There is nothing like a newborn baby to renew your spirit - and to buttress your resolve to make the world a better place.
Have you ever pondered how, as an adult, you developed your gut flora or microbiome? Where does the process start and does it ever end?
The makeup of your gut flora starts during your birth and continues from that moment down a myriad of paths. The birth canal or the C section environment will give the gut its first inoculation of gut flora. So there are 2 very different paths purely based on the birth process and circumstances. The differences can be significant and procedures are adapting to make the lifesaving C section infant’s gut flora more akin to their mothers than the ward they are born in.
If you were given breastmilk or are giving it to your baby, it has the nourishment for the beneficial bacteria that inhabit the gut and it’s the best source of food to nourish the immature microbiome for your baby. Breastmilk not only feeds the baby but also the microbes that the baby has picked up in their short life. Babies need beneficial bacteria for digestion and to build their immune systems. This process takes years and I’m sure, if understood would be given far more respect.
Combining saturated fats, easily digested carbohydrates and cultured foods provides the perfect environment for the beneficial bacteria to grow.
Infants, after the age of 6 months, could start with a small amount, say 1/8th teaspoon, and slowly build up to 1 tablespoon of simple fermented products over the next few years. Introduce ferments carefully and in tiny quantities. The tiny, developing digestive system and immune system of your infant is still very immature. Babies have limited enzyme production until they reach the age of 24 months but enzymes are necessary for the digestion of foods. This is why it’s important how and when foods are introduced. If introduced too early, food can cause digestive issues and increase the likelihood of allergies and gut problems.
Some suggested fermented products include:
- Water Kefir
- Milk Kefir
- Cultured Vegetables – drained, chopped and mixed with a single pureed vegetable such as sweet potatoes, zucchini, green beans or pumpkin.
Cultured foods are usually tangy, tart, sour and salty. So the earlier a child eats them, the sooner they recognize them and get used to them. This is distinct from a child getting used to sweet flavours and craving those based on the messages that the microbes are sending to the brain from the gut. A child who has variety in their diet from an early age is likely to continue enjoying these nourishing, probiotic-rich foods in later life.
From 2 years of age, you can introduce more cultured drinks, vegetables and fruits. A healthy diet should include prebiotics, probiotics, good quality proteins from foods such as grass-fed meats and organ meats, good quality fats from butter, coconut oil, olive oil, cod liver oil and egg yolks, as well as complex carbohydrate-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits.
Avoid processed and refined foods as much as possible, including many brands of baby and kids food, due to the additives. Make your own food, where possible, from organic, local, seasonal whole foods.
Researchers from Ohio State University (*) have found that the abundance and diversity of bacteria found in the gut appear to influence the behaviour of young children, especially boys. They found that children with the most genetically diverse composition of bacteria are more likely to show behaviour related to positive mood, curiosity, sociability and impulsivity. But the researchers point out that they’re still unsure if it’s the bacteria influencing the brain, or the other way round.
“There is definite communication between bacteria in the gut and the brain, but we don’t know which one starts the conversation. Maybe kids who are more outgoing have fewer stress hormones impacting their gut than shy kids. Or maybe the bacteria are helping mitigate the production of stress hormones when the child encounters something new. It could be a combination of both.”
Dr. Michael Bailey
It used to be thought that the vagal nerves that connect the brain with the gut were a one-way system, and the brain told the gut what to do. But evidence now suggests it’s more of a two-way street. It is now known that around 90% of the body’s serotonin or happy hormone as it is sometimes called, is produced in the digestive tract and that people who suffer from a range of psychological disorders also experience gastrointestinal problems. Seratonin production increases when foods high in the amino acid thyptophan are consumed, such as: eggs, cheese, pineapples, tofu, salmon, turkey, nuts and seeds.
Introducing fermented foods to children when they are young helps them associate tart flavours as normal and interesting. Provide them with small amounts daily and from as diversified sources as possible. The diversity of beneficial bacteria in the gut have the potential to create resilience in the immune system. Remember to be a model for your kids and consume healthy, fermented foods yourself! You too will receive the benefits.
As children grow, always encourage the principle of ‘tasting foods’ not just once, but numerous times. Offer a new flavour 10 times. Explain to your children why they are good for them. Don’t under-estimate their capacity to understand this. Involve them in the process of making fermented foods at home. Make it fun! Here is a simple dip recipe made at home from the fermented milk called milk kefir.
Milk Kefir Dip
Ingredients (approx. 300g)
- 250g double strained Milk Kefir cheese
- ½ fresh organic orange cut into small peeled, segments
- 2 Tbspn chopped dried prunes, raisins, cranberries or peaches
- 1 Tbspn chopped roasted pine nuts
- 4-6 Tbspn malt syrup or honey
- 1 tspn spice blend (cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla bean)
- Passionfruit for serving
- Take the double strained Milk Kefir and combine with all the ingredients, except the passionfruit.
- Mix well.
- Transfer to a bowl.
- Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving to allow the flavours to develop.
- Sprinkle with the passionfruit for serving.