Learn the importance of improving your kid’s gut health.
WORDS SUE-ANN BAUMGÄRTEL
Like much in life, we have to balance the good and the bad. This also applies to the balance of your child’s gut. Too much of a “good” diet can affect your child’s gut negatively while introducing some bacteria into your child’s system can help them build up resilience and immunity. The stomach is the core of your being. It is affected by so many factors – diet, stress, hormones and lifestyle. How many times do you hear your child complain of a tummy ache? Not only is food processed in the stomach, but a whole lot of other things, too. The gut is sensitive to the slightest change in the body, and it is important to look after our child’s gut. However, rather than overcomplicating the issue, the following mindset on how to look after your child’s gut is more of a throwback to common sense and simplicity. It’s time to trust your gut instinct.
Good and Bad Bacteria
The gut is full of bacteria. If the balance of bacteria is compromised, certain problems can arise. This can range from uncomfortable constipation to nasty tummy bugs caused by bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli.
Washing hands before eating can help reduce the risk of the more serious infections, especially after
being in public places, while being conscious of your diet can help balance your child’s gut health.
If your child is constipated, try to increase his intake of high fibre foods and water. Foods such as prunes, wholemeal carbohydrates and berries can help soften his stool. Even if your child is in seemingly good health, it is not bad to keep a tab on their general diet. Avoiding processed food and reading the label on foods carefully all add to a basic awareness of what exactly you are eating. For example, while “sugar-free” produce will mean free from sugar, it might contain alternative sugars such as glucose and dextrose, which might be more harmful in the long run.
Feeding the good and natural bacteria in your child’s gut is important, and it loves fibre. If the bacteria do not get enough fibre, it can start eating the mucus that lines and protects the inner intestinal wall. This can result in IBS and allergies. Foods that are rich in fibre include legumes, pulses, dark green vegetables, berries, wholemeal carbohydrates and fruit. While most children might not jump for joy at the idea of hummus and carrots, a bowl of banana porridge or a berry smoothie livened with kiwi and lemon might be more enticing. Some kids might even like the idea of feeding their “pet”.
Consuming good bacteria, or probiotics is also vital to
maintaining a healthy gut. Cultures found in live yoghurt or
fermented produce such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kefir and
buttermilk, can help balance the gut’s flora.
Once again, look carefully at the labels on such “healthy” products, which can contain added sugar. Adding your own sugar sparingly is better – this allows you to “train” your child’s taste buds.
Pretty much every mother will have a squeezy bottle of hand sanitiser at hand while on the go. While it is important to promote good hygiene – such as washing hands after an indoor play session or petting animals at the zoo – we seem to live in fear of bacteria and germs rather than learning to live with them. Effective hygiene can prevent many serious infections, but as a mindset, it can also prevent your child from building up his own immunity. Rather than relying on anti-bacterial products, simple soap and water will suffice if your child is encouraged to wash their hands properly. Your child will have built a natural resistance to their natural surroundings and family members, whether it is a garden, numerous siblings, house pets or living in close proximity to others. Likewise, they will also need to build a natural resistance to their playgroup, kindergarten and school. There is a German proverb, which probably dates back to when families still lived from the land – Dreck macht Speck. This roughly translates as “dirt makes children chubby”. Chubby and healthy, it seems.
Antibiotics are a miracle drug that can ultimately save lives. However, this doesn’t mean that they are without any drawbacks.
Because antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately, they also kill the
good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria. And this can have a broader
impact on your child’s long-term health than you might realise.
A 2014 University of Chicago study on mice has linked antibiotics with peanut allergies, and a recent John Hopkins University study has connected overuse of antibiotics in children with excess weight gain throughout childhood. Effectively, a sloppy and lazy reliance on antibiotics, by both parent and doctor, can be detrimental to your child. A paediatrician whom you trust is a blessing. Talk with your paediatrician about your concerns and inform yourself about how antibiotics actually work.
Rest and Exercise
Quality sleep and regular exercise are two factors that will affect the general health of your child. An ill-rested child will be more prone to illness, while a child who doesn’t engage in regular physical activities will find their general health compromised. The gut is a truthful reflection of your child’s general health. You can read a lot about the state of your child’s health from the colour of their urine to the consistency of their stool.
A healthy balance is hard to find. But the human body is a walking miracle of engineering and design. It functions on so many levels, and its internal balance of elements are incredible. By respecting the natural ebb and flows of a healthy and happy child’s body, you will be able to read your child’s health more effectively.
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