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  • Denise Scott

Feed Your Child’s Gut

Are you familiar with the gut microbiota? Research shows that there are more microorganisms living in our gut than there are cells in our body. The type and ratios of these microorganisms are directly tied to our health and immune system. As the gut microbiome develops early in life - during the first three years - so does our immune system.

Depiction of the microbiota - cartoon of the intestines with microorganisms inside.

Numerous diseases are associated with an unhealthy microbiome. These include type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and some cancers.

Our gut microbiome begins developing at birth. Once a baby starts eating solid foods, microbiome changes occur. The first three years are crucial in microbiome development. Changes take place that will last into adulthood and may influence future disease development.

Schematic of multiple functions of the gut microbiota, including digesting food, making vitamins, developing the immune system, and fighting pathogens.

You can help to protect your child against future diseases by what you feed your child during this time of microbiome development. You can help to keep your child healthy by keeping their gut healthy.

How do I do this? How do I feed the gut microbiome?

I will give you some tips here!

Solid foods, specifically macronutrients – protein, fats, and carbohydrates - determine which bacteria appear in the gut. Introducing carbohydrates that are “non-digestible,” in other words, high in fiber, has the most impact. Non-digestible carbohydrates provide food, in the form of prebiotics, to the gut bacteria. 

Increasing dietary fiber is the best way to promote the growth of the “good bacteria” that directly affect the immune system.

Fiber promotes the growth of more diverse gut microorganisms.

Sources of non-digestible carbohydrates include

  • whole grains 

  • whole wheat 

  • legumes

  • cruciferous vegetables (those with a stalk, such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale). 

A picture of fiber-rich foods including beans and legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts, fruit and vegetables.

How much fiber does a child need?

Add 5 to your child’s age to get the grams of daily fiber they should eat. For example, a 5 year old needs 10 grams. Divide this number over the day between meals and snacks.

Ideally, it is best to consume fiber from whole plant-based foods, not supplements, as these foods provide additional nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Drinking water when increasing fiber is vital - about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water for every 5 grams of fiber.

Diets high in fat, sugar, processed foods, and low in fiber decrease the diversity of bacteria.

Foods that are high in sugar and fats are inflammatory. A diet high in these foods (fast foods and ultra-processed foods) promotes disease development. These include:

  • Sugar

  • Saturated fats

  • Processed foods

  • High omega-6 content

  • Refined or processed grains such as white rice and white bread

A parent can influence early on whether their child’s gut environment becomes healthy or unhealthy. 

A healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes creates a healthy microbiome. Prebiotics and probiotics are beneficial and can come from whole, natural foods.

Minimizing sugar, added sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages, saturated fats, and processed foods, and increasing fiber can help create a healthy microbiome for life and promote your child’s optimal health.

Feed your child’s future health by feeding your child’s gut!

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