There are many reasons why we might have tummy troubles from time to time. From minor gastrointestinal infections to food intolerances to more serious diseases, digestive conditions can affect millions of people around the world. Fortunately, as food must pass through our digestive tract there are many things we can consume to help our gut along the way.
The digestive tract plays a vital role in your health, as it’s responsible for absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from digestive problems like bloating, cramping, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation for a variety of reasons.
Certain conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Crohn’s Disease, diverticulitis and heartburn, can put you at risk for more severe digestive issues.
However, even a healthy person can experience digestive problems due to things such as a lack of fiber or probiotic-rich foods in their diet.
Foods for Digestion
PineappleA compound found in pineapple called bromelain helps us to better digest proteins, which reduces indigestion and acid reflux. It dampens inflammation and pain as well and can address the effects of diarrhea caused by certain pathogens like E. coli. You can enjoy pineapple on its own, or blend it into an anti-inflammatory smoothie or smoothie bowl. Ensure you include some of the pineapple stem too, as that is where much of the bromelain is concentrated.
Apples are rich in array of nutrients, most notably polyphenols, which can help protect the gut and has anti-cancer properties. They also contain digestive-enhancing soluble and insoluble fibre and research shows that these fibres – especially pectin – help produce beneficial bacteria in the colon. Cooking and blending apples into applesauce makes these fibres much easier to digest.
If you have a strong blender or food processor, you can keep the peel on when making applesauce and you can enhance the flavour with spices like ginger and cinnamon.
Wild salmon contains protein for gut healing and repair, omega-3 fats to reduce inflammation, and Vitamin D which is essential for good immune function and autoimmune disease prevention. Emerging research also shows that omega-3s can have a prebiotic effect on the gut, making positive changes to its bacterial composition.
The source of your fish is important – this is a great sustainable seafood guide to help you when shopping at the fish counter.
Winter SquashWinter squashes have cucurbitacins, which inhibit the production of enzymes that lead to inflammation. They are loaded with immune-enhancing vitamins A and C, plus they are a good source of fibre for digestive health. Learn more about the different squash varieties and why they’re so awesome in this Guide to Winter Squash.
Who doesn’t love sweet potatoes? They are an absolutely delicious root vegetable that contain a wealth of Vitamin A, a nutrient that is key for maintaining and healing the intestinal barrier, as well as supporting a healthy immune system. Sweet potatoes have a specific kind of antioxidant called anthocyanins, which may play an important role in colon cancer prevention.
Sweet potatoes are simple to digest and emerging research on animals show that they can even trigger digestive enzymes.
Broth (Bone Broth or Vegetable Broth)
Broths are one of the best foods for digestion because they are simple to digest, comforting, wonderful for boosting the immune system, hydrating (which is handy if you have been suffering from diarrhea), and easy to enhance with more nutrition by adding vegetables, herbs, spices, sea vegetables, medicinal mushrooms and culinary adaptogens.
If you choose to consume bone broth, it contains amino acids (protein) for healing and repair, and also promotes the flow of gastric juices.
When soaked in water, chia seeds become mucilaginous or ‘goopy’ and this is extremely soothing to the digestive tract. Chia seeds are rich in fibre, which helps to reduce constipation and encourage beneficial bacteria in the gut, as well as omega-3 fatty acids that reduce intestinal inflammation. They also are a good source of magnesium, a fantastic nutrient that relaxes intestinal muscles, and protein for gut healing and repair.
Use chia seeds in a chia pudding, add them to dairy-free smoothies, toss them in oatmeal or porridge, or use them to amp up your nut and seed butter.
Fermented foods are one of the best foods for digestion as they are rich in probiotics, which introduce favourable bacteria into the gut and help to fortify the intestinal lining. There are many different probiotic strains which have been studied for their ability to benefit inflammatory bowel diseases, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, and gastrointestinal infections caused by pathogens. As 70 percent of our immune system is found in gut tissue, fermented foods can also help to boost immunity.
