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5 Common Holiday Foods to Limit for Constipated Kids

Published November 20, 2023

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The holiday season often brings joy and festivities, but it can also bring challenges, particularly in terms of our kid’s digestion due to an increase in the amount of indulgent food available. It’s hard enough to get them to eat nutrient-rich foods already and especially difficult if they are also dealing with constipation. As a dietitian, I'm highlighting five common holiday food categories that may contribute to constipation in kids. Let's review which options to limit in constipated kids so that you as parents can create a more cheerful and comfortable holiday season for your little ones.

Excessive Refined Sugars

Examples of refined sugars include:

  • Candies
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Chocolates
  • Pastries

Excessive refined sugars can disrupt the gut microbiome and reduce the body’s protection from obesity and diabetes, according to a study from Columbia University. In addition, foods high in refined sugars are often lower in fiber, which can contribute to a kid’s struggle with constipation.

Processed Snacks and Appetizers

Examples of processed snacks and appetizers include:

  • Nacho chips with cheese
  • Pizza Rolls
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Chips and Dip

Processed snacks at holiday gatherings may be convenient, but they are often low in fiber and high in calories and preservatives such as salt. Research data reveals that a high sodium intake from salt, combined with a higher calorie intake were correlated with higher constipation scores [1].

Begin Health Expert Tip: Is your kiddo struggling to get enough fiber and dealing with constipation during this holiday season? Adding Begin Health’s Growing Up Prebiotics can provide them 3 grams of fiber per serving to help with regularity during an indulgent holiday season. It’s tasteless and textureless so you can add to your little one’s favorite holiday beverage or snack for an easy way to support their gut health this season.

Dairy-Based Treats

Examples of holiday dairy-based treats include:

  • Cheesecake
  • Ice cream
  • Cream-based pies such as banana cream pie, peanut butter cream pie
  • Eggnog
  • Hot chocolate with milk
  • Fudge

Chronic constipation in kids can be a manifestation of cow's milk allergy [1]. While dairy contains valuable nutrients such protein and calcium, indulging in excessive dairy-based treats may cause gastrointestinal discomfort and contribute to constipation in kids.

Begin Health Expert Tip: Growing Up Prebiotics contains 2-FL HMO’s that uses lactose as a starting ingredient, but after the process of fermentation, almost all the lactose is turned into human milk oligosaccharides. To put this in perspective, an 8oz cup of milk contains 12 grams of lactose. Our testing shows that there is around 4mg of lactose per packet (which is 0.03%, less than ½ a percent vs 1 cup of milk) and any residual lactose is not likely to cause any symptoms for kiddos with lactose intolerance.

For more information about whether kiddos with a lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergy can use Growing Up Prebiotics, check out our blogs Can My Kid Use Growing Up Prebiotics If They Have A Lactose Intolerance? and Can My Kid Take Growing Up Prebiotics If They Are Allergic To Cow Milk Protein?

Fried and Fatty Foods

Examples of fried and fatty foods during the holiday include:

  • Fried turkey
  • Creamy dips such as spinach artichoke dip, buffalo chicken dip
  • Fried pastries such as donuts or fritters
  • Bacon wrapped appetizers

Delicious fried and fatty dishes are common during holiday dinners, but they are also typically low in fiber and high in fat, which may slow down gut motility. Studies suggest that diets high in saturated fats can alter gut microbiota, potentially impacting bowel regularity. Be mindful of portions and consider balancing out your kid’s heavier meals with more fiber-rich, vegetable or fruit options.

Low-Water Content Foods:

Examples of low-water content foods include:

  • Pretzels
  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Cereal

During the holidays, kids may gravitate towards low-water content snacks like pretzels and chips. Dehydration is a known contributor to constipation in kids because water helps keep bowel movements easier to pass. Encourage your kids to stay well-hydrated by providing water-rich foods (options such as celery, cucumbers, and berries) and beverages alongside these snacks.

Begin Health Expert Tip

For hydration recommendations by age, check out out this breakdown here:

Age

Liquid Amount

Infants (0 - 6 months)

Breastmilk or formula as their only source of hydration. Small sips of water can be introduced with solid foods between 6 - 12 months.

Toddlers (1 - 3 years)

Half an ounce of water for every pound of body weight

Kids (ages 4 years and up)

Half an ounce of water for every pound of body weight

Source: Children’s Hospital of Orange County

Summary: This holiday season, navigate festive gatherings with more awareness about specific foods that may impact your little one’s digestive health. By limiting their intake of refined sugars, processed snacks, excessive dairy, fried and fatty foods, and ensuring adequate hydration, you can help your kids enjoy the holidays without compromising their comfort. Since holiday foods are often a part of special occasions, providing balance and practicing moderation will be the key to a healthy and happy holiday season for your little ones.

References:

[1] Rollet M, Bohn T, Vahid F, On Behalf Of The Oriscav Working Group. Association between Dietary Factors and Constipation in Adults Living in Luxembourg and Taking Part in the ORISCAV-LUX 2 Survey. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 28;14(1):122. doi: 10.3390/nu14010122. PMID: 35010999; PMCID: PMC8746799.

[2] Dehghani SM, Ahmadpour B, Haghighat M, Kashef S, Imanieh MH, Soleimani M. The Role of Cow's Milk Allergy in Pediatric Chronic Constipation: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Iran J Pediatr. 2012 Dec;22(4):468-74. PMID: 23429756; PMCID: PMC3533146.

[3] Taba Taba Vakili S, Nezami BG, Shetty A, Chetty VK, Srinivasan S. Association of high dietary saturated fat intake and uncontrolled diabetes with constipation: evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2015 Oct;27(10):1389-97. doi: 10.1111/nmo.12630. Epub 2015 Jul 15. PMID: 26176421; PMCID: PMC4584183.

May Zhu, RDN

May Zhu, RDN

May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.