Want to know more about gut health for your kids?
What if I tell you that in our body, there exist trillions of beneficial microorganisms? Not only do they help us digest food, but they also play essential roles in boosting mental and physical health. In addition, they protect us from damaging pathogens.
A child first gets microbes from its mother during birth. As humans mature, they get microbes from the surrounding environment, food, and the people they interact with. Modes of the delivery of birth affect the microbes. Moreover, a breastfed child has different types of microbes from that of a child who had little or no breast milk. Differences in early life microbes can be linked to later life diseases such as allergies and obesity.
Interestingly, mother's milk has nutrients for both a child and its microbes. The oligosaccharide found in mother's milk is considered as a food (prebiotic) for microbes. A child cannot consume this, so it becomes the food for microbes. Shifting to complementary food from milk increases the diversity of microbes in a child's body. Microbes grow with the growth of a child.
• Microbes help our immune system grow. The immune system of a child learns which germs are dangerous and which are safe. In a germ-free environment or exposed to too many antibiotics, the system cannot mature. So, it cannot distinguish nonpathogenic chemicals. This can cause food allergies or auto-immune disorders.
• A healthy gut not only keeps the digestive system working properly, it also promotes stable mood, happiness and a stronger memory. Our brain and gut have two-way interactions that happen through some neurotransmitters.
• Intestine microbes produce different vitamins, including vitamin B12, Thiamine and Riboflavin, and K which are necessary for good health.
Foods for gut:
Pre-biotic: Prebiotics are dietary fibers that stimulate microbes' growth and activities in our body. Prebiotics are found in fiber rich food like asparagus, onion, oatmeal, walnut, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, pulses, and bananas. We should include prebiotic food in our everyday diet to get the beneficial effects of gut microbes.
Pro-biotic: Probiotics are live microbes which are available in different foods and as supplements. Probiotics help balance our "good" and "bad" bacteria to keep the body working properly. In this situation, it is a good idea to get probiotics from food. Sourdough bread, fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses are good sources of probiotics.
• Feed your microbes properly by including gut healthy foods in your diet.
• Let children help in the garden and play with pets to promote diverse microbes.
• Get enough sleep at night. Losing just two days of sleep can destroy beneficial microbes.
• Avoid unnecessary antibiotics.
• Don't sanitise everything.
• Timing of the meal is important as well as relaxing during eating instead of rushing.
• Stress is an enemy of gut health.
• Exercise is necessary.
• More emphasis should be given on personalised nutrition that takes into account differences in human character, habits, and social environments besides physiological differences or diseases.
The writer is a Public Health Professional.