Loving our guts is one of the most important ways we can improve our overall health and wellbeing—and new research tells us that a healthy gut starts in childhood. A recently published study by the University of California Riverside has shown that a poor childhood diet tends to lead to worse health outcomes as adults. “You are not only what you eat, but what you ate as a child,” explains leading researcher Theodore Garland.
Understanding the research
Our microbiome is the collection of organisms in our body, which mostly live in our intestines. Keeping a good balance of healthy gut bacteria helps us to fight infection and disease and improves our digestion and mood. In 2014, research conducted by Wageningen University in The Netherlands found that a child’s microbiome is established and shaped during the first few years of life. This is important for parents and caregivers to understand as we choose the foods and lifestyle habits to offer our children.
But it’s the connection between childhood diet and health outcomes in adulthood that is of particular interest to researchers from the University of California Riverside. Their 2021 study observed the effects of diet and exercise routines on mice. The juvenile mice were divided into four groups—half were given an unhealthy Western diet high in fat and sugar and the other half fed a healthier diet. Each of these groups was divided in half again, with some mice having access to a running wheel for exercise and some left without.
After three weeks, all mice were returned to a standard diet without exercise. 14 weeks later, researchers then studied their microbiome and found that the mice who had exercised and been fed healthier diets early on had a far more abundant and diverse range of good bacteria in their guts as they reached maturity. Not surprisingly, the mice who were fed poor diets and did not exercise in their early life had a much poorer microbiome.
“We studied mice, but the effect we observed is equivalent to kids having a Western diet, high in fat and sugar and their gut microbiome still being affected up to six years after puberty,” explains Garland.
What do these research findings mean for our kids?
We know that an imbalance of gut bacteria increases the risk of chronic illness and disease. And now we understand that children with a healthy microbiome tend to make healthier adults. This makes early childhood the perfect window of opportunity to set our kids up well for their future by offering them a healthy diet.
Three simple ways to improve your child’s diet
How can we act on these findings? It’s always important to speak to your healthcare provider if you have specific concerns about your child’s health and diet. But as a starting point, here are three things you can start doing today to improve your child’s diet:
1. Offer more wholefoods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, on a regular basis to your child. A predominantly wholefoods diet has been proven to improve long-term health.
2. Increase the nutrient bio-availability in your child’s diet to ensure they are absorbing as many vitamins, minerals and micronutrients from their food as possible.
3. Eat healthy foods yourself because your child is going to be far more interested in trying these foods if they see you eating the same thing. Plus, you’ll feel better for it!
Gobble Guts is here to help you provide the right food to your kids. We are passionate about supporting digestive health and a flourishing microbiome in children. Our nutritionist-designed meals are made fresh, flash-frozen to preserve their nutritional benefits and then delivered to your door.