The fermented foods we love include:
- Water Kefir
- Pickles and
- Dairy-Free Yogurt
Fermented foods are straightforward to make at home once you learn the basics, and homemade versions allow you to control exactly what goes into your ferments – especially the type and amount of sugar. It also ensures you are actually cultivating probiotic cultures through true fermentation (as opposed to vinegar-based options, which are tangy but don’t contain probiotics).
Turmeric is a highly anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer spice to consider adding to your pantry. One of is main constituents, called curcumin, can help protect the gastrointestinal lining, positively impact gut bacteria and shows promise as a treatment for many gastric disorders like inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.
Due to its strong flavour, start off consuming small amounts of turmeric (about 1/8 tsp) and work your way up. It’s a great spice to add to teas, dairy-free elixirs and dairy-free nut or seed milk.
Ginger contains compounds called gingerols, which block pro-inflammatory compounds and can lessen pain. Ginger is also a great remedy for gastrointestinal upset and nausea, plus it has anti-cancer properties and is a fabulous food to eat when you’re sick.
A simple, digestive-friendly way to enjoy ginger is grating it fresh into hot water with lemon and a bit of raw honey.
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FennelFennel enhances digestion by reducing bloating and gas, and can help reduce abdominal pain and symptoms of IBS. You can try consuming fresh fennel (you may want to cook it first) or steeping the seeds into herbal tea recipes.
This healthy cooking oil, mainly containing medium-chain fats, is easy for us to digest and use. Coconut oil is anti-inflammatory and contains lauric acid, an anti-microbial and anti-bacterial fatty acid that can help prevent harmful bacteria from growing in the digestive tract.
Coconut oil can be used as a cooking/baking oil, or you can add it to dairy-free elixir recipes.
MushroomsWe adore mushrooms for their anti-cancer properties, energy-enhancing B vitamins, Vitamin D, and fibre for gut health. They also contain immune-boosting and modulating polysaccharides called beta-glucans, anti-inflammatory compounds and zinc, which helps improve the function of the intestinal barrier (zinc deficiencies may also lead to gastrointestinal diseases). As a sweet bonus, mushrooms are a food that you can grow indoors!
Mint helps to relax our intestinal muscles, reducing spasms and pain, and it relieves bloating and gas. It can help address a variety of gastrointestinal conditions, but is often used in irritable bowel syndrome to diminish symptoms and abdominal pain.
You can use different varieties of mint (peppermint, spearmint, etc.), either fresh or dried. We love pairing mint with cacao powder in hot chocolate recipes, or you can simply steep the leaves in hot water.
Foods to avoid for Good DigestionWhen looking at the best foods for digestion, it’s equally important to eliminate the foods that aggravate the digestive tract and impede digestive healing.
AlcoholAlcoholic beverages disrupt the bacteria in the gut, leading to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. If you’re looking for a good cocktail, these healthy mocktails are sure to do the trick.
GlutenGluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye, is linked to gut inflammation and can damage the intestinal wall, causing food particles to break through into the bloodstream where they don’t belong, leading to an immune response.
DairyDairy products, especially cow dairy, can be difficult to digest. Many of us don’t produce the lactase enzyme required to digest the lactose in milk and this may lead to poor digestion and bloating, gas or cramps. Some people react to the proteins in milk like whey and casein – and casein is actually similar in structure to gluten.
CoffeeCoffee can cause the stomach to release its contents prematurely, which may lead to impaired digestion down the line. Coffee can also interfere with our hormones, leaving us stressed out. Stress, whether physical or emotional, impairs digestion.
Digestive issues can be challenging, but certain foods may be helpful in easing uncomfortable symptoms.
Research supports eating fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi and tempeh, to increase probiotics in your diet, which can improve digestive health.
Fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, dark green vegetables and chia seeds, also play a role in digestion by helping food move through your system more easily or quickly.