We hear so much about the importance of looking after our gut microbiome as adults and as we age, but we rarely discuss the importance of supporting our children’s gut health.
Thinking about gut health in children is a really great opportunity to set them up for overall health for the rest of their lives. With 70% of our immune cells located in our gut, supporting your child’s gut microbiome can be considered vital in supporting their immune health.
The infant gut begins developing in the mother’s womb, and continues to develop into childhood. The diversity of bacteria in a baby’s gut is influenced by many factors such as the mother’s diet and lifestyle whilst pregnant, as well as the method of delivery (babies born by C-section are not exposed to the same bacteria as babies born via the vaginal canal). To learn more about supporting babies gut, click here.
As children age, their diet and the environment they are in play key roles in the diversity of the bacteria in their gut. According to research, the more diversity there is in the gut, the lower the risk of developing certain diseases and allergies.
So how can you support your child’s gut health?
Here are our top tips for supporting your child’s gut microbiome to support their immune health:
Get back to basics – look for the fundamental everyday foods that we use all the time in cooking that can be beneficial:
Prebiotics: ingredients like onion, garlic and legumes. These foods reach the large intestine largely undigested, where they are broken down by bacteria, creating by-products which help support the lining of the gut.
Probiotics: live yogurt and kefir are a great place to start in introducing to a child’s diet. As their tastes develop you could even start working in more foods such as miso and fermented vegetables. Probiotic foods contain the live beneficial bacteria that are great for keeping their gut happy.
If you eat meat, try slow cooked stews with the bone in the meat. An amino acid is produced called glutamine, which has been associated with healing for the gut lining. Plus, stews are a great way to introduce vegetables, beans and pulses into your child’s diet without them noticing!
Omega-3: These have an anti-inflammatory affect in the gut. Your child’s body cannot make omega-3, so it either needs to be eaten or supplemented. These can be found in oily fish. A great acronym for remembering the fish high in essential fats and omega-3 is SMASH: salmon, maceral, anchovies, sardines and herring. If you are plant based, great alternatives are algal oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants support the immune system by protecting cells from harmful molecules called free radicals. Try adding berries and cooked red peppers into your diet, which are rich in vitamin C.
Bromelain and papain: These are digestive enzymes that help with breaking down foods and releasing nutrients. They can be found naturally in papayas or taken as supplements.
Vitamin D: This is quite a common deficiency, especially as we move into winter months as our primary course of vitamin D is sunlight. Vitamin D can be found in eggs and some dairy products. If you are plant based, considered fortified foods However, the quantity of vitamin D in all of these foods is low.
Zinc: Zinc can help viruses from replicating. It can be found in cacao powder, pumpkin seeds, shellfish and eggs.
Probiotics: Probiotics aid in the production of short chain fatty acids, which have a whole host of benefits for overall health. Fermented foods are a great source, or you could always consider a supplement.
Sleep: Whilst it can be tricky to get your child to sleep for long enough, getting enough sleep has a direct on their immune system. Exposure from blue lights like watching TV or playing on phones too late at night can create stress and impact sleep because they stimulate us and keep the body more alert than it should be.
Stress: Whether it be schoolwork, or not getting the social interactions they need, children experience stress. Stress slows down our body’s ability to digest food, which leads to foods not being broken down as quickly and nutrients being absorbed at a much slower rate.
Taking stock of your child’s extra-curricular activities is a great way to manage their stress levels. Activities are great for reducing stress, but it’s about finding the right balance. If they are juggling too many this can raise their stress level and also lead to problems with sleep.
Exercise: Research shows that those that do more exercise (not too much so as to be stressful!) have a much greater diversity in their gut microbiome.
The key takeaways
There is no one solution in terms of supporting your child’s gut microbiome. A culmination of diet, lifestyle and nutrients result in good gut health and therefore immune health.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can support your child’s immune health via their gut, book a free 1:1 consultation with our nutrition team!