Most people think that adults are the only ones who struggle with poor digestive health. In reality, though, this is an issue that affects many children throughout the world. Poor digestion is especially common in children with attention deficit disorder and autism.
Whether your child struggles with another disorder and you want to see if improved digestion helps their symptoms or you simply want to be more informed about whether or not their digestion is on-track, don’t miss this guide to spotting poor digestion and improving your child’s digestive health.
Signs of Poor Digestive Health
Before getting into the specific steps you can take to improve your child’s digestive health, it’s important to learn more about poor digestion and the different ways that it can manifest in the body.
Some of the most common signs of poor digestive health in children include:
Constipation (children should have 1-3 bowel movements per day)
Light-colored stool that floats (this is a sign of poor fat absorption)
Undigested food in stool
Leaning over a couch or table to put pressure on the stomach (nonverbal children often do this when they’re experiencing pain
Picky eating and/or dislike of proteins
Eczema and/or dry skin
The Importance of Good Digestion
Obviously, the alleviation of troubling symptoms like those mentioned above is motivation enough to want to improve your child’s digestion. However, improving digestion isn’t just about getting rid of symptoms.
Good digestion is essential for proper nutrient absorption. It doesn’t matter how healthy your child’s diet is; if their digestion is poor, they’re not going to reap the benefits of eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.
Remember, health is about more than just eating good food — you also need to make sure you (and your child) are absorbing the nutrients from that food.
Children’s Digestive Health: 5 Ways to Improve
In many cases, simple lifestyle changes can work wonders for improving children’s digestive health and nutrient absorption.
Some simple steps you can take today to help your child include:
1. Make Sure They’re Eating Enough Fiber
One of the most important things you can do for your child’s digestive health is to make sure they’re eating enough fiber.
A good rule of thumb is for both children and adults to eat approximately 14 grams of fiber for 1,000 calories they consume.
Some easy ways to incorporate more fiber into your child’s diet include:
- Fruit like apples and pears, with the peel left on
Starchy vegetables like potatoes
2. Don’t Drink with Meals
It’s common for both children and adults to sit down with a big glass of water, juice, or soda at every meal. The idea is that liquids are needed to help people get their food down and avoid choking.
While it’s true that liquids can help with these things, consuming them while also eating isn’t good for your digestion.
When solid food and liquid are combined, digestion is slowed down because liquids dilute stomach acid and other digestive juices that are needed to break down food and pass it through the digestive tract.
If you’re worried about choking, make sure your kids are chewing their food enough. Thoroughly chewing their food will eliminate the need for liquids at all, and it will promote better nutrient absorption since the food is broken down before it enters the digestive tract.
3. Cut Out Processed Foods
Processed foods, including prepackaged snacks and fast food, aren’t doing children any favors, especially children with poor digestive health.
These foods are loaded with trans fats, sugar, and preservatives that have the potential to interfere with digestion. They’re also, in most cases, almost totally devoid of nutrients and use up the body’s own nutrient stores when they’re digested. This contributes to nutrient deficiencies that further impair the digestive process.
4. Serve Food in Proper Combinations
Certain foods don’t pair well together and can hinder digestion. The food combining process can get quite complicated, and you don’t need to be perfect. But, a good guideline to follow is to make sure starches like potatoes, pasta, and bread are kept separate from protein-rich foods like meat and fish.
While combining these foods every once in a while isn’t a huge deal, try to separate them as much as possible, especially if your child’s digestion is poor. Serve meat with roasted vegetables), instead, and save starches for special occasions.
5. Promote Mindful Eating
Finally, make sure your child is eating mindfully. This means not eating while watching TV or playing on a phone or tablet. When they’re not focused on their food, digestion is slowed down. Eating while distracted can also put the body into a stressful state, which halts digestion and can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
If your child is showing signs of poor digestion, start implementing these steps today, along with any medical interventions their doctor prescribes. They’ll be feeling better before you know it.