Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nurture Your Child's Digestive Health

     Does your child suffer from gastro-intestinal trouble on a regular basis? Constipation, flatulence, stomach pain or even acid reflux (common in infants)? We adults have a stronger digestive system, by and large capable of dealing with whatever we ingest but kids’ guts are still developing, growing stronger, getting used to the variety of foods we feed them.

     The First and MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do for your child’s gut is to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of life. If that’s not possible because of insufficient or non – existent mother’s milk supply, consider a formulation which is 100% organic and natural. A nutritionist will help you formulate this and give guidelines on it’s preparation. Home-made is always best.

     Breast milk sets up your child’s immune system both by enabling it to produce antibodies and immunoglobulins and it’s bacterial content (lactobacillus bifidus) which protects against harmful pathogens. Also, the mere act of breastfeeding safely introduces bacteria from the environment into the infant’s colon, helping build the intestinal flora which produce Vitamin K and other nutrient components later.

     Soy, shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs are allergens and ideally should not be introduced to a child under 12 months. This is the age by which they have developed a basal digestive capacity and immunity level.

     Going one step further, it is wise not to feed them any junk food till they are at least 2 years old, and even then – don’t make it a habit. So many parents complain that their child wants junk food all the time – well, who introduced them to it? Who buys it for them? Who gives into their tantrums? Who eats these along with the child?

     By the way, biscuits, instant noodles, burgers, pizzas and fries aren’t great for their gut health but there are so many more INDIAN JUNK FOODS! Avoid feeding too many refined cereals like white rice and rava as well – these have almost zero nutrients and are at best easy sources of energy. Go Whole Grain!

     Milk and Wheat are best introduced at around 6-7 months, however, if not digesting well, leave them aside till the child completes 1 year. It is possible that diluted curd may be tolerated where milk isn’t so use this to ensure your child’s Vitamin B 12 supply. B 12 is not found in plant sources so small amounts of either milk or curd is a necessary part of the diet.

     Parents often think an allergy manifests as rashes or wheezing or similar symptoms but the truth is the lining of the digestive system is the first to come in contact with the allergen, therefore the most vulnerable. In fact, major symptoms may be nothing other than diarrhoea, vomiting, gas build up and abdominal pain.

     Common problems faced by toddlers till they reach the age of 7 years (after which their gut is more powerful) are colic, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and even acid reflux (if not eating enough).

     When to go to the doctor: when your child is vomiting and not keeping food down, showing signs of dehydration / has severe abdominal pain / has fever along with digestive issues.

Tips for the little ones (0 – 2 years):

·     While feeding keep the child’s body at an angle of at least 40ยบ to prevent food/breast milk from flowing back into the oesophagus once it reaches the stomach. Burp them during and after the feed.

·      If your child spits up regularly and also makes a fuss to feed, is not gaining weight and is irritable – this could be gastro - oesophageal reflux disorder or GERD. You should meet your paediatrician in this event.

·     While breastfeeding, stay off spicy, high fat, gas causing foods – these might cause disturbances in your infant’s digestion. Drink lots of water - minimum 3 L per day.

·      Don’t give children sugar or salt in the first 2 years of life – trust me, they’ll get their carbohydrates and sodium from other natural foods. You might think ‘It’s so bland’ but the chances of your child becoming addicted to junk food later in life is minimized. In fact, your child may just relish his/her fruits, veggies and other natural foods all the more. Use herbs and spices to make foods interesting.

·      Use malted whole grains* after 6 months of age as these are richer in nutrients and easier to digest.

·         Feed children small amounts of food, more frequently.

·         Avoid tight diapers and waistbands

For older children (2-7 years):

-      Help him / her stick to a healthy toilet routine – for some kids it can be bowel movements thrice a day, for others, once in 2 days. Ensure frequent urination.

-      Serve foods slightly warmer than room temperature. Avoid extremely hot and very cold foods.

-      Ensure sufficient fibre intake by including whole grains, pulses (legumes), fruits, green leaves and other vegetables. Even sprouts can be made attractive with a little imagination.

-      Expose your child to different food textures crunchy salad veggies, nuts, pappads (roasted) are some examples. They are capable of eating these and these foods provide valuable nutrients. You can even start chapathis and whole grain bread at the age of 1 ½ to 2 years – just make sure they’re chewing everything properly and ensure no food is stuck between gums or on the palate.

-      Fluids – 1.5 L of water per day is ideal but ensure whole fruits and veggies (up to 90% moisture), buttermilk, tender coconut water, rasam, soups, etc is also present. Be watchful of your child’s fluid intake as mild dehydration can occur very easily. Habituate him/her to asking for and drinking water regularly.

-      Exercise – this scientifically proven link between physical activity and digestion is not present just in kids but also in adults. Keep them active by playing vigorously with them.

     Every human being’s system is unique – it responds differently to various stimuli so don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t going right. It’s about trial and error and learning. At the same time, your child’s gut health IS in your hands. You ARE the parent. You HAVE THE say in what they eat. It may mean new healthy habits for the whole family. We invite you to be open to the process and share your results.

* Malted grains are Amylase Rich Foods which are the easiest to digest by your 6 month old. This is the ideal food for when you’re weaning an infant off the breast. Cereal grains and grams (legumes) both are used together to provide complete protein.


Ragi  - 1 kg
Whole Green Gram (Moong) – ½ kg
Fenugreek (Methi) seeds – 100g
Cardamom seeds – 1 tbsp (15 g)

1] The first step is to sprout the grains. Soak the ragi, moong and methi separately for 3-5 hours. If you soak for longer it will take longer to roast later on. Drain the water and hang separately in light cotton or muslin cloths.
2] Each type germinates at different rates –  the sprouts don’t need to be too long. It can take anywhere from 5 to 8 hours to sprout so the best thing is to leave the cloth containing grain slightly wet overnight.
3] Dry the sprouted grains in the sun till completely dry – cover the tray with a light layer of cloth to protect from dust.
4] Roast each type of grain separately (they roast at different rates) till they turn slightly brown / red and the aroma reaches you.
5] Mix the roasted grains, add the cardamom and powder finely – you can do this at a mill (make sure they’ve just cleaned their machine) or even with your grinder at home.
6] To make kanji, mix 1 tsp of the flour with 150 – 200 ml of water and bring to a boil on a low flame.
Wheat can also be used with ragi in this recipe – the ratio becomes 1 : 1 : 1 : 0.2  of ragi : wheat : moong : methi.

Credit for this recipe goes to Dr Khader, our Homoeopathic Doctor and green revolutionary  - it's used by a lot of families in our circle.

An edited version of this article was published in Parent Circle, July 2012

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