This week I am honored that Dr. Alexandra Z. Adams, Ph.D., is guest blogging on the factors impacting children’s digestive systems. Last year, I was lucky enough to take Dr. Adams’ course, Digesting the Modern Diet, which explored the evolution of diet, the intersection of culture and food, the role digestion plays in health, the processed food industry, and the biology of allergies and chronic disease. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and the community that was fostered through the course by Dr. Adams. In addition to being a lecturer of Digesting the Modern Diet and Cell Biology at Boston University, Dr. Adams created a website entitled, Contented Belly: Where Stomaches and Tastebuds Reunite, which serves as a resource for those combatting digestive issues and those aiming to lead healthful lives. Dr. Adams’ website features recipes, shopping lists, book, video, and documentary recommendations, and finally articles that educate her blogging community about digestive issues, nutritious consumption, and the effects of the processed food industry on diet. Please use the following link to access and follow Contented Belly and its informative content. Thank you so much, Dr. Adams, for sharing your time and your insights…I am grateful to have you guest blog for “Project Lunchbox: Let’s Eat!”
Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,
“Factoring Digestive Issues in Your Child’s Health and Development”
Written By: Alexandra Z. Adams, Ph.D.
Unfortunately, as we have seen with adults, children are increasingly developing digestive disorders. This can be seen with the rise of food allergies, specifically peanut allergies as well as lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disorder (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), gastroesophageal reflux, celiac disease, food intolerances, pancreatitis, bowel obstruction, and more. Babies and children can suffer from digestive issues ranging from a mild bout of diarrhea to a severe case of celiac disease but they might not have the ability or words to describe how they are feeling. This can be scary and frustrating for a parent. If you find that your child complains about stomach pain often and you were able to eliminate hunger, too much of salt, sugar, and fat, and all is good on the school front, then there might something more serious going on. Even if they cannot describe their pain, there are signs that you can watch out for and if some of these are increasingly occurring, you should contact their pediatrician.
- Behavioral signs: Is your child less active or less interested in playing than is typical for him or her? Is your child waking up in the middle of the night (not from nightmares), losing weight, or not eating?
- Physical signs: Do they have blood in their stool at times when they are not sick with a stomach bug? Are they nauseous, bloated, gassy, have chronic diarrhea or constipation, and/or do they vomit?
Doctors have found that what and how we are eating may contribute to the increase in the digestive disorders that we are suffering from. So the best defense may be a good offense when it comes to diet and either preventing or alleviating some digestive problems. Below are tips on how to improve your child’s digestion.
- Don’t supersize. We tend to eat with our eyes and not our stomachs so the same way that it is recommended that we pack half of our restaurant meal in a container before we start eating, we should control the portion size of children’s meals. Too much food affects how well our bodies can digest our food.
- Avoid processed foods. The chemicals and preservatives in processed foods can be problematic for our digestive system. Additionally, many or most of them do not contain the nutrition needed for children to grow and develop.
- Don’t drink during meals. Drinking can dilute the digestive acids and slow down digestion. So children should drink either before (15 minutes) or after (30-45 minutes) meals.
- But do drink water. Staying hydrated is important for our bodies and our digestive systems. Drinking water versus sugary sodas and juices will cut down on calories, cavities, and not stress the digestive system with extra sugar.
- Limit meat and dairy. These foods can be more difficult for our bodies to digest so focus more on whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and give them beef and cheese only once in awhile.
- Increase the fiber. Fiber is a great way to exercise your digestive system and keep things moving at a good speed. This can prevent diarrhea and constipation. Another reason to sneak in those vegetables and fruits in their diets.
- Be mindful. Or at least have them turn off the Pokémon GO and TV and be present while they eat their meal. Electronic distractions can be a stressor that activates the fight or flight response in us, which takes our body’s focus away from digestion. Whether you sit around the kitchen table or relax on the living room couch, eating mindfully can be good for their belly as well as their relationship with you.
Overall, even if your baby or child cannot describe exactly how they are feeling or where the pain is coming from they can still communicate what is going on. Being aware of some of the possibilities and warning signs, you can make sure you have enough information to go to your doctor and ensure they get the tests and treatment they need.