top of page
  • Writer's pictureEmily Lipinski

3 Ways to Optimize Gut Health (with diet) in Children and Why it's so Important

Most parents would agree that they want to set their children up for success from a young age. We often think about doing this through proper education, experiences and a good diet. But have you ever thought about how optimizing a child's gut health may be helpful for life long health?

Now, more than ever before, we are starting to understand how important gut health is for wellness. The gut health, or more specifically the microbes in your gut help to control your digestion but also effects your immune system, weight gain, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Emerging research on the child's microbiome shows that microbes in the body may help with the development of the immune system, nervous system and growth. Improving the health of the microbiome from a young age can be beneficial for years to come. On the other hand, adverse changes to the microbiome at a young age can increase the risk of chronic illness and inflammatory bowel disease.

Microbes that live in our gut are so small that we cannot see them with the human eye. So far, researchers have identified more than 2,000 different species of microbes that live in or on humans and most of the microbes in our bodies live in the gut!, Before babies are born, there are very few microbies living on or in their bodies. At the time of birth, the baby is exposed to new microbes, both during the action of birth as well as the first contact with the external environment. As babies grow from children into adults, microbes in the gut change and evolve. The type of microbes in the gut depend on genes, the environment we live in, what we drink and what we eat.

Having healthy microbiota in the gut may help to prevent against the development of autoimmune disease. The immune system in our bodies is constantly working towards a state of balance. This balance is achieved by signals of activation and de-activation. If the balance is disturbed it can result in sickness and disease. Scientists have discovered that butyrate, a product produced by gut bacteria can help to instruct the immune system to make de-acitvating signals, preventing the immune system from overreacting against itself and thus may prevent against the development of autoimmune disease. Not only that, microbes in the gut can help to defend against bacteria or pathogens that may make us sick. For example, if you were to eat or drink some bacteria (like salmonella) in many cases you will not become ill. This is because the microbes in the gut will directly fight off the invaders that produce substances that can destroy them and also stimulate your immune system to help get rid of the bacteria.

Ensuring good gut health in children not only can improve their immune systems and possibly prevent the development of autoimmune diseases but it also can:

  • Improve digestion

  • Help prevent against constipation and diarrhea

  • May improve mental health

As mentioned above, many factors contribute to the microbes in the gut. Some of these, like genetics, we cannot modify. However some we can work towards improving and optimizing with food, lifestyle and natural supplements.

3 Ways to Improve gut health (microbes) with diet:

  1. If you can, breastfeed your baby for at least 6 months. Breast milk is high in a beneficial bacteria called bifidobacteria. Studies have shown that the gut bacteria is different in infants that are breast fed compared to infants that are formula bed. There appears to be a critical window between the ages of 0-3 months to seed and support the microbiome in infants and mothers milk has been found to be very beneficial during this time. Breastfeeding may also be associated with reduced rates of obesity, allergies and asthma.

  2. Feed your children a diet high in polyphenols. These are plant compounds that have many health benefits including reducing inflammation. Polyphenols are not not absorbed by the stomach well and thus make their way to the colon where beneficial microbes feed off them and increase their numbers. Polyphenols have been known to increase the amount of healthy bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in humans and reduce the amounts of the harmful bacteria clostridia. 5 foods that contain high amounts of polyphenols that kids can enjoy include grapes (specially the skin), almonds, onions, bluberries and broccoli.

  3. Include fermented foods in your children's diet. Fermented foods used to be a staple of many peoples diets worldwide. Today, humans tend to eat a reduced amount of fermented food compared to historic consumption. Research shows that people that do eat a lot of fermented foods, like yogurt, have more of the beneficial bacteria lactobacilli in their intestines. Fermented food consumption may also reduce the non-beneficial bacteria enterobacteriacea. This reduction can help to possible reduce chronic health conditions and inflammation in the body. Healthy fermented foods include: yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir.

In future posts, I will be discussing the other ways we can help enhance gut health in adults and children alike!

Arnoldini M, Lentsch V, Latorre D, Greter G, Slack E, Giorgetti A, Groppo A and Kha L (2021) How the Gut Microbiota Influences Our Health and How We Can Influence It. Front. Young Minds. 9:576428. doi: 10.3389/frym.2021.576428

Gaufin T, Tobin NH, Aldrovandi GM. The importance of the microbiome in pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2018 Feb;30(1):117-124. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0000000000000576. PMID: 29206649; PMCID: PMC6588283.

