Digestive health problems like constipation, bloating, hyper-acidity, intolerance, stomach aches and gastro-esophageal reflux, among others have become very common in children.
These conditions can be symptoms of a bigger health problem, and if not managed, can lead to severe chronic conditions like ulcers.
These digestive disorders place a heavy burden on both children and parents because of frequent visits to the hospital and absenteeism from school and work for children and parents respectively.
The digestive system is responsible for breaking down all the food into the nutrients the body needs. If this system is not taken good care of, the body runs into problems while digesting and absorbing these nutrients.
Child’rens digestive systems are directly impacted by the food they eat and the lifestyles they lead.
Parents can help their children by providing healthier meals and an environment where the children are empowered to make healthier choices. A healthy digestive system improves overall body health and a sense of well being.
Consuming whole grains and diets that high in fibre will help your child keep these problems at bay.
A high fibre diet helps keep food moving through the digestive tract effectively; helps bulk up waste and moves it through the intestines, and this makes your child less likely to develop digestive problems.
Fibre also helps control hunger by making your child feel full faster, and stay that way for a longer period, thus limiting the chance of snacking on the wrong foods or overeating.
Foods high in fibre include whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Avoid feeding your child frequently on refined white foods like bread, rice, white chapatti and ugali since the bran and germ of the grain which contains fibre, vitamins and minerals is removed during processing. These foods promote bloating, constipation and hyper-acidity.
Keeping your child hydrated on the right fluids plays a big role in digestive health. Fibre needs to be hydrated for it to work in the body. If consumed in high quantities, in the absence of fluids, it can cause a build up and make it very easy for a child to develop digestive problems.
Soda and other fizzy drinks should not be counted as fluids. These drinks are acidic, contain too much sugar and chemicals that have detrimental effects on your child’s digestive health.
Regular physically activities also play a major role in achieving and maintaining a healthy digestive system. In addition to helping the child maintain a healthy weight and strong bones, regular exercises sustains digestive health by provoking the movement of food through the intestines.
Processed snacks, caffeinated drinks, fatty foods and fizzy drinks slow down digestion and can potentially lower the body’s PH balance. Regular exposure to such foods can reduce secretion of normal digestive juices and affect digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Having a regular eating schedule, encouraging your children to chew their food properly before swallowing and eating at least two hours before bed time can help in maintaining a healthy digestive system.
The writer is a Nutritionist and Wellness Consultant at Afya Bora Nutrition & Wellness Centre. 5th Ngong Avenue. 5th Avenue Office Suites. Suite 16. Nairobi.