Your child’s digestive system turns food into the energy their body needs to grow and thrive. Good digestion is key to good health.
The digestive system, or gut, is a complex system that starts at the mouth by breaking down food and ends at the anus, where waste is excreted. Along the way, the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, large intestine (colon) and rectum work together to process food and turn it into the nutrients that every cell in the body needs to work properly.1
But your digestive system does more than just digest food. In fact, 70 percent of the immune system lives in the digestive system, making good digestion an important part of your child’s overall health and well-being.2 In addition, the digestive system has been dubbed the “second brain” by some scientists because it actually contains more neurotransmitters than the brain. The gut also produces 95 percent of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate emotions.3
Help Your Child Achieve Better Digestive Health
Here are some easy ways to help support your child’s digestion and enhance his or her overall health:
ADD MORE FIBRE-RICH FOODS
Fibre helps soften the stool and increase its size so it can pass through the digestive system more easily. Children two years and older should consume their age plus five grams of fibre per day to their age plus 10 grams of fibre per day. For example, a five-year-old child should consume 10 to 15 grams of fibre per day.4
To add more fibre to your child’s diet, replace highly refined, processed foods with nutrient-dense, fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Adding too much fibre too quickly can cause bloating and wind. So be sure to add fibre gradually over a few weeks to help your child’s digestive system adjust to the change.5
SERVE SMALLER MEALS, MORE OFTEN
Eating too much at a time can overload your child’s digestive system. Instead, serve smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. It’s also important to remind your child to chew his or her food thoroughly. That’s because the enzymes in saliva help break down food so it can pass through the digestive system more easily.6
ENCOURAGE REGULAR EXERCISE
In addition to helping your child maintain a healthy weight, regular exercise supports digestion by stimulating the movement of food through the intestine.6
KEEP THEM HYDRATED
Liquids support healthy digestion by helping food pass through the digestive tract more easily. If your kids don’t like the taste of water, try adding a little flavour with a slice of fruit or splash of juice to ensure they’re staying hydrated.6
The hormones released in response to chronic stress can cause digestive problems. You can help your child avoid stress-related digestion issues by teaching them ways to manage stress, such as doing breathing exercises, practising meditation or even just getting outside and playing a game with friends.7
1 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your Digestive System and How it Works. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Anatomy/your-digestive-system/Pages/anatomy.aspx. Accessed January 22, 2015.
2 Vighi G., Marcucci F., Sensi L., di Cara G., Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 2008;153:3–6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/.
3 Scientific American. Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/. Accessed January 23, 2015.
4 Williams CL, Bollella M, Wynder EL. A new recommendation for dietary fiber in childhood. Pediatrics 1995;96:985–8.
5 Mayo Clinic. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983. Accessed January 23, 2015.
6 Harvard Health Publications. Keep Your Digestive System in Shape. http://www.harvardhealthcontent.com/HealthCommentaries/66,COL051603. Accessed January 21, 2015.
7 Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037. Accessed January 23, 2015.
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