Normally, parents think of bacteria as something bad for the child. But, did you know that there are close to 500 species of bacteria living in the intestinal tract right from infancy? These bacteria, also known as ‘good bacteria’ can actually help improve digestion and provide several health benefits.
The understanding of the benefits of these bacteria has made prebiotics and probiotics extremely popular today. So what exactly are these foods and how can you incorporate them into your child’s diet? Here is everything that you need to know.
When a baby is born, there is no bacterial colony in the digestive system. However, as the baby begins to feed on breastmilk, the colony begins to develop. It starts to flourish by the time the baby is about a month old.
These colonies include certain bacteria such as Lactobacilli, Enterococci, and Bifidobacteria that are actually good for maintaining the health of your little one’s gut. These ‘good’ bacteria not only improve digestion but also help improve the immune system. This prevents common childhood infections. It also creates a healthy, protective barrier against other microbes that may be harmful to your child.
Both Probiotics and Prebiotics are supplements or enhanced foods that help increase the level of good bacteria in the digestive system. These foods are known to keep the levels of good bacteria balanced and are also known to reduce the chances of the bad bacteria from taking over and causing illnesses.
Probiotics are foods that contain these ‘good bacteria’ in them. These supplements help improve the gut flora of the child and also alter it for the better.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible foods that are usually found in the form of oligosaccharides, a type of sugar. These foods remain in the digestive system of the child and act as food for the good bacteria. Giving your child enough prebiotics actually creates an environment in the digestive tract that allows the good bacteria to flourish.
Although it is recommended that infants and toddlers be given 3-4g of prebiotics and probiotics each day, it is a good idea to consult your doctor. It is advised against giving these foods to children who are extremely ill or have any acute health conditions.
Prebiotics and probiotics have different roles to play in the body. They can each positively impact the child’s digestive health in the following ways.
It is important for parents to understand that probiotics and prebiotics work together to improve health. While probiotics help keep the natural balance of the good bacteria, they contain live microorganisms that require food to survive. And, just like any other living organism, they have a food preference. This is fulfilled by the prebiotics. This keeps the good bacterial colonies healthy.
This is why most infant formula brands today are fortified with both prebiotics and probiotics to give best results. Breast milk is also extremely rich in oligosaccharides which act as the best prebiotics. This is why the colonies of the good bacteria flourish towards the end of the first month of the baby being born.
Giving children prebiotics and probiotics is highly recommended if they constantly have digestive issues. It is also highly recommended after the child has been on a course of antibiotics. While antibiotics are given to kill disease-causing bacteria, they may also wipe out some of the good bacteria in the gut. Giving the child these foods during recovery can restore the natural balance of the good bacteria.
These foods are also known to reduce chances of food allergies by improving the immune response of the body.
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Probiotics are usually provided to the child in the form of supplements and through fortified foods. Make sure you consult your doctor before giving your child these foods. Usually, fermented foods make a good source of probiotics. This is why yoghurt and buttermilk are considered the best and safest probiotic for babies and toddlers. There are other sources such as beets, cabbage, and soy that you can give the child after introducing solid foods.
Prebiotics are usually found in foods that are high in fiber such as bananas, berries, whole grains, asparagus, and even dairy products. Breast milk is the best source of prebiotics for babies.
No matter what probiotic or prebiotic foods you include in your child’s diet you need to ensure that they are introduced slowly to check for any allergic reactions. It is also a good idea to check with your doctor before introducing these foods.
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