Over the past decade, many health-conscious people have incorporated probiotics into their daily routine. They enjoy the way that probiotics make them feel, especially when it comes to their digestive health. Parents who use probiotics probably wonder if their children would experience the same benefits. Before you give your kids probiotics, here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Probiotic?
There are two kinds of bacteria: beneficial bacteria and bad bacteria. Bad bacteria, or germs, are the kind of bacteria that can cause illness or infection. It’s the bacteria we’re all trying to avoid. It’s why we’ve all improved our handwashing skills and learned social distancing.
Then, there are good bacteria. Good bacteria are the bacteria your body needs to keep itself in balance. There are good bacteria in every system throughout the body, but it’s most prevalent in the gut.
These good bacteria are called probiotic bacteria. They help your body fulfill its duty to keep you healthy. They’re part of a well-oiled machine that assists the digestive process. Some of these bacteria will naturally occur in your gut. Probiotic supplements are additional beneficial bacteria that work with your gut to maximize its efficiency.
How Do Probiotics Work?
Everything you swallow makes its way through your digestive system. Most things, like vitamins and minerals, are digested and sent throughout the body. They help to do things like manufacture red blood cells or new tissues. Probiotics don’t need to reach a new destination before they begin to work. The effects take place mostly within the gut.
Probiotics help your body to effectively and efficiently digest food. The lactobacillus family of bacteria commonly used in probiotics is the same kind of bacteria your gut needs to break down food waste.
When you use probiotics, you can usually tell the difference in the way your body works. You might experience regular bowel movements, decreased constipation, or reduced bathroom strain. In some cases, probiotics can work to prevent occasional diarrhea. Because they can help the body effectively move food through your system, they can also work to reduce digestive discomfort and bloating.
Are Probiotics Safe?
Probiotics are perfectly safe for most people, including children. People in otherwise good health who don’t have any underlying conditions or disorders affecting their digestive systems can typically use probiotics.
Before using probiotics, vitamins, or supplements, it’s best to speak to your doctor. If you’re contemplating giving your kids probiotics, mention it at your next pediatrician appointment.
What Are Probiotics Important for Kids?
Many kids can benefit from probiotics. If you plan to discuss probiotics with your child’s pediatrician, there are a few important talking points to consider. Your pediatrician can help to explain how these benefits may impact your child.
Probiotics have been studied for their immune-boosting activity. There are a few ways that probiotics can work to support a healthy immune system.
Probiotics are good bacteria, but your intestines also contain bad bacteria. When probiotics enter, they compete for resources with the bad bacteria. They can stick to the intestinal walls, preventing bad bacteria from setting up shop and reproducing. When the good bacteria take up all the real estate, the bad bacteria are disadvantaged.
Some probiotics can produce substances that damage or destroy bad bacteria, clearing them out of the body before they’ve had a chance to produce side effects.
Promoting Healthy Digestion
Probiotics can work to support healthy digestion. Your gut needs good bacteria to process food, extract its nutrients, and use it for fuel. The lactobacillus family of probiotic bacteria is one of the most plentiful types of bacteria your body uses to support the digestive process.
Giving your child’s body some extra lactobacillus bacteria can help to support normal digestion. Children with occasional digestive issues might benefit from the occasional use of probiotics. Many pediatricians recommend probiotics to counteract some side effects of antibiotics, which destroy or diminish some of the healthy bacteria the body needs to function properly.
Supporting Nutrient Absorption
People with absorption issues are unable to fully receive the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals their food contains. By supporting healthy digestion, you can also support nutrient absorption. When the digestive system is working to its fullest capacity, it may be able to better use the important nutrients in our diets.
What Foods Are Naturally Rich in Probiotics?
Many foods we eat are rich in probiotics. Unfortunately, many of these foods are the kinds of foods that picky eaters are known to reject. It’s a good idea to find a few probiotic-rich foods your child enjoys and incorporate them into your child’s diet as often as possible.
Breastfed babies get a sufficient amount of probiotics through breastmilk. Breastmilk should provide everything a nursing child needs if their nursing parent is healthy and getting plenty of probiotics. Your pediatrician will inform you if changes in diet or feeding patterns are necessary for the health of your growing baby. It is generally unnecessary to give a nursing child supplements unless a pediatrician recommends them.
Most standard baby formula does not contain the same probiotics as human breastmilk. If your baby is formula-fed, speak to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will help you find the best formula to meet your baby’s nutritional needs.
Dairy yogurt is made from fermented milk. The fermentation of milk produces live, active, and healthy cultures that work to support the digestive system. Any yogurt that contains live cultures naturally contains probiotics.
Non-dairy yogurt is made by fermenting plant-based milk alternatives. Most of the time, plant-based yogurt alternatives will also contain substantial amounts of live and active cultures. Except for soy yogurt, most plant-based yogurt will be very low in protein. You should be mindful of this if you use yogurt as a protein staple in meals, like breakfast parfaits.
Just be mindful when choosing yogurt for your children. Many yogurts marketed toward children contain added sugars and artificial colors and flavors. If you take a health-conscious, natural approach to feeding your family, read the label to ensure the yogurt meets your family’s standards.
When in doubt, stick with plain unsweetened yogurt. You can blend yogurt with herbs and seasonings to create healthy sandwich spreads or use it as a substitute for mayonnaise in recipes. This lightens up a dish while providing probiotic benefits.
Kombucha is well known and well-loved for its digestive health-supporting properties. This fermented tea is an excellent source of probiotics, but it may not be for everyone. Kombucha has a very unique flavor that can be polarizing. People either love it or hate it. You’ll need to try it to decide if it’s for you.
The fermentation used to produce kombucha naturally produces a very small amount of alcohol. Although it’s technically safe for children over the age of 4 to consume store-bought kombucha, many parents understandably don’t feel comfortable giving their children a beverage containing any alcohol.
Fermented foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles are probiotic powerhouses. With the exception of pickles, you might have a difficult time convincing your child to eat these foods. It never hurts to give them a try. Try a small amount of sauerkraut on a turkey hot dog, or add some pickles to a chicken sandwich. Kimchi and miso may be harder to sell, but if your child quickly takes to sauerkraut, they’re not too far of a leap.
Sourdough bread is a very easy way to incorporate live and active cultures into your family’s diet. Sourdough is fermented before it's baked, hence the name sourdough. All you need to do is swap plain white bread for this probiotic-rich alternative. You can continue serving up the same grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches your child loves while upping the nutritional benefits of the meal.
When Should You Use Probiotic Supplements?
If your picky eater is avoiding probiotic-rich foods or if your child is experiencing tummy troubles, you can speak with your pediatrician about incorporating a probiotic supplement into your child’s wellness routine. If your pediatrician believes a probiotic would be helpful, you can give your child probiotics daily with their morning meal.
Hiya’s chewable Kids Daily Probiotic contains over 10 billion active lactobacillus cultures to help support digestion, immunity, and absorption. Hiya is vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, non-GMO, and eco-friendly. It caters to the needs and concerns of most health-conscious households that want the best for their growing youngsters.