To improve children’s immunity, improve their gut health
I regularly get questions from parents about how they can improve the gut health of their kids. This is an important question because gut health is very closely tied to immune health. If a child is experiencing chronic illness (like repeated strep infections, always has a cold, eczema, rashes, or even behavioral issues) the root cause is often inflammation. Since 65-70% of your immune cells lie along the GI tract, a lot of inflammation begins there. So what can you do about it?
- Start by getting rid of processed foods. Eliminate sodas, chips, candy, sports drinks, sugary cereals, etc. and stick with real, whole foods. If an item has high-fructose corn syrup or food dye, skip it. Our bodies don’t process high-fructose corn syrup well and food dyes can impact how our digestive enzymes work.
- Feed your child a whole foods based diet. In general, the less ingredients in a food, the better. Focus especially on whole fruits and vegetables. Fruit juice doesn’t count! (Ounce for ounce, fruit juice often has more sugar than soda).
- Focus on fiber. Kids need fruits and vegetables for the nutrients but also for the fiber. Fiber is a prebiotic that your good gut bacteria feeds on in order to thrive. Furthermore, there are different types of fiber in different fruits and vegetables and each type feeds a different type of good gut bacteria. So eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important.
- Offer more fermented foods. Fermented items are a great way to get probiotics without needing to take a supplement. Try a good quality greek yogurt with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Better yet, get one without added sugar and add your own fruit and nuts. Other options include lacto-fermented vegetables likes Bubbies pickles or sauerkraut. A small jar of lacto-fermented vegetables typically has more probiotics than a 3-month supply of a probiotic capsules.
- Reduce wheat intake. Not every kid has a wheat or gluten intolerance, but I find that most children (and adults!) do better when they limit their wheat intake. Wheat products aren’t what they used to be and nowadays wheat shows up in LOTS of foods. The modern processing and overexposure to wheat can be problematic for many. Try other alternative grains like rice, quinoa, amaranth, oats, etc.
- Add some nuts and seeds. It only takes a handful a day. If your kids don’t like them by themselves you can try sneaking them into their oatmeal, cereal, granola or yogurt.
- Stick with quality, healthy fats and oils. No more canola. Choose quality coconut oil and olive oil instead.
- Try an elimination and reintroduction diet. If you’ve cleaned up your child’s diet and they are still having issues, they may need to completely eliminate some foods for 30-60 days and then reintroduce them to see if they have a food intolerance. Even if a food is “healthy,” your child’s gut health can be compromised if they have a sensitivity to it. We can help with this! Families have had excellent results completing our Intensive Gut Rehabilitation protocol. (Please note that although we list this protocol on our weight loss page, we use this protocol for MANY conditions and it is not a calorie-restrictive diet).
- Be strict on sleep. Children need GOOD sleep. When kids are consistently not resting well, their cortisol and adrenaline levels will be chronically elevated and this can greatly impact their digestive enzymes. Undigested food in the GI tract can lead to inflammation and the growth of problematic bacteria. To improve sleep quality I recommend two things for kids: 1) a regular bedtime and 2) the bed should be a screen-free zone. Sleep quality is greatly improved when you go to bed and wake up on a consistent schedule. On the other hand, the blue light from screens can significantly reduce melatonin levels. Ideally, kids (and adults) should be off their screens 2 hours before bedtime.
- Reconsider your schedule. An over-scheduled kid is a stressed kid. Try not to have something scheduled every single night. Down time is good for the whole family.
- Reduce toxin exposure. Be mindful of the chemicals in your cleaning and cosmetic products. Look for more natural options. The Environmental Working Group has endless consumer guides to help you choose quality products.