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March is Colorectal Health Awareness Month

Tips for Building Better Gut Health in Kids

There are 100 trillion bacteria in the human gut. The good ones are important in reducing risk of diseases and unwanted symptoms like stomach aches and uncomfortable digestion. Health benefits go beyond the belly. Gut health helps foster an overall healthy immune system too.

“Good bacteria help maintain the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract, provide nutrients and vitamins and protect against pathogens,” said Heather Agnewgastroenterology and nutrition nurse practitioner. “The trillions of microorganisms in the intestinal tract make up the gut microbiome, which is developed when we’re young, so childhood is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of good health.”

Many factors go into gut health but diet is a key one. Parents can help kids build a healthy gut by:

  • Serving foods high in dietary fiber, like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains:
    • Good bacteria feed off dietary fiber, so why not give them plenty? Fiber also helps us feel full and can prevent constipation.
  • Limiting sugar, which feeds the bad bacteria and suppresses the immune system:
    • While good bacteria like fiber, bad bacteria love sugar and can infringe on the good guys doing their work for gut health.
  • Encouraging foods with good bacteria, such as yogurt:
    • Eating foods with live and active cultures is another way of saying good bacteria is an easy way of adding beneficial bugs to the digestive tract.
  • Staying away from processed foods and artificial sweeteners that irritate the gut:
    • Processed foods, like chips, packaged cookies and fast foods, lack the dietary fiber we know is so important for gut health and have additives that can increase gut inflammation.
  • Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, which can destroy good bacteria along with the bad:

Probiotics supplements can help replenish good bacteria to restore balance in the body and ease constipation, diarrhea and stomach pain. Probiotics are generally effective for kids but they don’t always work the same way they do in adults. It’s best to talk with your child’s health care provider to make sure you choose probiotics that will be safe with their other health concerns and medications.