The health and integrity of the gut microbiome play a crucial role in overall pediatric wellness, especially during the childhood years where our little one’s bodies are still growing. Supporting a healthy gut microbiome in kids is important because it plays a foundational role in building a robust immune system, which can help prevent allergies, eczema, and other potential health issues . As parents, understanding and supporting your kids’ gut health can pave the way for lifelong wellbeing. In my role as a Pediatric Naturopathic Doctor, I work with a variety of families to help their kiddos build healthy habits for life. Here are some of my insights along with the actionable steps you can take as a parent to maintain optimal gut health in your little ones.
Choosing Organic Produce
Organic fruits and vegetables are rich in fibers that are crucial for maintaining a healthy gut flora in our kiddos. By opting for organic produce over conventional, you avoid potential harmful pesticides that can disrupt the gut microbiome . Families should choose organic options for their kids when possible because organic farming practices typically use fewer synthetic pesticides and herbicides, reducing exposure to harmful chemicals that can impact the microbiome. However, the specific vegetables that should be organic can change over time. To determine which vegetables are recommended as organic or non-organic, families can refer to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists, which are updated annually.
Eat Probiotic-Rich Foods Daily
Probiotic-rich foods are crucial for your kids to build a healthy gut. Probiotics contain beneficial bacteria that are essential for a balanced gut microbiome. Regular consumption of foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut can introduce and maintain a healthy gut flora, which has been linked to improved digestive and immune function . The probiotic content of foods can vary significantly based on the type of food, its preparation method, and storage conditions. For more information regarding how much probiotics you can find in foods, check out our blog on Top Sources of Probiotic Foods for Kids.
Incorporate Prebiotic-Rich Foods
While probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria to your kiddos’ microbiome, prebiotics act as healthy food for these bacteria to help their growth and activity. Natural sources of prebiotics include foods such as apples and asparagus. For our pickier eaters, a prebiotic supplement made specifically for kids like Begin Health’s Growing Up Prebiotic can also support a healthy digestion through softer and more frequent stooling .
Supplement with Probiotics As Necessary
While a balanced diet should ideally provide all the necessary probiotics from foods, there might be times when a kid’s probiotic supplement is beneficial. It’s particularly helpful for days when your kiddos haven’t consumed enough probiotic-rich foods and need extra support. When choosing a probiotic supplement, make sure it contains both the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species - both are important strains of a healthy microbiome for infants and kids . Pairing probiotics with prebiotic foods or prebiotic supplements can enhance their effectiveness by nourishing the gut microbiome .
Limit Processed Foods
Think of processed foods like the uninvited party crashers of your kiddo’s gut world. Processed foods can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome. Reducing the intake of these foods can prevent the elimination of beneficial bacteria and promote a healthier gut environment . Particularly, be vigilant about food additives such as emulsifiers, seed oils, and food dyes. To learn more about the preservatives you should consider avoiding in processed foods, check out our blog on Food Preservatives to Avoid.
Play in the Dirt
Exposing children to natural environments, such as gardens or playgrounds, can introduce them to diverse microbes that support the microbiome. What kids get by playing in nature that they don’t get from foods alone are the vast number of different types of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. Soil also contains minerals like zinc, magnesium, selenium, and iron. Exposure to these natural elements and microbes found in dirt can not only strengthen the immune system but also contribute to a balanced gut flora . Plus, it’s the most fun option on this list!
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I am a Pediatric Naturopathic Medical Doctor based in San Diego, CA, specializing in pediatric and preconception care with a proactive approach to prevent future diseases and ensure proper development. I firmly believe in establishing strong foundations for health, as they play a pivotal role in shaping a child's path towards a healthy future. Find more information on my website: www.sdintegrativepeds.com
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