A Nutritionist Speaks: How to Promote Your Child’s Digestive Health
Building Block 1: High-Fiber Foods continued...
Are there foods you should avoid if your child has a tendency to get constipated? That can depend on the child, dietitians say. Some foods that have been linked to constipation:
- Rice cereal for babies. (It’s really not a necessary first food, so if your baby seems constipated, you can probably skip it and move on to things like veggie and fruit purees.)
- Refined “white” foods like sugar, white rice, and white breads
- Cheese and other dairy products
“Some children are very sensitive to excessive dairy intake; you may try limiting that to help with bowel regulation,” says Pinkos. “Other kids it doesn’t seem to affect as much.”
Multivitamins can also be constipating for some kids. “Those containing iron can be a particular issue,” says Erin Helmick, RD, a dietitian in the gastroenterology department at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. “If your child needs more iron, try to get it to them in their food through iron-rich lean meats and dark green vegetables. But if they can’t get enough iron in their diet, then you may need other medications to help with bowel regularity.”
Building Block 2: Plenty of Fluids
It can be easy to get so focused on fiber for digestive health that you forget about the other component your child needs to take in: plenty of fluids.
“When you get plenty of fiber and not enough fluid, it’s like putting superglue in your gut,” says Pinkos. “It just makes matters worse. So you need to make sure that your child is drinking plenty of water, plus some milk, during the day.” If you live in a warm climate, particularly if your child is getting a lot of outdoor exercise, they’re going to be sweating out their fluid intake faster, so be sure to take plenty of water breaks.
Parents may think that they’re giving their child a boost with sports drinks and “power beverages,” but they’re really just sugary drinks like juices, Pinkos adds. “Children should be getting the majority of their fluids from water.” Limit juices to 4 ounces a day in younger children, and 6-8 ounces a day in school-aged kids.
Building Block 3: Exercise
It’s good for your heart, it’s good for your lungs, it’s good for your immune system -- it makes perfect sense that exercise would be good for your digestive system as well. So the final piece of the digestive health puzzle for your child is plenty of physical activity.
“Exercise just helps keep things moving along, as opposed to when you’re sitting there,” says Pinkos. “Any physical activity will stimulate activity in the gastrointestinal tract and help you to digest your food better.”