We all know the vitamins, minerals, and fiber provided by fresh fruits, vegetables and grains are important for growing young bodies and brains. But scientists are looking more closely at how kids’ diets influence their gut health—and how that might affect everything from mood to mental health to cognitive development.
Just like an adult’s gut, a child’s digestive tract is naturally populated by dozens of types of beneficial bacteria, also known as the gut microbiome. These serve a variety of functions, including regulating immune function and metabolism.
Diet can play a huge role in the health of a person’s gut microbiome. One job of our gut bacteria is to transform the foods we eat into chemicals and compounds—including feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine—that pass into the bloodstream for direct delivery to the brain. The brain also sends signals to the digestive system that influence its environment and function, which in turn may affect the activity of our resident bacteria. This two-way channel of communication is called the gut-brain axis.