the bacteria in the gut process them.

    1. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, which can destroy good bacteria along with the bad

    Antibiotics fight bacterial infections by killing the bacteria directly or slowing its growth, but sometimes they wipe out good bacteria along with the bad. It’s common to see disruption in the normal gut flora following an illness or antibiotic treatment, leading to bloating, cramping, loose stools or changes in bowel habits. It’s best to use antibiotics only when necessary and select the narrowest spectrum to attack the problem-causing bacteria.

    How can probiotics help with tummy troubles?

    Probiotics supplements can help replenish good bacteria to restore balance in the body and ease constipation, diarrhea and stomach pain.

    “I typically recommend probiotics during and/or after an antibiotic course, during and shortly following an illness such as a GI bug, or for kids with irritable bowel syndrome,” added Agnew.

    Probiotics are generally effective for kids, but they don’t always work the same way they do in adults. It’s best to talk with your child’s health care provider to make sure you choose probiotics that will be safe with their other health concerns and medications.

    Read more about how our team helps kids and teens with their gastrointestinal and nutrition needs.

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