3 Types of Foods That Are Good for Your Child's Gut Health

What your child eats can help boost beneficial bacteria in their gut, and crowd out the bad kind. Here's what to serve for a healthy microbiome.

Your child's gut is a pretty important place. It's home to trillions of bacteria, and this gut "microbiome" can impact your child's immune system and even their long-term health, for better or worse.

Thankfully the makeup of the microbiome—the balance between good and bad bacteria—is something you can help influence with the foods and drinks you serve your child every day.

"We now understand that intestinal microbes play a role in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, and more," says Kate Scarlata, M.P.H., R.D., a registered dietitian, an expert on gut health, and author of The Low-FODMAP Diet Step by Step. "What we eat is key to the essential balance of microbes in our gut."

Unfortunately, many of the foods commonly eaten by kids (think chicken nuggets, cookies, and sugary drinks) can negatively affect the bacteria balance in the gut, ultimately increasing the risk of those serious health conditions, Scarlata says.

You can help turn things around by shifting to a diet built around mostly whole, healthy foods. Some foods are particularly good at improving gut health by boosting beneficial bugs and crowding out the bad kind that can make kids sick.

Read on to learn about three types of foods that can help grow a healthy gut.

Foods High in Indigestible Fiber

Fiber is an indigestible type of carbohydrate. "Our gut microbes consume foods that we don't digest well," explains Scarlata. The beneficial bacteria in the gut thrive when they have access to carbohydrates that contain indigestible fibers like those found in:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat
  • Fruits
  • Beans and legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, toddlers need 14 grams of fiber daily, 4-8-year olds require 17-20 grams, 9-13-year-olds need 22-25, and teenagers should get 25-31 grams.

Foods Rich in Polyphenols

Good gut bacteria also feed on polyphenols, natural plant compounds that are found in foods such as:

  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus fruit
  • Cocoa
  • Coffee
  • Grapes
  • Plums
  • Tea

The main polyphenol classes are flavanols (found in tea), flavanones (found in citrus fruit), flavonols (found in apples and onions), hydroxycinnamic acids (found in coffee), and anthocyanins (found in fruit and vegetables). 

According to research published in Nutrition, because these foods are poorly absorbed, they stay in the intestine for a long time, which can positively affect the gut microbiome.


Some fermented foods called probiotics contain strains of beneficial bacteria that can help populate the digestive tract, like:

  • Yogurt with live and active cultures
  • Kefir (a fermented milk drink found in the dairy aisle)
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Sourdough bread

A healthy diet is essential to gut health for another reason: There's some evidence, like a 2019 study linking a Western diet with chronic diseases, that certain ingredients found in ultra-processed foods, such as high fructose corn syrup and refined white flour, may negatively affect the gut's bacteria balance, says Scarlata.

In fact, she says, 2013 animal research found that switching from a healthy, plant-based diet to a high-fat, high-sugar, typically Western diet causes changes to the microbiome (for the worse) in just one day.

The Bottom Line

A healthy gut microbiome can help prevent diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Fortunately, you can help your child maintain beneficial gut bacteria by offering nutritious, whole foods instead of highly-processed foods. Foods high in fiber, polyphenols, and probiotics have all been found to help establish good gut bacteria.

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