6 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Gut Health

1. Deal With Food Allergies

    One of the most common causes of funny tummies is undiagnosed food allergies. Removing common allergens such as dairy, wheat, eggs or sesame from a child’s diet can see many common digestive symptoms miraculously disappear. If your child suffers persistent digestive discomfort and/or suffers from asthma, eczema, or ear, nose, and throat problems, I highly recommend visiting a naturopath or medical doctor for an allergy test. It is particularly important that your child is tested for Celiac Disease, as this condition can cause long-term damage if left untreated.

    Removing allergens from your child’s diet is important to not only relieve the immediate digestive symptoms but also to prevent ongoing problems. Untreated food allergies can cause damage to the delicate cells of the intestinal wall, leading to leaky gut syndrome.

    2. Get the Balance Right

      Our digestive system contains literally billions of bacteria – in fact up to two kilograms worth! Tummy troubles are often related to an imbalance in these bacteria.

      When the balance between good and bad bacteria is healthy, our digestive tract tends to function pretty smoothly, but the modern lifestyle of refined food, sugar, antibiotics, and other medications can upset this precise balance, harming the good bacteria and allowing bad bacteria to proliferate. This unhealthy balance of bacteria is behind many common digestive complaints, including bloating, constipation, loose stools, and food allergies. An imbalance in gut bacteria can also present as more systemic issues such as eczema, asthma, and psoriasis, as well as ear, nose, and throat problems.

      So how do we help our kids build good gut bacteria?

      The good news is we can easily improve the balance of bacteria in kids’ tummies with quality supplementation, good nutrition, and lifestyle techniques.

      Sugar, high-fat, and processed foods promote the overgrowth of bad bacteria, while fruit and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains help friendly bacteria thrive. Getting enough sleep also seems to be important, so make your little one gets plenty of shut-eye.

      What about probiotics?

      A common recommendation to improve gut health is to eat foods containing sources of good bacteria such as yoghurt and sauerkraut or take probiotic supplements. While there is certainly no harm in this, the trouble is that the probiotics are often destroyed by our stomach acid before they can reach the small intestine.

      A more effective means of boosting your child’s good bacteria and supporting their digestive function is consuming prebioticsand soluble fiber. These substances can withstand the harsh acidic environment in our stomach and actually provide food for the good bacteria in the small intestine.

      Prebioticsand soluble fiber are special kinds of fibers found in certain fruits and vegetables, rice bran, oat bran, legumes, linseed (flaxseed) seaweed, nuts, and seeds. The body doesn’t actually digest these fibers, the bacteria in our gut breaks them down and ferments them.

      Ok, but what are some sources of prebiotics that my child will actually eat?

      You need only skim the list above to see that most of the foods listed will not appeal to young tastes. Fortunately, there are plenty of gut-friendly prebiotic foods that even the fussiest eaters will enjoy:

      • Warm stewed apples or pears
      • Bananas
      • Mashed sweet potato or pumpkin
      • Porridge (Top porridge with stewed apple for a double serving of prebiotics)
      • Manuka honey (Drizzle a teaspoon on top of porridge or spread on your child’s toast)
      • Avocado (Try avocado on toast or offer your little one guacamole and vege sticks as a snack)
      • Falafel or chickpea patties. Puree chickpeas and lentils in a blender, then form into small patties and pan-fry. Serve in a wrap or burger with salad vegetables. Kids will love falafels in their lunchbox for a high-protein lunchtime snack.
      • Apple cider vinegar (Give your child a glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar each morning).

      3. Get Them on to Kiwifruit

        If you can only encourage your child to eat one food to enhance their digestive function, it has to be kiwifruit. Kiwifruit is a digestive powerhouse, and works in three ways to strengthen and support the digestive system:

        • High in enzymes to enhance digestion and help kids unlock the nutrients from their diet
        • High in prebiotics to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria
        • High in soluble fiber to keep things moving.

