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The Importance of Good Gut Health for Your Child

by on 07/12/2015 2890

This article was last updated 13th September 2021. 

 

Experts have been saying for years that digestive health plays a role beyond the basic functions of digesting and absorbing the food we eat.  Recent research shows that good digestive health (or gut health) also contributes towards a healthy immune system and emotional well-being. Children with healthy digestive system generally does not get sick as often.

 

As moms, all we want to do is to ensure our child is healthy, happy and developing well, so we invest in educational toys, learning programmes and much more. But sometimes, we forget about one very important factor – our child’s digestive health.

 

The digestive system (also known as gut) begins at the mouth, encompassing the stomach, small intestine and large intestine before ending at the anus. While most people think that the digestive system’s functions are only to break down the food your child eats, absorption of nutrients and to help eliminate waste, the gut actually works 24/7 to maintain the overall wellness and development of your child.

 

 

 

1. Why is good gut health important for your child's overall well-being?

The gut plays an important role in certain areas of your child's health. The following are some of the important functions of the gut:

 

- Ensuring proper digestive health

Our digestive system breaks down the food we eat into nutrients that are absorbed and used by the body. The waste products of digestion are released from the body as stool. The presence of good bacteria in the gut promotes digestive health, such as effective absorption of nutrients, reducing the growth of harmful bacteria, promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and helps the production softer stools, thus preventing problems of constipation.

 

- Maintaining the immune system

The interesting fact that many of us do not know is that the gut contains 70% of the body's immune cells hence keeping the gut healthy helps to keep the immune system healthy too. Studies have also shown that prebiotics can help promote gut health as well as helping to reduce the risk of infections in young children and the severity of conditions such as atopic dermatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.

 

- Supporting learning and development

The gut plays an important role in keeping your children healthy and happy. In contrast, poor gut health is associated with a variety of symptoms such as flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and poor appetite. These painful symptoms could negatively affect your child’s concentration, learning capabilities as well as mental health. Hence proper nutrition is important to support good gut health, which has positive impacts on children’s optimal learning and development.

 

 

2. How will I know if my child's gut is not healthy?

Poor gut health shows in many different ways. If your child has poor gut health which also means that the digestive system may not be functioning well, the common symptoms are poor appetite, bloating or nausea. Poor gut health can also lead to constipation, a painful experience as your child finds it difficult or is unable to pass motion due to hard, dry and compacted stools.

 

 

 

3. How can I improve my child's gut health?

Try the tips below. Maintaining a healthy gut contributes towards an overall wellbeing and helps to set the stage for a healthier teen and adult life too.

 

- Ensure your child's meals meet their nutritional requirements

Growing children need lots of nutrients to grow and develop optimally. It is vital for you to ensure your child is eating a wide variety of foods from each of the food groups including dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains and lean meats. Milk is a key food to provide balanced nutrition to young children especially if you are not sure if your child is getting enough nutrients from regular food.  

 

 

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- Include prebiotics in your child's daily diet

Prebiotics are the food source for healthy bacteria in the gut and are commonly found in foods like leeks, asparagus, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans. Some, but not all formulated milk products for children are added with prebiotics such as fructooligossacharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) that can also help maintain a good intestinal environment. Numerous studies have shown that prebiotic oligosaccharide mixture with fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) in a ratio of 9 to 1 can help to maintain a good intestinal environment via various ways:

 

-     Support the growth of beneficial bacteria.

 

-     Decrease the growth of harmful bacteria.

 

-     Support stronger gut protective barrier.

 

-     Promote softer stools for easier bowel movement.

 

 

- Feed your child more dietary fibre and water

Our gut also needs water and dietary fibre to function well. While the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents recommends two servings of fruits and two servings of vegetables for children between 3 to 6 years old, studies show that most Malaysian children do not consume sufficient fruits and vegetables which are the main source of dietary fibre that helps with bowel movement. To start training your child from a young age to eat enough of their fruits and vegetables, try sweet-tasting vegetables like carrots, broccoli, corn and sweet potatoes.

 

It is also important to encourage children to drink water, as insufficient water intake can contribute to constipation. Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents also recommends that children between 2-3 years old should drink 1-2 glasses of plain water per day while children above four years should consume 6-8 glasses of plain water per day.

 

- Make exercise part of your child's daily routine

Experts also recommend for children to be physically active as this can help to stimulate the digestive system for better digestive health. What’s more, being active helps your child’s physical development while discouraging a sedentary lifestyle.

 

In essence, good gut health helps to support your child’s overall well-being in many different ways, so it’s never too late to make gut health a priority.

 

 

 

This educational article is brought to you by nutritionist Dr Koh Chu Sing to raise awareness on better nutrition and well-balanced health amongst children.