Just as the dietary habits of children are increasing their risk of developing diseases typically reserved for adults (especially type 2 diabetes), living on drive-through dinners and processed foods have also boosted the caseload of kids with gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
While an occasional digestive woe is common for everyone – kids included – chronic problems can be debilitating, but they can often be prevented.
Fiber, Fluid and Exercise
There’s good reason why the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” exists, and why Michelle Obama is pushing for an hour of exercise each day for kids.
An apple is packed with both fiber and fluid, and exercise is essential for whole body health. Together, the three – fiber, fluids and exercise – are the essentials of good digestion for kids, and by guiding kids in the right direction now by making sure they get all three, parents can help set the stage for a future of healthy digestion, experts say.
“If a child is missing out on one or more of those things, they’re probably going to run into some problems,” registered dietician Louise Goldberg said in an interview with WebMD.com. (Ref. 1)
High-fiber foods are essential
Kids need fiber for healthy digestion – from 19 to 25 grams per day depending on how many calories they take in - but a diet of hot dogs and fast food isn’t going to provide the fiber they need.
Smart options, according to Goldberg, include:
- Fruits including apples and pears;
- Chili made with mixed beans;
- High-fiber cereal including whole-grain oatmeal;
- Whole grain bread; and
- Berries with seeds, especially blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Fluid is a must
With all that fiber, fluids are vital to the mix in order to keep things moving.
“When you get plenty of fiber and not enough fluid, it’s like putting super glue in your gut,” according to Beth Pinkos, a pediatric dietician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island. “It just makes matters worse. So you need to make sure that your child is drinking plenty of water, plus some milk, during the day.” (Ref. 1)
Exercise for total-body health
While Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign was targeted toward childhood obesity, exercise is essential for the health of not only the heart and lungs, but also the digestive system, the key to whole-body health.
Exercise stimulates the digestive tract, triggering activity that speeds digestion along. (That’s one of many reasons why many health experts recommend taking a walk after dinner.)
Not only does that hour a day help support digestion, it also sets the stage for a healthier future.
“You've got to keep your body active, even if that means just turning on some music and dancing for an hour,” the Michelle Obama said during the launch of Let’s Move in 2013. “That's how you’ll prepare your bodies and your minds for greatness.” (Ref. 2)
One of the biggest problems causing digestive dilemmas is the size of today’s portions, which often offer a day’s calories in a single meal. Eating such large meals can slow the digestive process so foods don’t break down as well as they should, preventing nutrients from being absorbed properly. (Ref. 3)
Stress can also trigger a host of digestive woes, including constipation, irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, and although you might imagine a stressed-out kid racing from one activity to another while trying to maintain grades, stress can begin as soon as a child begins potty training, experts say.
If anything goes awry during that critical life step, kids may avoid going altogether, triggering problems.
“It’s very important that if kids are potty training, or they’ve had a bad bathroom experience, that you don’t make it overwhelming for them,” Goldberg told WebMD.com. “Talk to your child and help them feel reassured and relaxed, and if necessary consult your pediatrician.” (Ref. 1)
Could it be celiac?
Allergies could be responsible for a child’s digestive problems, and celiac disease – an allergy to gluten – is sometimes a culprit.
Gluten is found in grains including wheat, barley, rye and some oats, and can trigger abdominal pain, gas and bloating and both constipation and diarrhea. (Ref. 4)
While eliminating gluten from the diet can be tricky, there are a wide range of gluten-free foods in the market, and ancient grains such as farro, millet and quinoa are packed with fiber and nutrients that make them excellent replacements for refined flours.
Lactose intolerance is also linked to digestive problems, although it usually isn’t diagnosed until between the ages of 3 to 10.
A supplement to support healthy digestion
Made exclusively from kiwifruit, this fiber-rich product offers enzymes to help break down the foods your child eats so more nutrients can be absorbed. Prebiotics feed existing probiotics and promote the growth of new ones, and phenolics help promote and support healthy digestion.
The recommended dosage for kids up to age five is half a capsule, every second day – they can be opened and added to foods or beverages. After two weeks, the dose can be increased to half a capsule daily if needed. The recommended dose for kids ages 6 to 12 is one capsule every other day. (Ref. 5)