Are probiotics good for my little one?
Probiotics have become a rage these days because of their health benefits. Many health experts and nutritionists recommend the consumption of probiotics since they offer a range of benefits — from weight loss to better immunity to improved digestion. But are probiotics good for growing babies? Are there any risks involved in using probiotic foods for babies, infants, and children, and what are the best sources of probiotics? Let’s take a deep dive into that.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are naturally-occurring microorganisms, usually bacteria, which are present in the intestine. These bacteria are known as the “good bacteria” or “friendly bacteria”, and they actually help your body digest food better. Since good digestion is one of the biggest keys to overall health and immunity, these good bacteria are vital for a healthy body. Probiotics are microorganisms that are very similar to these good bacteria; so, by consuming them, you essentially increase the number of good bacteria in the gut and reduce the harmful bacteria.
Benefits of probiotics for infants
While research on the subject is still ongoing, some studies have shown the following benefits of probiotics for babies:
- Probiotics have remarkable effects when it comes to disease and infection prevention. Children who are given probiotics every day are less likely to suffer from respiratory issues or diarrhoea than those who don’t get probiotics.
- Certain probiotic strains like LGG and S. boulardii are effective in the treatment of acute gastroenteritis and the prevention of AAD. LGG has also been proven to prevent nosocomial diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections in day care centres.
- Probiotics have also been known to prevent eczema, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and allergies in some babies.
- Another use of probiotics is to counter the strong side effects of antibiotics. Probiotics are known to prevent antibiotics-related diarrhoea and secondary infections in children.
- Probiotics can also help relieve colic, acid reflux, and acute constipation in otherwise healthy children. Many people often consider using probiotics for infant constipation and acid reflux in babies.
Are probiotics safe for newborns?
As far as probiotics for newborns are concerned, experts believe that breast milk should be the only source of nutrition for the first six months. During breastfeeding, your infant gets a lot of good bacteria anyway because breast milk has both prebiotics and probiotics, which encourages the growth of gut-friendly bacteria. So, it’s better to avoid probiotics for newborns.
Are probiotics safe for kids?
Overall, probiotics are safe for kids. However, if your child is premature, has terminal illness, or has a compromised immune system, probiotics may put your child at risk of other infections.
Some studies indicate that probiotics may not be very beneficial for children because their microbiome isn’t fully developed, and the probiotics may just get passed as normal waste. However, these studies don’t indicate that probiotics are harmful to children as such; they simply say that they may not produce all the benefits.
There are two ways a child can get probiotics in his/her body. The first is through a diet that incorporates foods that contain probiotics. The second is through probiotic supplements. For a growing child, you can definitely go for the first option without any problems. However, when it comes to probiotic supplements, research is still fairly limited, so do consult your paediatrician before giving them to your child.
Natural sources of probiotics for kids
Some Indian foods naturally contain fairly high amounts of probiotics. Here are some of the best ones for babies:
Curd or dahi is one of the best sources of probiotics for children. It contains live active cultures that help in digestion. It’s best to make curd at home and let it ferment for a full 24 hours. Store-bought curd often uses chemical agents and isn’t fermented for long enough. If your child is not a big fan of curd, try using it in different, innovative recipes. For example, using it instead of mayo in sandwiches is a great idea, as is using curd for making delicious smoothies.
Idli and dosa are an all-time favourite meal for most kids. Did you know that apart from being a nutritious, well-balanced food (especially when combined with sambar and coconut chutney), idli and dosa also contain probiotics? The fermentation of the rice and urad daal batter makes it a rich source of live cultures of good bacteria.
Dhokla is another yummy snack that is also a great probiotic food since it’s prepared with fermented besan, rice, or daal. Some recipes even use curd, making it twice as good, from a probiotic perspective.
At the end of the day, probiotics are naturally present in a lot of foods, especially in the Indian context. In order to promote good digestion in your child, incorporate these foods into his/her daily diet.