Ways to boost your kid’s gut health

Written by Arjita Singh
Published: April 3, 2023
An ISSA-certified nutritionist, a healthy recipe creator & founder of WeNourish.

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As a parent, you want your child to have a healthy and happy life. A crucial aspect of your child’s physical and mental well-being lies in their gut health. The gut contains trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, that play an essential role in digestion, immunity, and even mood regulation. Wondering how to increase good bacteria in the gut naturally? Or how to strengthen the digestive system and make the intestine strong? 

Just follow these basic steps: 

1. Encourage a varied and balanced diet. A diet rich in diverse diet is essential for a healthy gut. Encourage your child to try different types of fruits and vegetables and include a variety of colours in their meals. EAT THE RAINBOW- meaning, if we can see different food colour items on our plates just like the colours of the rainbow, that benefits our gut bacteria. The more colours and variety in our food, the better it is for our gut health. Colourful fruits, veggies, whole grains, lentils, and all help immensely in increasing the diversity of our gut bacteria. 

2. Hydrate well- Drink enough water for maintaining good gut health. Water helps flush out toxins and waste products from the body and aids in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day, especially during and after physical activity. A good way to check hydration levels is through a simple pee test. If your child’s urine is dark yellow, he/she needs to drink more water. If it’s near to transparent/slightly yellow, it means they are drinking enough water.  Hydration doesn’t always mean water though. You can give them coconut water, water-rich fruits, and vegetables like cucumber, watermelon, citrus fruits, etc. 

3. Regular exercise/physical activity – Regular exercise can help to maintain good gut health as  it reduces inflammation, promotes healthy blood flow, and increases the diversity of the gut microbiota. Encourage your child to participate in physical activities that they enjoy, such as playing sports, dancing, cycling, swimming, etc.

 4. Manage Stress- Stress can disrupt the gut microbiota, leading to an increase in harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial bacteria. Help your child manage stress through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or spending time in nature. Physical activity also helps to keep our stress levels down.

5. Sleep- Adequate sleep plays an important role in maintaining good gut health.
Lack of sleep can disrupt the gut microbiota, leading to an imbalance in beneficial and harmful bacteria. Moreover, not sleeping well makes us crave more sugar and carbohydrates during the day, and that in turn messes with our sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, really!  So, if your child craves sugary and processed items, see if their sleep cycle is fine or not.  Encourage your child to aim for the recommended amount of sleep for their age to promote optimal gut health. 

6. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics- Antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiota by killing off beneficial bacteria or altering their composition. Always take them, if needed, under a  doctor’s guidance. 

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7. Consider probiotics and prebiotics – Diets rich in prebiotics and probiotics can play a major role in keeping the gut healthy. Include fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, homemade pickles, and kimchi, which contain beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Including fermented food helps to balance the gut microbiota and to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. 

8. Include fibre-rich food: Fiber-rich foods like fresh leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and lentils are a boon for our intestines and overall digestive health. Make sure to not overdo the fiber  too as it might create gastric discomfort but eating enough will keep your child’s digestion  strong and help keep their blood sugar stable. 

9. Add enough Protein to each meal: Many parents don’t give enough protein to their children, which is essential for their growth and keeps them satiated. Not doing adequate protein can result in your child craving more sugary or simple carbohydrate foods like chips, munchies, chocolates, and biscuits, and that in turn messes up their gut health. Include protein-rich foods like fresh cheese, seeds,  nuts, beans, lentils, and legumes. 

10. Encourage handwashing –Handwashing is an essential habit to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses that can negatively impact our gut health. Encourage your child to wash their hands frequently, especially before meals and after using the restroom. 

11. Encourage mindful eating– Help your child become a mindful eater by keeping all screens,  and gadgets away while eating so they chew their food properly. Our digestion begins in the  mouth so it’s important to chew the food well before swallowing as it can help break down food and make it easier to digest. This can also help prevent digestive problems, such as bloating and indigestion. 

Rather than looking for magical solutions or quick fixes, if as parents we work on these few  basic steps consistently, we would not have to worry about our children’s gut health or ponder on how to increase good bacteria in the gut naturally or how to strengthen the digestive system and how to make intestine strong, we can simply follow these steps ourselves and set an example for the kids. The magic is really in following these simple steps, consistently. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your child’s gut health or if your child has any underlying medical conditions or in general if you wish to understand your child’s nutrition requirements better.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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