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By G+S kids health expert Kellie Montgomery
Gut health. It’s such a health buzz word right now, isn’t it? But it’s with good reason everyone’s talking about it. The health of your child’s gut is absolutely foundational to their overall health and wellbeing. A child’s gut governs and impacts how they will digest their food, how many nutrients they’re absorbing from their food, how well they are eliminating waste in their bowel movements, even how well their immune system works. So, it’s vital that we keep our kids’ gut health in top working order.
When we talk about gut health, we are actually referring to a whole myriad of processes that happen within our digestive tract, which runs from our mouth, right down to our bowels. To have a “healthy gut” we need to utilise a great chewing action, have optimal stomach acid secretions, optimal digestive enzyme secretions, a healthy lining of our intestinal tract, a diverse and optimal microbiome population and adequate transit time of waste (yep, that’s our poo moving down and out!).
Recently, research has started to focus on the importance of our microbiome population health in disease prevention and management, and whilst we’re still learning a lot, it’s been established that there is a strong link between a healthy, diverse microbiome population and good health. Scientists have identified lots of individual microbiome species that promote good health, and many that are thought to contribute to different diseases and issues.
What we do know is a child eating a Western Diet has a very different microbiome species make-up compared to a child eating a traditional diet; the disappearing microbiome hypothesis. What has happened? Well, basically we are incredibly over-hygienic in terms of washing and sanitising, we don’t play enough in the dirt anymore, we’re too stressed, we’ve created a situation with the use of antibiotics in our food production chain, and – the big one – we don’t eat enough high fibre foods.
Because our gut has such a far-reaching impact on so many of our body systems, the symptoms of poor gut function are very wide. The first and most obvious sign that something isn’t normal with your child’s gut is to look at their bowel habits: frequent loose stools and/or ongoing constipation are a clear signal that something isn’t right. Other digestive symptoms like ongoing and vague tummy pain, excessive wind and even picky eating, can indicate your child has an underlying issue in their gut.
If your child is getting sick all the time, it is likely they may have some reduced gut function, because of the concentration of gut-based immune cells and response located in our gut. In addition issues like eczema, hayfever and acne all have gut components to them. Quite often in my clinical practice, I’ll have a child who comes to see me with one of these issues, such as eczema, and when I dig a little deeper, they often have a history of miscellaneous gut symptoms as well.
One new area of research is currently focusing on the link between mental health and gut health. Many of our neurotransmitters (which are our feel good hormones, like serotonin) are produced in our gut, and the gut has a bidirectional link direct to our brain via a channel called our vagus nerve. Increasing evidence has associated gut microbiome dysbiosis and inflammation of the gut with several mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression.
To support a healthy microbiome, and healthy bowel and stool, we need fibre, fibre, fibre! Fibre provides our microbiome with prebiotics, which is basically the food they eat to thrive, and it also helps support our general bowel health and stool elimination. We find fibre in all of our complex carbohydrate foods; wholegrain, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Different types of high fibre food provide us with different types of fibre and prebiotics – so variety in your child’s diet is key. Some of the best prebiotic foods to promote the growth of good bacteria are; leek, onion, garlic, barley, oats, apples and flaxseeds. Including fermented, probiotic foods in your child’s diet everyday is a great idea (if they will eat it), too; such as yoghurt, fermented vegetables and kefir.
Unfortunately, the typical Australian child’s diet is lacking in fibre and complex carbohydrates, and they eat far too much refined wheat, simple carbohydrates and sugar – all of which is lacking in both fibre content and fibre diversity. These foods also support pathogenic bacteria, which can lead to an unhealthy balance of microflora and dysbiosis.
One of the easiest ways to increase fibre in your child’s diet (especially if they’re a picky eater) is to simply swap out refined grains for wholegrains – instead of wheat pasta, try a brown rice & quinoa pasta, swap wheat crackers for buckwheat and try a wholemeal spelt sourdough over regular bread. And if your child eats potato and rice, try cooking it and cooling it before serving – it increases the amount of healthy resistant starch. There are loads of great recipes online using foods like black beans in brownies and chickpeas in cookies – so there are lots of ways to slowly build up your child’s fibre intake, even for picky eaters.
1-2 cups english spinach
3 heaped tablespoons LSA
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Blend all ingredients until smooth, cook pikelets over low-medium heat (they are a little more delicate than flour-based pikelets).
Serve plain, or with a little butter, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup
They are high in protein, complex carbohydrates and plenty of prebiotic fibre for your child’s gut! They make a great breakfast, or lunchbox snack, they’ll keep in the fridge for 4 days.
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