Summer holidays will soon come to a close and already the rush to prepare to go “back to school” has well and truly begun for many mums and dads.
We’re regularly asked, what are the best foods I can eat for my gut health? Or what should I feed my kids to support their gut health?
There is no one food that will give you or your kids a healthy gut. The key is to eat as diverse and varied a diet as you can. That means eating a wide range of plant-based foods from fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, lean proteins, healthy fats and, we suggest, some dairy produce, particularly for women and children.
You may be saying, that’s all well and good if you have adventurous small eaters or if you’ve the time to make meals with all these things but I don’t.
So here are four steps you can take to support your and your family’s gut and overall health.
1. Add colour to feed your gut bacteria
Your gut bacteria thrive when they have a greater variety of plant-based foods to feed on (fruit, vegetables and wholegrains) . We call this “eating the rainbow”. It increases the variety and number of bacteria in your gut, and this has been linked to improved health and reduced risk of many diseases in adulthood.
Aim to buy six to seven different fruits and vegetables when doing your grocery shop. Peppers (red, green and yellow), carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber typically prove popular with children and will easily fit into a lunchbox. Peas and sweetcorn are other good options.
For snacks, mix it up with bananas, easy peeler oranges, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, kiwis and apples.
2. Dont’ shy away from healthy fats
Unsaturated fats or ‘healthy fats’ reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and reduce bad (LDL), while increasing good (HDL) cholesterol and are beneficial for you and your children. ‘Healthy’ fats include polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 and monounsaturated fats.
There is also some evidence to suggest that omega-3 oils are good for brain function as we age and may also reduce inflammation in the body.
You can find these healthy fats in different plant, nut and seed oils. They each have different mixes of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats so it’s good to vary the type you use in your cooking to reap the benefits.
Oily fish are excellent sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. If you can include mackerel, tuna (fresh/frozen, not enough in tinned), trout, salmon or sardines in family meals twice a week, this would be very beneficial. We know it can be challenging to encourage some children and adults to eat fish so if you can’t get the family to eat fish, then nuts and seeds (walnuts, pumpkin and chia seeds), vegetable oils (rapeseed and linseed), and vegetables such as avocado are other alternative sources of omegas.
3. Choose a real “superfood” - Fibre
Fibre has many health benefits for your gut and overall health. It helps to keep the bowels ‘regular’, and also ‘feeds’ the gut bacteria to produce lots of beneficial substances. Figures from the British Dietetic Association suggest that on average, fibre intake for adults in the UK is just 18g per day. That’s only 60% of the recommended 30g per day.
Children from the age of two should be getting around 15g per day, primary school children, 20g per day and secondary school children, 25g per day. If adults aren’t getting enough fibre, it is quite possible that children are also not consuming enough fibre.
So, think ‘brown’ rather than ‘white’ when it comes to grains so as to up your fibre intake. Choose wholegrain cereals, oats, brown bread (or half-and-half), brown rice and wholegrain pasta. Nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of fibre.
Take a look at our previous blog here to learn what diets low in fibre, very high in fibre and the recommended amount of fibre look like.
Also remember, that if increasing your or children’s fibre intake, it’s important that you drink enough fluid so as to avoid the risk of constipation.
4. Introduce good bacteria
Fermented foods contain ‘live’ bacteria (unless they’re cooked as this kills the bacteria) and add to the diversity of the gut bacteria. Yoghurt and cheese are good sources of ‘live’ bacteria and are often popular with children. Not only that, they’re also excellent and very affordable sources of calcium, which is very important for growing children’s bones.
Here are some nutritious and delicious lunch box ideas that can benefit your, and your kid’s gut and overall health.
Lunch Box 1: Chicken, avocado, grated cheese and carrot in a wholemeal wrap, a flapjack and an apple.
Lunch Box 2: Cheese (triangles, sticks, round) and wholemeal crackers, two easy peelers, raw peppers and popcorn.
Lunch Box 3: Tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal sandwich, grapes or dried fruit, chopped carrot sticks and a yogurt.
Lunch Box 4: Multiseed bagel and hummus, cucumber sticks, banana and dark chocolate or mini rice cakes.
Lunch Box 5: Wholemeal pasta with tofu, pesto and pine nuts, celery sticks and chopped strawberries and melon/pineapple.
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