Not all bacteria are bad. In fact, much is being written these days about how prebiotics and probiotics can aid good bacteria to maintain a healthy immune system, help fight against diseases and protect against allergy particularly in infants and young children.
Prebiotics and kids’ health
Your child’s guts are swarming with bacteria, some bad but some very good including Enterococci, Bifid bacteria and Lactobacilli that are beneficial to your child’s gut health. These “good” bacteria promote a healthy barrier against certain viruses and germs, protect against infections and help boost your child’s immune system.
Probiotics vs prebiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics are thought to restore the balance of bacteria in your child’s digestive tract and prevent bad bacteria from taking over and causing disease.
Probiotics are the actual good bacteria themselves. When your child consumes foods that contain probiotics, she increases her gut’s ratio of good bacteria to bad.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible food ingredients that, when consumed, stimulate the function and growth of “good” bacteria in the gut. Think of them as food for good bacteria that promotes the growth of these good bacteria and increasing their population in your child’s intestine.
In the following foods can be found prebiotics:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- unrefined wheat
- chicory root
- raw oats
- unrefined barley
Prebiotics and allergies
Research has found that up to 40% of children are affected by an allergy of some description in their life. Allergic diseases are on the rise and have approximately doubled over the last 25 years.
It is believed that prebiotics are beneficial in helping babies and children develop good bacteria which helps protect them from diseases and allergy and supports a strong immune system. At this stage, the evidence is mounting, so there’s no concrete proof that adding prebiotics to your child’s diet will definitely help protect against allergies.
Prebiotics in infant formula and breast milk
If you bottle feed your baby, you can look out for a brand that has prebiotics added, because prebiotic is now being added to some formulas.
Your baby will receive prebiotics through your breast milk which contains oligosaccharide molecules, if you breast feed. These are unique sugars that encourage the growth of the good bacteria in your baby’s gut and they are not digestible.
Restoring good bacteria levels after antibiotics
While antibiotics are sometimes life-saving and necessary, they are also known that in the process of killing off the bad bacteria they wipe out many of the good bacteria.
After a course of antibiotic treatment, you can help restore your child’s bacteria balance by serving up foods with prebiotic ingredients and by giving them foods that contain friendly bacteria such as milk or yoghurts with added probiotics (such as acidophilus or bifidus). Prebiotics are not destroyed when cooked, unlike probiotic bacteria, so are easy to include in everyday meals.