Good Digestive Health Starts from Young

A variety of common digestive problems may affect our children. These include colic, diarrhoea, food allergies, lactose intolerance, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain and constipation. Maintaining a good digestive health for your child will alleviate or perhaps even prevent some of these problems.

Gut microflora balance is key

One of the most important things is to keep our gut microflora in balance! This is important to help your child to maintain a healthy digestive system to prevent him from infections, inflammation, and allergic diseases.

On the other hand, bad gut microflora balance, or dysbiosis may predispose to various disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and even other seemingly unrelated conditions such as allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

Did you know?

Probiotics are the ‘good’ bacteria. They can be found in foods such as fermented milk products (e.g. yoghurt, cultured milk drink, kefir and cheeses), fermented soy products (e.g. tempeh), kimchi and pickles.

Most of the common probiotic strains that you may come across are from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family, such as L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. rhamnosus, B. longum, B. breve, or B. infantis.

Prebiotics are the ‘food’ which promote the growth of good bacteria and can be found in some high-fibre foods such as onion, garlic and asparagus. These special indigestible plant fibres help ‘feed’ the good bacteria. Do note that not all high-fibre foods are prebiotics, however, they are still good for digestive health as they promote regular bowel movement.

How to maintain good gut microflora balance

The key is to ensure that your child eats a diet that has sufficient sources of prebiotics and probiotics. In addition to the above focus on obtaining pre- and probiotic foods, it is important that your child adopts the following good habits from young in order to maintain good digestive health:

Get plenty of water

Avoid giving him store-bought fruit juices, carbonated drinks, or any other type of sugar-sweetened beverages. This will help him form the habit of drinking water from young, rather than only drinking other less healthy choices. Simply put, water is the best source for water!

Get plenty of fibre

Whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits are great sources of fibre. Getting enough fibre is important as it helps food to move through the digestive system, promotes a healthy bowel function and helps prevent constipation.

Get enough sleep and exercise

Getting adequate sleep is very important, especially for a growing child. Similarly, he also needs to get sufficient daily exercise; the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommend at least one hour of accumulated moderate intensity activities such as playing outside, running, jumping, cycling, swimming, football, or badminton.

The following are additional general healthy eating principles that your child should follow for good digestive health, as well as overall nutritional wellbeing:

  • Make a meal schedule and stick to it: this helps ensure that he never misses a meal. Remember to keep some healthy snacks on hand (e.g. carrots, apples, bananas, cheese and yoghurt) in case he gets hungry between meals.
  • Start his day with breakfast: Not only will having breakfast help to kick-start his day, it is also a great way to ‘sneak’ him some fibre. There are plenty of high-fibre cereals that can be prepared easily and quickly. Alternatively, he can munch on an apple or banana.
  • Focus on healthy snacks: Stop buying non-nutritious snacks! Instead, keep healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products around the house.

Walk the talk

Remember, you are his role model so if you want him to eat healthily, the best way is to lead by example. There is no point in telling him to eat his vegetables if you don’t!

An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.

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