Good gut health has a major role to play when it comes to ensuring the wellbeing of your toddler. This is because problems like gas, diarrhoea, constipation or bacterial infections can make him truly uncomfortable, besides draining him of energy. And this is where probiotics can step in to help. While probiotics have become popular nowadays, not everyone is aware of the multiple benefits they come with. Also, not all mothers understand the importance of prebiotics, even when they are aware of probiotics. This article intends to clear your doubts and help you take a wise decision, when your little one’s gut becomes a matter of concern.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that promote the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut. They create a congenial environment for the bacteria and microorganisms to survive and flourish in the system. Some good sources of prebiotics for children are as follows:

  • Fibre-rich vegetables.
  • Fermented foods like yoghurt.
  • Garlic promotes the growth of friendly bacteria and prevents the multiplication of harmful bacteria.
  • Onions are rich in prebiotics, support digestion, and boost the growth of friendly bacteria. They have antioxidant properties too.
  • Cabbage has vitamins B and C and is rich in prebiotics.
  • Leeks are rich in fibre .
  • Lentils are rich in prebiotics and support digestion.
  • Kidney beans and soybeans are rich in fibre, protein, and potassium.
  • Chickpeas are rich in prebiotics, iron and B vitamins.
  • Bananas are rich in fibre and support digestion. They reduce bloating too.
  • Watermelon is loaded with fibre and is good for hydration. It is a good food source of friendly bacteria.
  • Cereal grains like bran, barley, and oats are great options for prebiotics.
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, pistachio nuts, and flaxseeds can be included in the diet too.

The undigested prebiotic is excreted from the system. Prebiotics can be increased in the diet of children by giving them high-fibre breakfast cereals with nuts and seeds, or whole-grain bread, or whole fruits with peels, or soups and salads containing legumes.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are enhanced foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms that are consumed to boost the friendly bacteria in the digestive system. For example, yoghurt is rich in a friendly bacterium called lactobacillus, which helps in strengthening the gut flora. Other sources of probiotics are beets, cabbage, and soy. Probiotics can also be taken as supplements, in the form of capsules, tablets, powders, liquids or liquid drops.

Importance of probiotics and prebiotics for your child’s health

There are around 300 to 500 types of bacteria in the gut. Together, with pathogens like viruses and fungi, they form a universe of their own, called microbiota or microbiome. Each microbiota is unique to a specific child and is developed in the mother’s womb and through exposure after birth. It is also based on the child’s diet and lifestyle.

The bacteria in the gut can greatly influence the overall wellbeing of a child. They can influence the metabolism, mood, and the child’s immune system too. An unhealthy microbiome can cause several infections and diseases. And infections during key development stages are known to influence growth and development.

Gut bacteria are also connected with the probability of obesity, diabetes, heart problems, depression, and colon cancer. Too much or too little of a certain type of bacteria can cause sickness. Some bacteria are known to minimise the risk, while some increase it. Gut bacteria can also influence the calories your child gets from a food item, and the nutrients that are absorbed.

Benefits of probiotics and prebiotics in children

  • Probiotics are beneficial for kids as they play a key role in keeping the microbiome healthy.
  • They support the growth of healthy bacteria naturally and boost the immune system.
  • Both probiotics and prebiotics have the potential to treat viral diarrhoea and prevent diarrhoea caused by the usage of antibiotics.
  • Children who start consuming probiotic foods early on experience shorter durations of diarrhoea, caused by acute viral gastroenteritis.
  • Probiotics have proven benefits when it comes to treating rotavirus-related diarrhoea. They reduce the bouts of infections in children by half.
  • Prebiotics can reduce atopic eczema as well.
  • Some studies indicate that probiotics can improve mental health too.

All in all, probiotics and prebiotics can benefit your child’s digestive health and overall development in many different ways. However, these should not be given to children who are suffering from a serious illness or have compromised immune systems. And you should always consult a paediatrician before introducing a probiotic or prebiotic in your child’s diet.

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