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Looking after your gut is one of the most effective ways to enhance your overall health and wellbeing. And it’s one of the best ways to look after the health of your little one too. But when it comes to the notoriously fussy tiny humans we’re trying to take care of, how can we help them get the good stuff? As part of our new series Asking for a Friend, we brought in gut health guru Dr Megan Rossi to share the top 9 things you need to know on gut health for you and your kids.

Gut health impacts everything. According to Megan, “nourishing the gut, understanding it and loving it can improve people’s lives in very real and often surprising ways”. And that goes for kids too. So what can we do to help our gut health? And how can we help our kids along the way?

 

1. There’s such a thing as good bacteria

When was the last time you panicked about your child touching something dirty or ramming their mucky hand into their mouth? We’ve all done it. But there’s such a thing as good bacteria and there are some schools of thought which suggest we’ve become too clean with our kids and it’s affecting their gut bacteria.

Megan says: “There’s this concept called the Hygiene Hypothesis which is suggesting that this massive increase in rates of different allergies and things like eczema is thought to be related to the fact that we’ve become too clean with our kids. We’re wiping down benches eight times a day – and this was even before Covid.”

“Bacteria that they pick up is really important for training the immune system because 70% of our immune system lives in our gut. The bacteria are like the trainers of that immune system. So if we don’t allow our kids to experience a more diverse range of bacteria by picking them up from ‘the dirt’ then they’re not able to get the right community of bacteria to train the immune system of what they should react to and what they shouldn’t.”

 

Gut health for kids2. It’s about inclusion not exclusion

Megan doesn’t believe in excluding things from your diet. Quite the opposite in fact. For her it’s about what you can add into what you already eat, rather than thinking about what you can take out. On Megan’s watch, there’s no more telling yourself not to eat the things you fancy.

“Chocolate is one of my favourite foods. I would never ever give it up. But it’s about thinking ‘okay I’m going to have this chocolate but why don’t I have a handful of mixed nuts or some dried fruit kind of mix into my diet as well?’”

 

3. Feed the pets

One of the ways Megan suggests might be helpful to get kids to eat more of what’s good for their gut is to encourage them to ‘feed the pets’. She explains: “I think getting the kids to appreciate that they’ve got trillions of little pets inside of them from day dot actually can help them embrace more of the these plant foods. We can say ‘hey, you know what, you might not like broccoli, but I know the little pets inside you really do and they’ll look after you so if you feed them that they’ll be really happy’. Talking to kids like that, it really does getting get them think differently”

When we’re helping kids think about things this way, it allows us to start thinking about nourishing the bacteria in our gut with their favourite foods (plants) and take control of our own health conditions, while also helping our kids’ mental health. Winner.

 

4. Getting your kids involved can help get them interested

Kids are notoriously tricky when it comes to food. But there’s science that shows that if you get them involved, they’re more likely to make sense of the process, which can help them feel excited about what they’re eating. If a kid doesn’t like vegetables, taking them to the supermarket or a farmer’s market and allowing them to pick whichever vegetable looks interesting to them, then cooking it together can help them get curious.  As Megan says, they’re much more likely to eat that vegetable versus if they’re just told ‘eat this’. When it comes to gut health for kids, it’s all about taking them on a journey.

And tastebuds regenerate every 10 days or so. So don’t be afraid to keep encouraging them to try new things.

 

5. Each of the ‘Super Six’ give your gut bacteria different things

One of the biggest questions you asked us about gut health for both you and the kids came down simply to – “what should we eat?”. When it comes to gut health, Megan’s approach stretches beyond just getting more fruit and veg in your diet. She advocates for integrating the Super Six. It’s not about perfection, but it’s about remembering each of these categories provides gut bacteria with different things. So what are they?

  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruit and veg
  • Legumes
  • Beans and pulses
  • Herbs and spices

Megan explains: “They’re so powerful and they really do nourish nourish the body so it’s just thinking – what we haven’t had? We haven’t had any beans or pulses all week. A lot of older kids might think ‘oh god I’m not having them, but there’s so many ways you can just sneak them in. For example my spinach and ricotta ravioli. Take out half the the cheese and add a can of mixed beans in. It’s super cheap and the kids don’t even notice. It still tastes so creamy from the cheese. So it’s just thinking about how you can add in those extra plants.”

 

6. Your kids can still eat the things they love

Your kids can still eat the things they love that might be seen as ‘unhealthy’. But think about where you can try to include something from the Super Six alongside them to feed their gut bacteria and improve their gut microbiome. Megan explains “For example, whatever you’re having for breakfast, you know it could be Coco Pops, add in a teaspoon of mixed seeds. Get kids thinking ‘I can still have foods that taste yummy but Im going to add in some extra plants’.”

It all goes back to that idea of inclusion rather than exclusion. And don’t forget, you can still eat the things you love too.

 

7. A bit of bloating is totally normal

When we opened the floor to questions for Megan, one of the things that came up time and again was around bloating. So many of you wanted to know how to beat the bloat. But as far as gut bacteria goes, it’s a good thing. Occasional bloating after a high-fibre meal is a sign of well-fed gut microbes (including that good bacteria we mentioned earlier) doing their thing. But if you’re finding you’ve got bloating that comes and goes during the day, Megan has a few things she recommends:

  • Chew your food well, aim for 10-20 chews per mouthful.

  • Split your food intake into smaller meals throughout the day.

  • Gentle stretching, abdominal massage and heat packs to help release trapped gas.

  • Avoid wearing tight clothes where you can.

 

8. Your diet is the best place to get vitamins and minerals

Loads of you wanted to quiz Megan on how valuable supplements can be for improving your gut health. With so many out there and so much misinformation available, we were right there with ya. Megan’s thoughts? They’re not needed by everyone. They’re designed to do exactly what it says on the tin. Supplement your diet. Getting your vitamins and minerals from your food is the best way to feed you and your gut microbes.

But, she adds “One supplement we we should all be taking in the UK between September and April is Vitamin D. This is because the sun is not close enough to penetrate our skin during those colder months (check your shadow when you’re outdoors – if it is shorter than you, the sun is close enough to penetrate your skin and produce Vitamin D!). The UK government guidelines currently recommend 10mcg (400IU) per day for adults and children over 1.”

 

9. There’s growing evidence of a link between gut health and mental health

We know you’re all curious about this one. There’s lots of interesting stuff happening in the space around the gut/brain connection. Several studies have shown that people with depression have different gut microbes to those without depression but these studies are fairly weak in terms of scientific rigour. A study of those who followed a Mediterranean diet showed an improvement in happiness levels. So while the science is in the early stages, there’s certainly some suggestion that looking after the bacteria in your belly could help you take care of your brain. Read more about these studies on Megan’s website.

See Megan’s full episode of Asking for a Friend with Gi below

Want to know more about gut health for kids? Check out Megan’s new book Eat More, Live Well, find her on Instagram and visit her website

 

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