From cricket powder to fermented foods, the internet is filled with new ideas of how to improve gut health. According to Meghana Sathe, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern, a balanced diet is the most effective way to promote the health of a child's digestive system.
A balanced diet consists of three meals a day, each made up of at least three of the five food groups, and two snacks, each consisting of two food groups. Pairing food groups leads to more wholesome and filling meals that provide the proper nutrition to energize.
“Diet is something that we can control. You can buy the right food to make your family healthier,” Dr. Sathe says. “Modeling healthy behaviors for your children helps them develop healthy habits for later on in life. Kids learn more from your actions then your words.”
Foods that positively impact gut health
- Yogurt contains prebiotics and probiotics which promote good bacteria growth in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Water keeps you hydrated, aids in digestion by helping move foods along and helps prevent constipation
- Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber. Apples, beans or fruits with skin aid in healthy digestion, and berries and tomatoes contain antioxidants. Parents can most effectively get their kids to eat fruits and vegetables by modeling behavior and being creative.
- Paired snacks like carrots and ranch or apples and peanut butter help kids feel full and energized from fat and protein.
- Low-fat cheeses are a good source of calcium if a child cannot tolerate milk. Cheese is naturally lower in lactose.
Foods that negatively impact gut health
- Foods containing dyes, like candy and bright colored snacks, tend to be unhealthy by nature. They usually contain a high amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates, which is not a good source of fiber.
- Sodium is stressful on the kidneys and can cause dehydration. It is hidden in processed foods like chips.
- Sauces like gravy, cheese dip and soy sauce have hidden sodium and unhealthy fat.
- Fried foods extract the nutritional value and don't provide as many nutrients as their raw or baked counterparts, like a baked potato with skin versus french fries.
- Sugary drinks should be limited or avoided altogether. Sports drinks also contain sugar and are only meant for athletes after working out. Even with juice, it is better to eat an apple then to drink apple juice.
The highly experienced GI specialists at Children's Health can help identify, diagnose and treat digestive issues in children. Learn more about our programs and services.