        There are plenty of ways to sneak kiwifruit into your child’s diet: Add it to their lunchbox or morning bowl of cereal. Serve kiwifruit for dessert with pineapple and organic, sugar-free natural yoghurt. Top buckwheat pancakes or porridge with chopped kiwifruit and yoghurt. Or try a homemade kiwifruit iceblock or sorbet.

        While encouraging your child to eat more kiwifruit will certainly help their tummy, for maximum benefit it’s worth considering a kiwifruit supplement. Many of the therapeutic properties of kiwifruit are found in the tough fuzzy skin and seeds, however most people only consume the flesh, meaning we miss out on many of the benefits.

        Xtendlife’s Kiwi-Klenz product uses Digesten-K® Kiwifruit Extract taken from the Hayward variety of kiwifruit in New Zealand. The extraction process retains all the nutrients of the skin, flesh, and seeds without the use of harsh chemicals. This means Digesten-K® Kiwifruit Extract contains high concentrations of enzymes, phenols, and soluble fiber.

        Digesten-K® contains high levels of active Actinidin, an enzyme that helps break down protein, to enhance digestion and nutrient absorption. The soluble fiber in this kiwifruit extract is useful for maintaining healthy digestion. The phenols in Digesten-K® Kiwifruit Extract may inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines without affecting the growth of beneficial bacteria.

        Everything Starts From the Gut

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        4. Make Sure They Drink Up

          Dehydration is a major cause of digestive discomfort, especially constipation. Kids should drink between four and six cups of water per day (1-1.5 litres), more if they are very active or the weather is very warm. 

          When increasing your child’s fiber intake, it’s really important that they also increase their fluid intake. Without sufficient water, a higher fiber intake can make constipation worse.

          If your child doesn’t enjoy the taste of water, try adding slices of lemon, strawberries or cucumber to enhance the flavour or offering chilled fruit teas such as raspberry and lime, lemon or blueberry. Limit soft drinks and juices to treat foods as these are very high sugar.

          5. Settle Those Butterflies

            Does your child often get a ‘funny tummy’ on athletics day or before going away to camp? That nervous tummy probably has a lot more to do with their emotional state than it does with their digestive function.

            That’s because a large percentage of our nervous system is actually located in our digestive tract. Our enteric nervous system is a subdivision of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that directly controls the gastrointestinal system. Our gut has a mind of its own. Just like the larger brain in our head, researchers say that this system sends and receives impulses, records experiences, and responds to emotions. Its nerve cells are bathed and influenced by the same neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine. The gut contains 100 million neurons – more than the spinal cord. [1]

            So, if your child is regularly complaining of an upset tummy, be sure to consider potential emotional triggers as well as physical ones. Talk to them about what is going on in their lives and find out what might be causing them distress. If you are concerned that your child is being bullied or struggling at school, schedule an appointment to have a chat with their teacher.

            Herbs can be really helpful for calming those butterflies in the tummy. Chamomile, peppermint, and ginger all help to soothe the digestive system and calm those nerves. Ask your naturopath to prepare a tincture or give your child a cup of chamomile, peppermint, or ginger tea to sip on (all teas can be drunk hot or cold). For a warm and soothing bedtime drink, mix ¼ - ½ a teaspoon of ginger with warm soy or dairy milk (if your child can tolerate it) and a little manuka honey.[2]

            6. Get Moving

              If your little one suffers tummy troubles, it’s really important that they get outside and get moving. Exercise promotes peristalsis (movement of the digestive tract), helping to promote good gut motility and reducing the risk of constipation. It doesn’t have to mean structured exercise, any movement is good: swimming in the pool, playing sports, throwing a ball around, going for a bike ride, walking the dog, jumping on the trampoline, even turning on some music, and having a bit of dance. Just get them up and moving.


              [1] http://www.psyking.net/id36.htm
              [2] Lopez, L. Natural Health: A New Zealand A to Z Guide.Bateman: Auckland, New Zealand. 2004.