The first 3 years of life are critical for developing good gut health.
Every single day our children’s little bodies are achieving phenomenal things. Their bones and muscles are growing, their brains are developing while at the same time 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 the 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 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, breastfeeding, 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 relevant 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 do 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 while 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 – e.g. dried chickpeas or favva beans.
Use wholegrain options for breads and cereals – check for the % whole grains in the ingredients list and aim as high as possible!
Increase nuts and seeds – use nut butters, almond meal or LSA in baking or chopped nuts in muffins, sprinkled on salads or added to hot meals such as stir-fries and curries.
Including foods that contain probiotics – this can help to maintain the correct balance of good and bad bugs in the gut, which in turn improves immunity and reduces sickness.
Every little bit helps, so try to include these foods both at snack and meal times to maximise their intake of goodness!