Supporting your child’s gut health by incorporating prebiotic-rich foods in their diet may help their overall health.
By Katherine Granich, Source Kids Health Contributor
How often do you think about your child’s gut health?
As a parent of a child with unique needs, diet and nutrition are likely to be on your mind anyway. But often, because we’re focussed on caloric intake, expanding our child’s repertoire of foods, or developing oral and feeding skills, the details of what can help (and hinder) our child’s gut health may seem like just one more thing on the list.
But gut health is an important consideration for children, particularly if your child is taking medication or supplements, is tube-fed, or fall into the “picky eater” category (which we know isn’t as simple as it sounds, and can be caused by a number of things, like oral aversion, chronic reflux, developmental delays, and more). And research is starting to show that gut health may impact other areas of overall health and wellbeing.
What is “gut health”?
When we talk about gut health, what we’re really referring to is the health of your microbiome – the home where your microbiota (community of microbes) lives, and is located primarily in your large intestine. These microbes, which are mainly bacteria or “gut bugs”, can be helpful or unhelpful, and what we eat can have a big impact on whether we have a healthy gut microbiome.
Research is starting to show that the health of your microbiome can be linked to a number of medical conditions and illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, type two diabetes, and depression. Some of the collections of microbes in your body may play a role in how you respond to medication, how well your body absorbs vitamin supplements, and even how efficiently your body extracts nutrients from the food you eat.
Welcome to the neighbourhood
Like your local community, the gut bugs that make up your microbiome can be helpful or unhelpful – good neighbours or bad neighbours. The good gut bugs, like good neighbours, have a beneficial effect on the microbiome, and therefore on your overall health. The good bugs in your gut feed on prebiotics, and they get these from the food you ingest.
There are many types of prebiotics, and the major prebiotic-rich foods that feed good gut bugs are fructans, galacto- oligosaccharides (GOS), and candidate prebiotics (resistant starch). Some foods, which fall into one or more of these categories, and are therefore probiotic- rich, are:
- Al dente pasta
- Baked beans
- Black beans
- Brussel sprouts
- Butternut pumpkin
- Cooked and cooled rice, pasta and potatoes
- Custard apple
- Green banana flour
- Green peas
- Hummus dip
- Milk fortified with prebiotic
- Oat milk
- Pearl barley
- Pumpkin seeds
- Red kidney beans
- Red onion
- Rolled oats
- Silken tofu
- Split peas
- The bulbs of leeks
- Unripe bananas
To feed those good gut bugs, it’s important to eat at least 30 different plant foods per week, including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, legumes, and seeds. It’s also important to include prebiotic-rich foods such as those from the list above.
Prebiotics and your child’s diet
Let’s be honest – did you read that list of prebiotic-rich foods and think to yourself, “My child will never eat any of those things!” It’s a bit overwhelming to consider. What’s important is that you assess where your child’s diet is at, what your capabilities are to make changes to the food they’re eating, and how you can implement prebiotic-rich foods without causing yourself or your child any undue stress. Also, keep in mind that you will be working with smaller, child-sized portions, not adult-sized portions.
First, check in with your child’s dietitian, nutritionist or, if they don’t have one, their GP, particularly if they are tube-feeding. Ask for their advice about how to ensure your child is getting a good amount of prebiotics in their diet. If your child is being tube-fed a medical- grade formula, this may already have prebiotics and/or probiotics in it. If your child is tube-fed a blended diet or a real food diet, your dietitian may have ideas on how to add a balance of prebiotic-rich foods to their intake.
If your child eats table foods, and doesn’t have any restrictions on what they can eat – that is, they don’t have any medical or physical reasons (such as choking or aspiration risk) why they cannot eat certain foods – you can think about getting creative with including prebiotic-rich foods in their “regular” diet, such as using ground cashews to thicken sauces, blending silken tofu with berries and milk and freezing into ice blocks, or making pikelets with green banana flour.
If your child can tolerate dairy, another relatively easy way to incorporate prebiotics is to ensure the milk they are drinking is fortified with prebiotics. Dairy Farmers A2 Goodness + prebiotic contains GOS which are naturally derived from milk. GOS has been shown to increase the number of good bugs (particularly bifidobacterium and lactobacillus sp, if you’re curious) in your gut. Use it for smoothies, shakes, or in hot drinks, pour it over breakfast cereal or muesli, or drink in a cup alongside a sandwich at lunch.
Coping with challenging eaters
If your child is on a restricted diet, either for medical reasons or due to sensory issues or other neurodivergent challenges, getting them to change what they eat – or try new things – can be incredibly stressful. With a narrow list of foods on the menu, quality over quantity becomes the important factor. Look for potentially easy “swaps” that they might not notice or mind, such as prebiotic milk for regular milk, or silken tofu blended into creamy soups. If your child eats chicken nuggets and only chicken nuggets, perhaps consider adding ground cashews or chopped garlic to the tomato sauce they dip them in. If pasta is their go-to, then by all means, stick with pasta. Remember, it’s also okay to challenge them with new foods, in a managed way – offering a new food that is similar alongside a food that you know your child will eat is one way to start getting them used to the idea of new foods, but this needs to be a positive and non-stressful experience. Talk to your GP or dietitian about whether a prebiotic or probiotic supplement might be a good idea.
Proudly brought to you by Source Kids and Dairy Farmers A2 Goodness + prebiotic milk – a super easy way to get prebiotics into your kids’ diet is through the milk they drink. With milk containing only the A2 protein plus added prebiotics, Dairy Farmers A2 Goodness + prebiotic milk is goodness from free roaming, pasture raised cows.
Dairy Farmers. Here’s to good.