Top 10 Foods For Improving Digestion
Your digestive system plays a vital role in your health – it's responsible for breaking down the foods you eat, absorbing nutrients, and eliminating waste. Unfortunately, we may not appreciate our digestive health until something goes wrong.
From mild stomach pain and bloating to gas and diarrhea, the symptoms of poor digestion are unpleasant and quite uncomfortable. They can happen for many different reasons – diet, stress, unhealthy lifestyle habits, poor gut health, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders – and can affect even healthy individuals.
Fortunately, there are many nutritious foods that help digestion and can even alleviate common GI issues.
An apple a day keeps… constipation away? Apples are a rich source of pectin, a type of soluble fiber that supports digestion in many ways.
Soluble fibers form a gel-like substance when in contact with water, which in turn softens the stool, increases stool volume, and stimulates bowel movement.
Some research indicates that pectin can increase transit time and alleviate symptoms of constipation.
Pectin also acts as a prebiotic fiber – it bypasses human digestion and gets broken down by gut-friendly bacteria in the colon, producing beneficial compounds for gut health.
Perhaps one of the most popular fruits, bananas are not only nutritious but also one of the best foods for digestion.
Bananas are an excellent source of prebiotic fibers, including fructooligosaccharides (a class of plant sugars) and resistant starch, a complex carbohydrate found in unripe bananas. This dynamic duo goes undigested through the gastrointestinal tract, ultimately serving as food for many species of beneficial bacteria, and promoting the production of short-chain fatty acids which are involved in immune system function.
3. CHIA SEEDS
Similar to apples, chia seeds are also an excellent source of soluble fiber. If you've ever mixed chia seeds with water, you may have noticed chia seeds can expand and form a gel-like substance. Like other high fiber foods, their high fiber content helps promote regular bowel movements and well-formed stools.
Additionally, chia seeds are an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which can help support healthy inflammation and nourish the gut lining.
4. FLAX SEEDS
If you're experiencing constipation, try adding a daily spoonful of flax seeds to your routine. These small seeds are made up almost entirely of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Just one tablespoon of flax seeds contains nearly 3 grams of fiber, making it a highly effective – and natural – digestive aid.
Flax seeds are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help soothe inflammation associated with inflammatory gut conditions.
Finally, flax seeds are one of the best sources of lignans, compounds that support the gut microbiota and healthy inflammation levels.
Pro tip: For better absorption, consume ground or milled flax seeds. Whole flax seeds contain a thick outer hull that is challenging for your body to digest.
If anyone ever offered you ginger tea when you were experiencing stomach upset or nausea, they were right on the money. Ginger has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for occasional nausea and indigestion. Modern-day science also supports ginger as a natural digestion enhancer that can help soothe gastrointestinal issues such as stomach discomfort, pain, and nausea.
A breakfast superstar among gut healthy foods, oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that supports heart health but also healthy digestion. It does so by slowing the passage of food through your intestines, increasing digestion time, and promoting satiety.
The prebiotic fiber in oats has been shown to promote the growth of good bacteria and the production of short-chain fatty acids. As a high-fiber whole grain, oats also provide high amounts of insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to the stool and can help with constipation.
The tropical fruit papaya is not only very tasty but also a beneficial digestion aid. Papaya contains papain, a digestive enzyme that assists in the process of breaking down protein into amino acids. This enzyme has also been shown to ease occasional constipation and bloating in individuals with gastrointestinal conditions. In fact, papain is used in many over-the-counter digestive supplements to help alleviate stomach upset.
Not only does pineapple provide fiber and water, both of which support digestion, but it also contains bromelain. This is an enzyme that helps the body better digest protein-rich foods by assisting with the breakdown of protein into amino acids. Therefore, it makes for a great dessert after eating a protein-heavy meal. Bromelain has also been shown beneficial for combating inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel diseases and diarrhea caused by pathogenic bacteria.
Prunes and prune juice are often referred to as a natural laxative and often used to support healthy digestion and relieve occasional constipation. This is a result of two things: fiber and sorbitol.
Prunes contain high amounts of insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to the stool and speeds up the rate at which it moves through your digestive tract. Additionally, prunes and prune juice naturally contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol with laxative effects that draws water into the colon.
Rich in probiotics, yogurt can naturally support digestion and overall gut health. Consuming probiotic-rich foods can be an effective way to help manage digestive imbalances and may provide benefits for people dealing with chronic GI conditions.
However, many people are unable to digest lactose – the sugar found in dairy. In that case, plant-based yogurt can be a great alternative to a non-dairy source of probiotics, as well as probiotic supplements.
Note: not all yogurt is probiotic – when yogurt shopping, make sure to look for "live and active cultures" on the label.
Other Factors To Consider
Adding fiber to your diet and consuming these foods for gut health can be a great way to support healthy digestion, but there are other steps you can take to support optimal digestive health.
For example, it's important to identify whether there are foods that don't agree with you – aka food intolerances or allergies – that may be contributing to gastrointestinal issues. Common foods that can aggravate digestive symptoms include cow's milk and dairy products, gluten-containing foods, artificial sweeteners, and alcoholic beverages. If you are experiencing poor digestion, keeping a food journal can help identify whether you are intolerant to any of these foods or food groups.
Additionally, taking steps to support your gut microbiome can also promote digestive health, this includes eating the right foods and taking the right supplements, such as a daily Pre + Probiotic and Omegas.
Other tips for improving digestion include eating and chewing slowly, avoiding chewing gum, and practicing mindful eating.
Food For Health
Eating a high fiber diet and regularly consuming probiotics and prebiotics plays an important role in supporting your digestive health and keeping your gut in balance. However, it is not the only factor to consider.
Your digestion can be negatively affected by smoking, drinking, certain medications, stress, and genetics. Eating the right foods, taking gut-supportive supplements, and making healthy lifestyle choices are all important factors for managing digestive problems and supporting a healthy gut!