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The Importance of Maintaining Gut Health for Toddlers
How Yogurt and Fermented Foods Can Help
A child’s early years are critical to their growth. They not only develop in terms of height and weight but make progress across a wide range of childhood milestones like brain and motor development, digestive system maturation, heart and lung growth, and more.
An often-overlooked component of this development is a toddler’s gut health. Between the ages of 0 and 3, a child’s digestive system undergoes rapid changes, making it a crucial time to ensure healthy eating and proper nutrition. Are there simple foods choices like yogurt and fermented food that can help?
The Role of the Gut in Toddler Health
Did you know the gut isn’t just responsible for digestion. It’s a complex system that’s home to trillions of bacteria, often referred to as the ‘gut microbiome’. These microbes play an essential role in breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and even producing certain vitamins.
Gut health is also an important part of your child’s developing immune system. About 70% of our immune cells are found in the gut, making it a significant line of defense against pathogens. A healthy gut can mean a more robust immune response, which is especially important during the early years, when children are exposed to many new environments and germs.
Setting the Stage: Early Years and Gut Health
The microbiome of a growing child’s gut is influenced by many factors, including genetics, environment, and diet. During the first three years, the gut bacteria undergo significant shifts, moving towards an adult-like microbiome by age three. This period is crucial because the types of bacteria that colonize the gut can have lasting effects on health.
This is where diet plays a pivotal role. A nutritious diet can lead to a healthy gut microbiome, and a healthy gut is often associated with better outcomes throughout life. On the contrary, a limited diet may lead to reduced microbial diversity, along with the possibility of various health issues.
The Power of Yogurt and Fermented Foods
Yogurt and fermented foods are two healthy choices you can easiliy incorporate into your child’s diet. They contain a variety of useful components including probiotics and prebiotics.
- Probiotics are beneficial bacteria often found in yogurt and fermented foods. Adding probiotics to your diet helps populate the gut with beneficial microbes Look for labels that say “live and active cultures.” And when buying yogurt, be mindful of the sugar content, as many commercial yogurts can be high in added sugars.
- Prebiotics are food components that promote the growth of microbes in the gut. When it comes to yogurt, you’ll have to check the label for terms such as “inulin,” “FOS (fructooligosaccharides),” or “GOS (galactooligosaccharides)” to indicate the presence of added prebiotics. Fermented foods like Kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and aged cheese often contain different types of prebiotics.
- Nutrient Boost: Apart from supporting gut health, yogurt and fermented foods are often rich in essential nutrients like calcium, B-vitamins, and protein. This makes them a nutritious addition to a toddler’s diet.
- Digestibility: Fermentation breaks down some of the harder-to-digest components in food, making them easier for toddlers to absorb.
Incorporating Yogurt and Fermented Foods in Your Child’s Diet
When introducing new foods to your toddler, it’s essential to start slow. Begin with small amounts and increase gradually. This both gives your child the opportunity to adapt to new tastes, but also helps prevent gastrointestinal discomfort.
Keep in mind that many yogurts are little more than sweet desserts. You want to opt for plain, unsweetened yogurt to avoid added sugars. You can add a drizzle of honey or fresh fruit to make it more appealing.
Of course, it’s important to feed your child a healthy and balanced diet. While this article takes a brief look at the benefits of yogurt and fermented foods, gut health depends on variety. Don’t forget the fiber in grains, along with the benefit of fruits, and vegetables to keep gut bacteria healthy. Getting plenty of fiber from food (about 25 grams of fiber are recommended daily) can also help reduce the odds for constipation, a common childhood problem.
Early Intervention Therapies
If you have been worried that your 2–3-year-old toddler is not meeting their developmental milestones and your gut is telling you they may need more support, TEIS Early Intervention can help you get answers.
If you have concerns, ask your pediatrician about Early Intervention therapies from TEIS Early Intervention.
At TEIS Early Intervention, our therapists listen to your concerns, assess your child’s individual needs, develop a customized treatment plan, and coach you along the way on simple routine-based solutions to maximize your child’s development in their natural environment.
Early Intervention evaluations and therapy services are available under the Federal Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. Before services can be provided, an independent evaluation of your child must be completed. To assure impartiality, one agency offers evaluation services while another provides therapeutic services.
To schedule an evaluation call us at 1-800-692-7288 or email to email@example.com