It’s never too early to develop good digestive habits

  • Children
  • Thursday, 23 Mar 2017

Instilling healthy eating habits in your child can help promote good gut microflora balance. Photo: PP

Different types of digestive problems may affect our children. These include colic, diarrhoea, food allergies, lactose intolerance, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain and constipation.

Maintaining good digestive health for your child will help alleviate or perhaps even prevent some of these problems.

Gut microflora balance is key

One of the most important things is to keep gut microflora in balance. This is important to help your child to maintain a healthy digestive system to prevent her from suffering infections, inflammation, and allergic diseases.

Gut microflora imbalance, or dysbiosis, may predispose one to various disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and even other seemingly unrelated conditions such as allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

The key to ensuring gut micro-flora balance is to ensure that your child eats a diet that has sufficient sources of prebiotics and probiotics.

Probiotics are the “good” bacteria. They can be found in foods such as fermented milk products (e.g. yoghurt, cultured milk drink, kefir and cheeses), fermented soy products (e.g. tempeh), kimchi and pickles.

Most of the common probiotic strains that you may come across are from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family, such as L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. rhamnosus, B. longum, B. breve, or B. infantis.

Prebiotics are the “food” which promote the growth of good bacteria and can be found in some high-fibre foods such as onion, garlic and asparagus. These special indigestible plant fibres help “feed” the good bacteria.

Do note that not all high-fibre foods are prebiotics. However, they are still good for digestive health as they promote regular bowel movement.

Fostering good habits

In addition to eating pre- and probiotic foods, it is also important that your child adopts the following good habits from young in order to maintain good digestive health:

• Get plenty of water: Avoid giving your child store-bought fruit juices, carbonated drinks, or any other type of sugar-sweetened beverages. This will help her form the habit of drinking water from young, rather than drinking other less healthy choices.

Simply put, water is the best source of fluids.

• Get plenty of fibre: Whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits are great sources of fibre. Getting enough fibre is important as it helps food move through the digestive system, promotes healthy bowel function and helps prevent constipation.

• Get enough sleep and exercise: Getting adequate sleep is very important, especially for a growing child.

Similarly, she also needs to get sufficient daily exercise; the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommend at least one hour of accumulated moderate intensity activities such as playing outside, running, jumping, cycling, swimming, football, or badminton a day.

The following are additional general healthy eating principles that your child should follow for good digestive health, as well as overall nutritional wellbeing:

• Make a meal schedule and stick to it: This helps ensure that she never misses a meal. Remember to keep some healthy snacks on hand (e.g. carrots, apples, bananas, yoghurt) in case she gets hungry between meals.

• Start her day with breakfast: Not only will having breakfast help to kick-start her day, it is also a great way to “sneak” her some fibre. There are plenty of high-fibre cereals that can be prepared easily and quickly.

Alternatively, she can munch on an apple or banana.

• Focus on healthy snacks: Stop buying non-nutritious snacks. Instead, keep healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products around the house.

Remember, you are your child’s role model, so if you want her to eat healthily, the best way is to lead by example. There’s no point in telling her to eat vegetables if you don’t!

Dr Tee E Siong is President of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. This article is supported by an educational grant from Germax. For further information, visit The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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