Child nutrition expert Lucinda Miller reveals how the great outdoors and vibrant fresh foods are the secret to family health, happiness and wellbeing
We all want our children to have a happy and healthy childhood and grow up to fulfil their potential. However, it is now difficult to ignore the fact that more children are struggling with their physical health and immunity than ever before; and increasingly, our kids are plagued with anxiety, poor self-confidence, depression and social and communication challenges.
Medical research is now questioning this paradox and asking why our kids are getting sicker in some ways, when we are lucky to have access to better healthcare, food and living standards. A main focus in this research has been the role played by gut health, as it is thought the microbes in our tummies are the key building blocks that build the immune system, our metabolism and even our mood.
“Good gut health also makes it easier to create happy hormones”
We each have about 30 trillion bacteria living mostly in harmony in our gut and on our skin, and when this delicate ‘microbiome’ is thrown out of balance though stress, poor diet, antibiotics or infection, then this imbalance can be the start of poor mental and physical health.
Conversely it is thought that when we nourish our guts, we also build a better immune system and are less likely to develop autoimmune and metabolic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Good gut health also makes it easier to create happy hormones, critical for keeping anxiety at bay and helping to maintain positive mood and self-confidence. Research shows kids who eat healthily tend to have better mental health and self-esteem.
Encourage outdoor play
Fresh outdoor air is full of diverse bacteria, and when you encourage your children to play outside and get muddy, this allows their microbiomes to encounter trillions of microorganisms from the wider ecosystem. Opening windows allows fresh air to flow benefiting the diversity and health of the microbes within the house and those living in it.
Avoid fake sugars
Many artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulphame K and sucralose, which are the mainstay of diet drinks and low-sugar foods, are now known to affect the metabolism of gut microbes, leading to problems like obesity and diabetes. Instead of buying sweeteners – aim to feed your kids natural sugars from whole fruits, cocoa and honey which actually help to encourage healthy gut diversity.
“encourage your children to play outside and get muddy”
Eat plant-based food
‘You are what you eat’ and this is never more relevant than when we look at building a healthy gut. The greater variety of plant-based foods your child eats such as fruits, veggies, pulses, nuts and seeds, the more diverse and skilled their gut bacteria will be at keeping your kids robust. Cooking from scratch can make it easier to feed your family a more varied diet.
The best way to get your kids enthusiastic about eating plants is by “Eating The Rainbow” – feeding them as many different coloured fruit and veg as possible – aim to cook and eat at least 20 different fruits and veggies every week. This might sound daunting but when you realise that orange, red and yellow peppers count as three different veg they might already be eating more variety than you realise.
Enjoy Fermented Foods
Fermented food is the newest buzz. Our supermarkets are brimming with foods bursting with healthy bacteria such as live yoghurt, kefir and apple cider vinegar. These all encourage a healthy population of microbes in the gut and can be included in lots of family-friendly recipes. You can also source gut-friendly probiotic food supplements. Go on, treat yourself to some probiotic-rich chocolate!
Lucinda Miller is The NatureDoc. Her UK-wide team of nutritional therapists specialise in family health and nutrition. Look out for her bestselling cookbook The Good Stuff and healthy NatureDoc.Shop online to keep your family happy and well.