Aagaard K, Ma J, Antony KM, Ganu R, Petrosino J, Versalovic J. The placenta harbors a unique microbiome. Sci Transl Med. 2014 May 21;6(237):237ra65. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3008599. PMID: 24848255; PMCID: PMC4929217.

Bäckhed F, Roswall J, Peng Y, Feng Q, Jia H, Kovatcheva-Datchary P, Li Y, Xia Y, Xie H, Zhong H, Khan MT, Zhang J, Li J, Xiao L, Al-Aama J, Zhang D, Lee YS, Kotowska D, Colding C, Tremaroli V, Yin Y, Bergman S, Xu X, Madsen L, Kristiansen K, Dahlgren J, Wang J. Dynamics and Stabilization of the Human Gut Microbiome during the First Year of Life. Cell Host Microbe. 2015 May 13;17(5):690-703. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2015.04.004. Erratum in: Cell Host Microbe. 2015 Jun 10;17(6):852. Jun, Wang [corrected to Wang, Jun]. Erratum in: Cell Host Microbe. 2015 Jun 10;17(6):852. PMID: 25974306.

Madan JC, Hoen AG, Lundgren SN, Farzan SF, Cottingham KL, Morrison HG, Sogin ML, Li H, Moore JH, Karagas MR. Association of Cesarean Delivery and Formula Supplementation With the Intestinal Microbiome of 6-Week-Old Infants. JAMA Pediatr. 2016 Mar;170(3):212-9. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3732. PMID: 26752321; PMCID: PMC4783194.

O'Sullivan A, Farver M, Smilowitz JT. The Influence of Early Infant-Feeding Practices on the Intestinal Microbiome and Body Composition in Infants. Nutr Metab Insights. 2015 Dec 16;8(Suppl 1):1-9. doi: 10.4137/NMI.S29530. Erratum in: Nutr Metab Insights. 2016 Oct 27;8(Suppl 1):87. PMID: 26715853; PMCID: PMC4686345.

Melnik BC. The potential mechanistic link between allergy and obesity development and infant formula feeding. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2014 Jul 22;10(1):37. doi: 10.1186/1710-1492-10-37. PMID: 25071855; PMCID: PMC4112849.

Cory H, Passarelli S, Szeto J, Tamez M, Mattei J. The Role of Polyphenols in Human Health and Food Systems: A Mini-Review. Front Nutr. 2018 Sep 21;5:87. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00087. PMID: 30298133; PMCID: PMC6160559.

Kumar Singh A, Cabral C, Kumar R, Ganguly R, Kumar Rana H, Gupta A, Rosaria Lauro M, Carbone C, Reis F, Pandey AK. Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota and Strategies to Improve Delivery Efficiency. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 13;11(9):2216. doi: 10.3390/nu11092216. PMID: 31540270; PMCID: PMC6770155.

Wiciński M, Gębalski J, Mazurek E, Podhorecka M, Śniegocki M, Szychta P, Sawicka E, Malinowski B. The Influence of Polyphenol Compounds on Human Gastrointestinal Tract Microbiota. Nutrients. 2020 Jan

Sorrenti V, Ali S, Mancin L, Davinelli S, Paoli A, Scapagnini G. Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 27;12(7):1908. doi: 10.3390/nu12071908. PMID: 32605083; PMCID: PMC7400387.29;12(2):350. doi: 10.3390/nu12020350. PMID: 32013109; PMCID: PMC7071305.

Lisko DJ, Johnston GP, Johnston CG. Effects of Dietary Yogurt on the Healthy Human Gastrointestinal (GI) Microbiome. Microorganisms. 2017 Feb 15;5(1):6. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms5010006. PMID: 28212267; PMCID: PMC5374383.

Masoumi SJ, Mehrabani D, Saberifiroozi M, Fattahi MR, Moradi F, Najafi M. The effect of yogurt fortified with Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium sp. probiotic in patients with lactose intolerance. Food Sci Nutr. 2021 Jan 20;9(3):1704-1711. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.2145. PMID: 33747481; PMCID: PMC7958570.

Facioni MS, Raspini B, Pivari F, Dogliotti E, Cena H. Nutritional management of lactose intolerance: the importance of diet and food labelling. J Transl Med. 2020 Jun 26;18(1):260. doi: 10.1186/s12967-020-02429-2. PMID: 32590986; PMCID: PMC7318541.


bottom of page