Yes, it’s a very un-glamorous blog topic, but one that has been nagging at me to be written all summer long. Oh, if only I were a fashion writer or a landscape designer I would have the most enchanting of posts accompanied by brilliant photos of my fall fashion tips or shade garden plant selections. But alas, I’m a mom, a nutritionist and a raw milk producer and this falls right smack within my area of expertise!
So instead of the stunning fall boots display at Nordstroms, we are going to talk about the gut, the colon, stools and finally, constipation among our kids. If you are a parent or planning to be, you will become very familiar with this topic, as anyone who has a baby knows you very quickly become a stool expert – shape, color, smell, frequency all tell us vital information about our kids’ health.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the importance of preventing constipation since my youngest child, age 5, has been a picture of nearly-perfect gut health since birth. This past May, however, she had an unforgettable bout of backed-up colon which resulted in 4 days missed school, missed work for me to care for her, and a lot of painful days and nights. Through that experience I learned that prevention of constipation is far better than having to live with the pain and agony of a child suffering from a compacted colon.
Liquids and Fiber Not the Answer
Surprisingly, to those of us who have been told a high fiber diet is the answer, an excess of fiber contributes to constipation when the bacterial fermentation (short chain fatty acids, ethanol, and lactic acid) destroy the healthy bacteria that contribute to proper stool formation.
If your child is on any medications, especially, you must pay even more attention to maintaining healthy gut flora. There is a delicate balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract which can be upset by the many toxins we come into contact with, including antibiotics and other drugs, chemicals like chlorine and fluoride in our water, food additives and preservatives, and an overabundance of difficult-to-digest foods like improperly prepared whole grains. It’s important to also note that anti-anxiety medicine in particular contributes to digestive distress.
Preventing constipation in our kids starts with proper nutrition to care for their digestive system, a living ecosystem populated by billions of organisms that produce substances necessary for digestion to occur–enzymes, vitamins and beneficial acids (especially lactic acid).
So how do we build and maintain healthy intestinal flora? Most importantly, eating foods rich in probiotics such as cultured vegetables, yogurt and kefir. A diet full of traditionally prepared foods is your best medicine! In addition to cultured foods you must include meat and unprocessed dairy products from grass fed animals, eggs from pastured chickens, properly prepared (soaked/sprouted) grains, vegetables and fruits including lacto-fermented veggies, and plenty of healthy fats.
Kefir – A Probiotic Gem
Kefir is a probiotic gem – and may well be the most important food you can get into your child. Mix it with honey and fruit to make it more palatable for them – kefir can be an acquired taste, and yet well worth it for the whole family. Two of the most common benefits that dozens of our customers report after making kefir a daily part of their diet is bowel regularity and the disappearance of digestive complaints. When made with raw milk from grass-fed cows kefir has many, many more times the probiotic content of yogurt, improving the gut flora tremendously.
Another misconception many hold is that a low-fat diet helps with regularity, when actually the opposite is true. Healthy dietary fat signals the release of bile from the gallbladder, which, in turn, stimulates the gastrocolic reflex. This stimulates peristaltic mass movement, which, in turn, stimulates defecation. No fat in the diet = not enough bile in the system to get the ball rolling: “Energy-rich meals with a high fat content increase motility [propulsion of stools]” (Human Physiology, 2nd ed.).
“Prevention is the best medicine,” a very popular quote, applies to so many things in life. With kids and health, I think we all can agree it is the best possible practice. We don’t often think of constipation as illness but it sure is- prevent it by feeding your kids well and you will prevent so many subsequent illnesses. Your whole family will benefit!