Let’s talk about gut health for a moment. We’re all aware of how important the role of food is in optimising our own gut health, but have you taken a moment to consider what’s going on in your baby’s gut? Or more specifically, their ‘gut microbiome’?
The ‘gut microbiome’ refers to the billions of micro-organisms, including many strains of bacteria that live in our intestinal tract and offer the body a range of health benefits including digestion, metabolism, immune function and brain health. Recent scientific studies have also shown that a healthy gut microbiome is associated with reduced chronic disease risk, allergies and mental illness. Basically, your child’s gut health is directly connected to their overall wellbeing – and it all starts in utero and infanthood.
“Unique as a fingerprint, our gut microbiomes are established in utero and infanthood. As we grow, factors such as genetics, environment and diet can change this balance of bacteria,” explains Paediatric dietitian and mother of twins, Susie Burrell. The good news is that emerging research has shown that supplementing a diet with prebiotics such as Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. And according to Burrell, these benefits are absolutely critical early in life: “When introduced into the diet of infants, studies have shown that GOS improves digestive and immune health by stimulating levels of Bifidobacteria, an important and beneficial gut bacteria”.
What’s more, according to Burrell, evidence links probiotic use to the prevention and management of allergies and eczema. “Probiotics may also be beneficial in preventing diarrhoea. This means adding an infant friendly probiotic to your baby or toddler’s daily food intake will be highly beneficial,” she says.
A baby’s GOS levels are dependent on diet so being mindful of what we feed our children is essential. So how can you support your baby’s gut microbiome at mealtime? While GOS can be found in foods such as lentils, chickpeas, green peas, lima beans and kidney beans, they’re not always great for little tummies. “Whilst these foods are common to adult diets, they can be less palatable to infants, particularly as they commence solid foods,” explains Burrell.
Foods such as un-ripened bananas and fermented vegetables also contain prebiotics, however, Burrell points out that these are also a little heavy for small infants and toddler’s guts. “Children are best introduced to these types of foods as they get older – around four or five years. Some toddler milks contain added prebiotics that have been shown to help improve stool consistency and frequency,” she says.