How to support children’s health, naturally.
We all want to give our children a great start in life. A healthy diet and good nutrition are key in maintaining good health but are even more essential for children who need the nutrients for development and growth.
We speak to nutritional therapist Hannah Braye, technical adviser at Probiotics International Ltd (Protexin), manufacturers of Bio-Kult and Lepicol, to find out which nutrients are vital for children and how we can ensure these are included in their diets.
How important is it to support our children’s health?
Supporting health is important throughout life but it is especially important from birth to give the infant the best possible start in the world. Research is indicating that there is a ‘critical window’ in the first 1,000 days of life that can significantly affect the development of a child’s immune system, with knock on effects for health later in life. As around 70 percent of our immune cells reside in the lining of the gut and are supported by our beneficial gut bacteria, research is showing that supporting the development of a healthy microbiome (ie. the mix of bacteria and other microorganisms within the gut) during this time is particularly important.
How can we support it naturally?
Having the optimum balance of bacteria in the gut is especially important for infants and children. Its best to start supporting this during pregnancy by improving the health of the mother’s microbiome, as exposure to the mother’s bacteria during birth will shape the microbiome of the infant. Live bacteria supplements are safe to take during pregnancy and studies indicate supplementing may help reduce the risk of atopic conditions such as eczema and asthma in the infant. Breast-milk also contains many immune factors and helps to naturally establish a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. When it comes to weaning (and beyond) children should be encouraged to eat a wide variety of nutritious fruit and vegetables, which contain fibre to help feed beneficial bacteria.
Are there any supplements you would recommend parents to give to children?
Live bacteria supplements have been shown to positively influence infants’ gut flora balance and the developing immune system. Look for a multi-strain formula containing infant specific species Bifidobacterium breve and Bifidobacterium infantis, along with a prebiotic, which provides a food source for beneficial bacteria in the gut. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to play an important role in early brain development and vitamin D3 (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) plays a crucial role in supporting the immune system and healthy bone development.
Which vitamins and minerals are important and how can we ensure these are included In their diet?
Children need to be eating a balanced wholefoods diet, high in colourful fruit and vegetables, healthy sources of fat and good quality protein to supply them with all the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Many children are not getting enough omega-3 through the diet, so why not try encouraging children to try new foods such as oily fish, for example by making homemade salmon goujons.
As previously mentioned, vitamin D is crucial to healthy development in childhood. Allowing children adequate sun exposure (whilst still being sun safe), by encouraging them to play outdoors during the spring, summer and autumn months is therefore important. Over the winter months, supplementation may be necessary as the sun’s rays are not strong enough in the UK for us to synthesis vitamin D and it is difficult to obtain adequate amounts from food.
Outdoor play will also help expose children to a wider variety of microbes, which is important for healthy development of the immune system. Fermented foods such as plain live yoghurt, or sauerkraut on top of homemade burgers, can also help support healthy microbial balance in the gut.