Why nurturing a healthy gut is one of the best things for our children

2,500 years ago, Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, famously declared that ‘all disease begins in the gut’.

While he may have been way ahead of his time, it appears he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Over the last decade there has been a huge amount of research emerging about the importance of good gut health. We now know that our gut microbiome, the bacteria that inhabit our guts, affects basically every aspect of our health, from our digestion to our risk of chronic disease to our mental health, and possibly even our risk of developing allergies. In fact, such is its influence that it’s even referred to as ‘the second brain’.

Gut health in both adults and children appears to have deteriorated in recent times, however, experts are unsure of the exact cause of this decline. Multiple factors have been blamed for upsetting the balance of microbes in our guts; however, it appears that one of the main factors is undoubtedly our diet.

While the bacteria present in our gut changes throughout our life, after the age of four, a child’s gut microbiome starts to resemble that of an adult’s and becomes more fixed.

"For this reason, establishing good gut health as early as possible in your child’s life is extremely important in setting the path for future gut health and future overall health."

So what exactly can we do to ensure our kids’ diets are promoting a healthy gut microbiome and setting them up for a healthy and happy future? The key is a diverse diet with lots of plant-based foods – fruit and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and not too much highly processed food. In addition to a healthy diet, including probiotics and prebiotics in kids’ diets can also help improve gut health.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are defined as ‘live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer benefit to the host’. They’ve been shown to reduce the incidence and duration of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, improve digestion and reduce inflammation. Probiotics can be especially beneficial following a course of antibiotics when many of our gut bacteria, both good and bad, are killed off. While they can be taken in capsule or powder form and purchased over the counter, there are also natural probiotics present in some foods, primarily fermented foods such as yoghurt containing live bacteria, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and miso.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are substances that pass through the gastrointestinal tract undigested and feed the beneficial bacteria in the large intestine, thereby stimulating their growth and allowing them to thrive. In doing so, they help to improve the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria. Resistant starch found in foods such as cooked and cooled pasta, rice and potato acts as a prebiotic, as do oligosaccharides, which are found naturally in many plants such as onions, garlic and legumes.

Tips for encouraging optimal gut health in kids

Eat the rainbow: Diversity is one of the keys to good gut health, so try to include a wide variety of whole, plant based foods in your child’s diets.

Add some good bacteria: Fermented foods provide a natural source of probiotics. Yoghurt with live cultures, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso are all examples of fermented foods. It can be tricky getting kids to eat these foods, but adding a little sauerkraut to dishes or adding some kefir to a smoothie are easy ways to get fermented foods into their diet.

Feed the good bacteria: Include prebiotic foods to feed beneficial bacteria such as legumes, onions, garlic, asparagus, oats and cooked and cooled pasta, rice and potato (can be reheated).

Ditch the junk: Highly processed snack foods and sugary foods and drinks promote the growth of bad bacteria. Keep these foods for special occasions and talk to kids about the importance of a healthy diet so that they understand why these foods aren’t ‘everyday’ foods.

    Can we help?

    For busy parents and carers, the Go! Kidz range of ready-to-eat children’s meals offers an easy way to get healthy meals on the table fast.

    From favourites such as our reimagined chicken nuggets and pasta bolognese to the new veggie korma and coconut chicken curry, our kids' meals contain wholesome, all natural ingredients and up to 3 serves of vegetables per portion. Best of all, kids love them and like many other parents I love the convenience!

    – Skye Swaney, Go! Kidz Dietitian

    Skye Swaney is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist with over 12 years' experience in the field and formerly held the position of Senior Dietitian at Australia’s Healthy Kids Association.

    In addition to helping create our super healthy kids' meals, Skye consults to the food industry, the corporate sector, sporting teams, hospitals and schools. As a keen health and nutrition writer, Skye also regularly contributes to publications such as The Huffington Post.