More and more research is pointing to beneficial bacteria and a healthy gut being the cornerstone of our children’s health. Many conditions such as ADHD, autism, allergies and even obesity are being attributed to a disturbance in the microbiome-gut-brain axis (the biochemical signalling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system). Proper development of this critical relationship during infancy and childhood is vital for long-term health.
As our children’s systems are still developing they are extremely vulnerable to toxins in their environment. Their gastrointestinal tract provides vital functions for immunity and by protecting and maintaining healthy gut flora you ensure the integrity of your child’s immune system. When there are changes to the microflora in your child’s gut through antibiotic use or an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria, this can change the balance of the flora and deplete the beneficial bacteria.
There are many probiotic-rich foods that can contribute to the health of your family such as yoghurt, bone broth, fermented vegetables and kombucha. However, many children’s diets – especially fussy eaters – lack these nutrients. Also, sugary foods create the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to flourish as well as for yeast overgrowth. When sugar causes dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) it can lead to leaky gut syndrome where toxins enter into the bloodstream and can cause a range of inflammatory conditions such as bloating, food sensitivities, fatigue, digestive issues and skin problems.
While it is the ideal for kids to get their daily nutritional requirements from food, when it comes to supplementation there is one exception: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics. Mounting research shows supplementing from birth with probiotics can play a major role in maintaining a strong immune system and overall good health. To choose the right probiotic for your child, look for multi-strain brands that contain Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus for kids and speak to a trained health practitioner.
Five ways to increase children’s friendly gut bacteria.
Breastfeed if you can as it is good for your baby’s gut flora. This is especially important for those infants born by caesarean section as their gut flora is different, so talk to your doctor about taking a high dose probiotic while breastfeeding, or if you are using formula look for one with prebiotics and probiotics.
2. Reduce sugar in the diet.
Keep junk food and unhealthy sweets to a minimum as they are the opposite of prebiotics and help create a hostile environment for good bacteria. This will have a negative impact on the microbiome, your child’s digestion and wider health.
3. Be weary of antibiotics.
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics as they also kill all of the friendly bacteria. Talk to your GP about the importance of protecting your child’s gut flora and ensure they only prescribe antibiotics when necessary. If your child, or any member of your family, is put on a course of antibiotics, they should follow up with a high strength multi-strain probiotic for a month afterwards.
4. Supplement correctly.
Supplement with the right strains for their age and stage. Consider boosting your child’s diet with natural probiotics and perhaps taking a probiotic supplement – look for multi-strain brands, that contain Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus suitable for children.
5. Alter their diet accordingly.
Introduce probiotic-rich foods and serve loads of vegetables as they are a good source of prebiotic fibre that helps good bacteria thrive. Aim for your children to have veggie snacks as well as including vegetables in meals. You’ll find practical tips for encouraging your children to eat more vegetables in my book.
Probiotic-Rich foods and how to introduce them to your kids.
‘Live’, ‘cultured’ yoghurt is a great source of probiotics, but all yoghurts are not created equal – look out for organic and grass-fed varieties to maximise the health benefits.
How to introduce to kids: If your child is eating sugary yoghurt, try to transition and mix with natural yoghurt.
Kefir, coconut or dairy.
Though very similar to yoghurt, kefir is made with kefir ‘grains’ – a yeast fermentation starter, and is packed with even more probiotics.
How to introduce to kids: As it’s a little more sour than yoghurt, kefir might need sweetening with fresh fruit for younger children. You can add one to two tablespoons with their favourite yoghurt.
Fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut).
Fermented veggies are an excellent addition to your diet because they help create the right environment for the growth of good bacteria to thrive through their organic acids and enzymes.
How to introduce to kids: Try Wholesome Child’s Fermented Carrot Sticks. For younger children try dipping a piece of sourdough bread, a cracker or even their finger into the juice to familiarise them with the taste. As it’s strong and pungent, go slow and offer repeatedly.
The naturally released gelatin in slow-cooked bone broth promotes probiotic balance and growth, is healing for the gut, boosts the immune system and soothes sore tummies.
How to introduce to kids: If my children don’t feel well or if they need an immunity boost, this recipe is my go-to. An excellent source of bio-available nutrients in an easy-to-digest form, this simple broth is rich in magnesium, calcium, collagen and more. Drink it as is or add to soups, casseroles, stir-fries and any recipe calling for stock or additional water.
Made with a SCOBY or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, this fermented tea is lauded for its health benefits – especially digestive health and liver detoxification among many others. However, it’s not recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding or for those with a suppressed immune system as it is hard to keep germ-free.
How to introduce to kids: Replace sugary drinks and sodas with kombucha, it’s naturally lower in sugar and free from additives. Start off slowly, remember it contains alcohol as a by-product of the fermentation process as well as caffeine – it’s best not to offer to children under seven years of age. If you are going to offer kombucha to a young child stick to a brand with low caffeine and safe bacteria such as Remedy Kombucha and always offer in moderation.
To learn more about Mandy Sacher please visit the Wholesome Child website. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes, and you can connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook.