If you have a child between the ages of 4 and 10, chances are you’re mindful of what you feed them. All parents struggle to feed their kids enough vegetables or to try to limit their sweets. And for good reason -- studies show that helping your child eat a healthy diet now can lead to health benefits well into their adulthood.
But one area of healthy eating for kids isn’t often talked about: Eating for a healthy gut. Scientists say that a healthy, well-functioning gut is essential to all aspects of kids’ health, including mental health. Furthermore, the gut microbiome is established during childhood, so supporting your child’s gut health during their younger years is critical.
Why is this important?
- The gut microbiome is established during childhood, and after the age of 5, it becomes harder and harder to change it.
- The connection between the gut and the brain is incredibly strong, and it goes both ways. What goes on in your brain can affect your gut; for example, you might feel nauseous when you’re anxious. But what goes on in your gut greatly affects your mental health, too.
- Around 95% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood (and plays a role in depression and other mental health conditions), is produced in the gut.
- Research has found a link between gut health and many mental health conditions that affect children, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder.
How to improve your child’s gut health:
- Feed your child lots of fibre. Fibre, which is found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, feeds the “good” bacteria in the gut. Berries, bananas, oats, and brown rice are child-friendly foods that are rich in fibre.
- You can also help your child consume foods that carry good bacteria to add more of this bacteria to your child’s gut. Fermented foods contain live bacteria cultures that are good for the gut. Your child may enjoy yogurt, pickled vegetables, or sauerkraut, which are all foods that contain good bacteria.
- Try not to eat too many processed foods. Processed meats, like the kind found in Happy Meals or microwave dinners, create an environment where bad gut bacteria thrive.
- Avoid sugar alternatives. There is some research that aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in diet sodas, can interfere with gut health.
- Consider adopting that puppy. Being around other children and animals from an early age can help your child’s gut bacteria to mix with other bacteria. Research has found that having pets at a young age increases the levels of healthy bacteria in your child’s gut.
Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and Practice, 7(4), 987. https://doi.org/10.4081/cp.2017.987
6 ways to boost gut health. (n.d.). Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.uhhospitals.org/Healthy-at-UH/articles/2017/03/6-ways-to-boost-your-childs-gut-health
The importance of good gut health in children. (2020, September 13). Only About Children. https://www.oac.edu.au/news-views/the-importance-of-good-gut-health-in-children/
Study shows how serotonin and a popular anti-depressant affect the gut’s microbiota. (n.d.). ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190906092809.htm
Tun, H. M., Konya, T., & Takaro, T. K., et. al. (2017). Exposure to household furry pets influences the gut microbiota of infants at 3–4 months following various birth scenarios. Microbiome, 5(1), 40. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x