Healthy gut

Lisa Salmon looks at mi­cro­biome nu­tri­tion for chil­dren

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - This Week -

AKEY rea­son for en­sur­ing good nu­tri­tion early in life is to nur­ture chil­dren’s mi­cro­biome — the tril­lions of bac­te­ria that live on and in us, but mainly in the gas­troin­testi­nal tract.

The mi­cro­biome helps con­trol the im­mune sys­tem, and thus how well chil­dren fight off in­fec­tions and whether they de­velop al­ler­gies, as well as reg­u­lat­ing the me­tab­o­lism and even in­flu­enc­ing mood. It also plays a huge role in a healthy di­ges­tive sys­tem, which helps con­trol weight, sleep and much more.

Dr Rachael Buck, lead re­search sci­en­tist and gut health ex­pert at health­care com­pany Ab­bott, shares three ways to pro­mote a healthy mi­cro­biome in preg­nant women and chil­dren.

1. Dur­ing preg­nancy

New re­search shows a mother’s gut bac­te­ria un­dergo changes as preg­nancy pro­gresses. Th­ese changes in the mi­cro­biome pro­mote en­ergy stor­age in fat tis­sue and help sup­port the growth of the foe­tus. A healthy diet isn’t only good for mum and her mi­cro­biome, it’s good for her grow­ing baby too. So, if preg­nancy crav­ings have you reach­ing for sweets or the bis­cuit tin, opt for some­thing health­ier in­stead.

Try to stick to a var­ied diet with plenty of fi­bre-packed foods such as fruit, veg­eta­bles, whole grains and legumes, and pro­bi­oti­crich foods like yo­ghurt and sauer­kraut.

If you’re feel­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous, ke­fir (a fer­mented milk drink) and kim­chi (salted and fer­mented veg­eta­bles) are also good choices and are now widely avail­able in su­per­mar­kets.

2. Baby’s first 24 hours

From the mo­ment of birth, a baby’s body is colonised by tril­lions of mi­crobes given to it by its mother dur­ing the de­liv­ery, from her gut and skin and via what baby eats, whether that’s breast milk, for­mula or both.

Skin-to-skin con­tact soon af­ter birth pro­motes nurs­ing and helps es­tab­lish milk sup­ply, and breast milk it­self helps to build a healthy gut too.

Com­po­nents such as hu­man milk oligosac­cha­rides (HMOs), a spe­cial type of pre­bi­otic and the most abun­dant in­gre­di­ent in breast milk af­ter fat and car­bo­hy­drate (lac­tose), help to feed and mul­ti­ply healthy gut bac­te­ria and work to sup­port a baby’s de­vel­op­ing im­mune sys­tem.

Buck says: “Breast­feed­ing is best for ba­bies and is rec­om­mended for as long as pos­si­ble dur­ing in­fancy, as it pro­vides many ben­e­fits to both mother and baby.”

Speak to a pub­lic health nurse, mid­wife or doc­tor for ad­vice on how to feed your baby.

3. Early years

The types of solid food chil­dren are in­tro­duced to can also play a big part in the make-up of their mi­cro­biome. Buck says the tod­dler years are an ideal time to op­ti­mise a child’s gut health through diet be­cause then the mi­cro­biome stays fairly sim­i­lar through­out his or her life­time. Af­ter in­tro­duc­ing solid foods — one at a time — to a tod­dler, of­fer a va­ri­ety of nu­tri­tious foods in­clud­ing eggs, legumes like lentils, beans, and peas, veg­eta­bles and fruit. Starchy veg­eta­bles like sweet pota­toes, parsnips, squash and yucca, whole grains like oats, rice, bar­ley and quinoa, and pro­bi­otic-rich gut foods like yo­gurt and ke­fir are also good choices to boost their gut health.

BREAST BEN­E­FITS: Breast milk helps to build a healthy gut.

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