Many parents are changing their approach to feeding and caring for their families. We’re all a little wiser and a little more discerning about the choices we make. We know that it’s important for children to get the vitamins and minerals they need to grow and thrive. But what about their gut health?
Gut health largely depends on the things we eat. A delicate balance of good and harmful bacteria needs to be maintained to promote proper digestion and overall health. The gut needs fiber and adequate hydration to support digestive regularity and the immune system. Are the meals you’re feeding your family working to improve gut health?
1. Sourdough Bread
Bread is a staple in almost every household. The average American eats about a pound of bread a week, or 53 pounds of bread per year. Swapping traditional bread for sourdough bread can make a significant difference in your family’s gut health.
Sourdough bread is a fermented food, and the fermentation process may have digestive benefits. Many people find that their body has an easier time digesting sourdough bread than other types of bread, especially if they typically experience bloating.
Sourdough bread also provides your gut with prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic fiber can help to nourish and support beneficial bacteria living in the gut, allowing them to flourish while they work to promote healthy digestion and a healthy gut microbiome.
2. Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Sauerkraut and kimchi are two different dishes with two different cultural backgrounds. They both work similarly within the body. The core component of both sauerkraut and kimchi is fermented cabbage. Cabbage is naturally full of nutrients and rich in fiber. It’s already a very healthy food. The fermentation process takes its benefits to the next level by introducing healthy microorganisms to the dough.
Fermentation is a form of controlled spoilage. Fermented foods are allowed to age in a safe environment. During the fermentation process, healthy gut bacteria begin to accumulate. It leaves the food with a slightly sour, tangy flavor that many people find enjoyable. When you eat fermented food like cabbage or kimchi, you’re introducing that beneficial bacteria into your digestive system.
3. Yogurt and Kefir
Yogurt and kefir are both dairy foods made from live and active cultures. The biggest difference is their textures. Yogurt is thick and can be eaten with a spoon, whereas kefir is usually much thinner and is enjoyed as a drink.
The live cultures that cause dairy to ferment into yogurt and kefir can benefit the digestive system as a probiotic food. There are a lot of misconceptions about how foods like yogurt and kefir work to support gut health.
The probiotic cultures in fermented dairy foods don’t necessarily introduce more healthy gut microbiota into the digestive tract and establish a better balance. Instead, these specific bacteria do a better job of breaking down certain foods than the bacteria that naturally occur in the gut.
Many carbohydrates, like whole grains such as quinoa, fruits, and veggies, contain molecules called polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are a normal part of our diet, and they aren’t harmful to the human body — we just don’t have an outstanding ability to digest them. The probiotics naturally contained in fermented dairy products and other probiotic-rich foods do an excellent job of breaking them down, helping foods gently pass through the gastrointestinal tract.
4. Jerusalem Artichokes and Asparagus
Jerusalem artichokes are a root that’s part of the same plant family as sunflowers. These unique roots and asparagus have a lot in common: they’re both excellent sources of prebiotic fiber.
Prebiotic fiber is a special kind of fiber that works to promote digestion. Prebiotic fiber can’t be digested by your body. It passes through your digestive system whole. This isn’t a bad thing. The body needs prebiotic fiber to promote intestinal motility.
When prebiotic foods reach the intestines, good gut bacteria flock to them. It serves as an ideal, high-fiber food source to help beneficial bacteria grow and thrive. When these bacteria are properly energized, they can do a better job of fulfilling their function in helping your body digest food.
Plus, increasing your fiber intake is a great way to relieve constipation. Although Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are great prebiotic foods, leeks are also a great way to feed your healthy gut bacteria.
5. Legumes and Beans
Foods like beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, and peanuts aren’t easily broken down at the beginning of the digestive process. They reach your large intestine untouched, where they serve as a beneficial source of fiber. They draw the attention of good bacteria to the very beginning of the digestive process, which may give your digestive system a small head start on its workload.
Your gut microbes will work to begin fermenting them at the very beginning of the digestive process. This can lead to the production of gas. Although gas isn’t generally regarded as pleasant or polite, it’s one of the most important parts of intestinal motility. A little bit of gas is a sign that your body is digesting food the way it should.
How Can I Incorporate More Foods To Improve Gut Health?
Most children who can safely consume dairy will enjoy yogurt and kefir, especially if they’re served with fruit your child enjoys. As an added bonus, some types of Greek yogurt also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for general wellness.
Frozen yogurt also contains trillions of live cultures, making it a beneficial dessert swap. Many people can hardly tell the difference between frozen yogurt and traditional ice cream.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha may be harder to serve. They have a distinctly sour taste and may not agree with everyone’s palate. Adults may be quicker to appreciate their merits than children might. Both sauerkraut and kimchi are fun toppings for turkey hot dogs. If your child will eat turkey hot dogs, try to use them as a vehicle to introduce fermented foods and their health benefits.
Foods like asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke may be difficult to serve children who have a tendency to push their vegetables off of their plates. You may need to be patient with your children if they aren’t adventurous eaters.
Focus on Whole Foods
The important thing to remember when adjusting your child’s diet is to focus on whole foods. Heavily processed foods are often full of added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other additives. If you’re having a hard time keeping the kids away from sweets, try introducing naturally sweet substitutes like blueberries, raspberries, and oranges – which are also great sources of antioxidants like vitamin C!
As an added bonus, many of these fermented foods can help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as general well-being.
What if My Child Is a Picky Eater?
If your child is a picky eater, you’re not alone. It can be frustrating to contend with a child’s picky eating behavior because you only want the best for them. Think back to when you were growing up. How much broccoli did you attempt to feed to the family dog when you didn’t want to eat it? You’ve probably gotten over most of your healthy food aversions as you’ve grown, and your child is likely to do the same.
Meal times should never be turned into a contest or an argument. If your child doesn’t eat foods that promote their gut health, serve them anyway. All the adults at the table should talk about how great the foods are and how much they love them. The goal is to make your child feel less like the foods are punishment and more like they’re strange for missing out on something wonderful.
Over time, this approach may work to encourage your child to try new foods. Children have an innate urge to be grown-ups, and if the adults in their lives set a healthy example, they’re more likely to follow.
This process can take some time, and your child can’t go without important vitamins, minerals, and probiotics in the meantime. Consider using a probiotic supplement to fill the gaps in your child’s diet while they’re learning to appreciate gut-healthy foods.
If your child refuses to eat these foods, you may want to consult a registered dietitian. These professionals can help create healthy recipes like stir-fry that combine your child’s favorite carbs and probiotic foods to appeal to their tastes.
Supporting Your Child’s Gut Health
Serving new foods is an excellent way to introduce your child to the basics of nutrition. It may not always be a smooth ride, but it’s important to keep trying. While your child is learning to appreciate gut-healthy foods, consider adding Hiya’s daily children’s chewable probiotic into their routine.
It takes a few weeks for probiotics to begin to produce their full wealth of benefits, so consistency is key. Probiotics are safe for long-term use, and the benefits will sustain for as long as the gut has an ideal balance of healthy bacteria.
Hiya’s children’s chewable probiotic is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free. It’s suitable for most households. One chewable probiotic delivers billions of beneficial bacteria to your child’s digestive system, where they can get to work promoting a healthy gut.