The key to a healthy mind is a healthy gut. Yet how many of our children are taught about gut health, ever? I think it’s a very undervalued area of health education. I’m not blaming teachers. They have far too much to teach as it is. I’m not able to change curriculums either but I can help by outlining some practical steps we parents could be taking at home to keep our children’s digestive systems operating at their optimum.
First some brief facts:
- The gut holds trillions of bacteria, approximately 10 times more bacteria than cells. This makes us more bacteria than human!
- Although there are thousands of different types of bacteria it is the balance of these bacteria that’s most important.
- Our gut and the bacteria in it play a key role in the immune system
- The gut-brain link is being researched in greater depth but significant studies look at depression and/or anxiety and an imbalance of bacteria in the gut as well as possible gut lining damage.
To help keep the balance and to ensure the lining of the gut stays in tact and healthy too it is recommended that we encourage our children to:
- Chew properly – ideally 20 times before swallowing
- Reduce snacking. Try to move to 3 main meals a day to allow the digestion to work efficiently but also to give it a break in between.
- Try some fermented foods such as kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut to boost positive bacteria levels in the gut
- Try to minimise sugar and fried foods that tax the immune system and provide fuel to dysbiotic bacteria (the bad guys)
- Eat stewed cooking apples with cinnamon to help the gut lining
- Look out for foods that may be irritating the gut – common culprits are wheat or gluten and dairy
- Improve the levels of “good” bacteria ensure they’re eating enough fibre. Encourage them to eat a variety of vegetables and fruit.
- Eat more leafy green . They are not necessarily their favourite but cabbage in particular can be really helpful to gut health. If they won’t eat it then it can be juiced but there are so many ways to enjoy it from blanched, to boiled, to stir-fried or even in coleslaw.
- Add a squeeze and slice of lemon to water which can improve digestion.
- Eat a range of prebiotic foods. These include grains such as oats and quinoa and legumes such as chickpeas and green peas. Also include some resistant starches such as cooked and cooled potatoes, rice and legumes as well as under ripe bananas.
These are just some ideas for maintaining a healthy gut. More information can be found in my book on the subject Gut Health and Probiotics – The Science Behind The Hype.