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Healthy Foods, Happy Tummies

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WebMD Feature

Does your kid have a tummy ache again? Belly pain affects lots of kids, so your family isn't alone. It’s usually not serious, but it's no fun for kids or their parents.

If your child’s pain is really bad or doesn’t go away after a day, he should see a doctor. But for minor tummy aches, a few changes to your child's diet may help. Here are some things to try.

  • Add more fiber ... Fiber is key for a healthy tummy. "Fiber keeps the digestive system moving and helps clean you out," says Kristi King, MPH, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Both soluble fiber (which the body breaks down) and insoluble fiber (which it doesn't) are important. Fruits and vegetables tend to have both.
  • ... but don't add too much fiber. Excess fiber can cause gas and bloating -- another cause of kid tummy troubles. Kids ages 1 to 3 need 14 grams of fiber a day -- that's equal to a medium banana, 1/2 cup of cooked beans, and a whole-wheat English muffin. Older kids up to age 14 need between 17 to 25 grams per day -- add 1/3 cup of bran cereal and a handful of almonds -- depending on their age and sex.
  • Serve more yogurt. Unlike most other dairy products, yogurt is full of living, helpful germs called probiotics. Probiotics also live inside us. They help digest food and get rid of bad germs. Offer your kid a fruit smoothie for breakfast -- you get the benefits of fiber and probiotics at the same time.
  • Cut down on sugar. Some sugars aren’t easily digested. When your kids gobble too much sugary food, they can get gas and painful cramps. Any sugary food -- even fruits and fruit juices, in high amounts -- can cause the problem.
  • Don't allow fizzy drinks. The gas in bubbly drinks can cause painful gas and bloating.

For minor tummy troubles -- and for all-around good digestion -- these tips may help. 

"Some kids just don't have the right enzymes to break down certain foods, like natural sugars in fruits or dairy," King says. If your child has this problem, diagnosis and diet changes could help.

Treating Digestive Problems

What about other digestive problems in kids? Here are a few with tips on how to tackle them.

  • Constipation. For most constipated kids, the best cure is more fiber. Add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and high-fiber cereals. "Extra glasses of water are really important for constipation too," King says. It helps keep food moving and softens the stool.
  • Diarrhea. Serious ongoing diarrhea needs medical attention. If it's minor, some of the simple changes above -- like adding fiber and cutting down on sugary drinks and foods, including fruit -- can help. Foods like oatmeal and bananas may help bulk up the stool.
  • Stomach viruses. If your child has a stomach bug, here are three steps for treating it.
  • Start with fluids. If your child is throwing up, dehydration is a risk. Have him sip water or a special drink with electrolytes, like Infalyte, Pedialyte, or Rehydralyte.
  • Try bland foods. Once your child is keeping down liquid, try bland foods. "White rice, plain toast, and applesauce are good foods to start with," King says.
  • Then add protein. If your child can tolerate bland foods, move on to easy-to-digest protein, like chicken or scrambled eggs. Why? "Protein is really important at this stage," King says. "It gives kids back some of their strength and can speed up recovery."
Reviewed on January 29, 2013

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