Growing healthy bodies – supercharging our children’s immune systems through great gut health.
Every single day our children’s little bodies are achieving phenomenal things. Their bones and muscles are growing, their brains are developing and their bodies are being constantly bombarded with all sorts of bugs (good and bad).
Every minute of the day, their immune systems are protecting them – from both inside and out. On the outside, their skin is their biggest barrier to bugs, but up to 70% of their immune system is found on the inside in the incredible organism we call the gut. The gut is where communities of bacteria live, otherwise known as our “gut microbiome”. We need these communities of bugs need to be in good balance for a healthy robust immune system.
In our busy lives as parents, I believe we sometimes forget about the effect of our children’s gut health on their everyday lives. Research tells us that a child’s gut health can influence their mood, their energy levels and of course their immunity.
Let’s rewind to the beginning…….The first 3 years of life is the most critical time for the developing gut and immune system. During this time, there are many factors that either positively or negatively influence how the gut develops and helps to create a child’s unique “gut signature”.
Factors that positively influence the gut include a healthy pregnancy, natural vaginal delivery, breast feeding, having siblings or dogs at home, living near a farm, having less exposure to antibiotics and eating plant foods rich in fibre. Of course, not all of these factors are necessarily going to happen to one individual, but the more you have, the better the chances of developing a happy healthy gut microbiome.
The most important thing you can from a dietary perspective is to feed your child with plenty of plant foods. Plant foods are nutrient rich, immune boosting powerhouses, naturally containing fibre – otherwise known as prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food (or fuel) for our gut bugs and promote the growth of good bacteria whilst at the same time nourishing our gut cells. You really can’t underestimate the importance of this.
Top tips for Improving your child’s gut health:
- Offer your children plenty of different coloured vegetables and cook with onion and garlic.
- Give them fruit and veg with the skin on where possible as there are nutrients inside and just under the skin (such as in an apple).
- Use legumes (whole, dried or mashed) in sauces, mashed into dishes or dried as a snack – eg dried chick peas or fav-va beans
- Use wholegrain options for breads and cereals – check for the % wholegrains in the ingredients list and aim as high as possible!
- Increase nuts and seeds – use nut butters, almond meal/LSA in baking or chopped nuts in muffins, sprinkled on salads or added to hot meals such as stirfry’s and curries. **no nuts at school
- Include foods that naturally contain probiotics such as yoghurt – research indicates that Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG (found in Vaalia Kids yoghurt) helps to improve immunity and reduce sickness in children attending child care.
Every little bit helps, so try to include these foods both at snack and meal times to maximise their intake of goodness! Good gut health = healthy children = happy parents!
Credit: Karina Savage, Paediatric Dietitian from Smartbite Nutrition
 Lactobacillus GG in the prevention of gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections in children who attend day care centers: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial by Iva Hojsak, Natalija Snovak, Slaven Abdovic, Hania Szajewska, Zrinjka Misak, Sanja Kolacek, 29 September 2009.