Most of us have experienced issues with digestion at one point or another in our lives. Whether from travel related constipation or more chronic issues like irritable bowel syndrome, troubles with digestion is never a fun experience. The digestion process is already a finicky process, undertaking intricate steps to break down the food we eat and release the vitamins, minerals, calories, fats and protein we need, and then efficiently ridding the body of the rest. And with many digestive conditions on the rise including irritable bowl syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and more, people are becoming increasingly aware of this process and how the foods we eat can affect it. The following 13 foods can help you be proactive and make sure things run smoothly all the time. Of course, for more serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease and IBD, learn what foods work best for you and which ones to eliminate.
There are trillions of bacteria in your gut that aid in digesting food. Yogurt has bacteria that replenishes the normal flora within the gut so it stays healthy. According to the National Institutes of Health, “‘friendly bacteria such as lactobacillus can help us break down food, absorb nutrients and fight off “unfriendly” organisms that might cause diseases such as diarrhea.”
Related: 8 Things You Should Know About IBD
A Korean staple, kimchi is typically made with cabbage, radish, or onion, as well as many spices. Cabbage, the main ingredient, promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon. A 2005 Seoul National University study discovered that kimchi is so beneficial to the immune system that it helped speed recovery in chickens suffering from the virulent avian flu.
A fermented dairy product, kefir is like a drinkable yogurt that contains oligosaccharides, complex carbs that feed beneficial bacteria. Keeping those miniscule microorganisms happy will boost the health of your immune system.
- Whole grains
“If there’s one thing America lacks, it’s fiber,” explains Jessica Anderson, RD, a diabetes educator with the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center, in Corpus Christi. “We need 20 to 30 grams a day and we maybe get 12.” Whole wheat bread, oats and brown rice are great sources of fiber. Fiber makes its way through your entire digestive tract, softening stool while adding bulk. This allows for bowel regularity and lower incidence of constipation.
Along with having a lot of fiber to aid digestion, bananas works to restore normal bowel function, revamping electrolytes and potassium that may be lost if you have diarrhea. Just be mindful to eat ripe, completely yellow bananas as unripe bananas can cause constipation.
Used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years, this spice is well-known for relieving nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, morning sickness, gas, loss of appetite and colic.
- Chia Seeds
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, these tasteless, tiny seeds are an excellent source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and antioxidants. A mere two tablespoons provide 10 grams of fiber to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and regulate bowel function.
- Coconut Oil
Offering a sweet and nutty taste, coconut oil is an excellent substitute for butter or oil. It also contains antimicrobial properties and fatty acids that can improve digestion and immunity while increasing energy and metabolism. The digestion process of coconut oil’s medium chain triglycerides begins upon contact with the saliva and gastric juices, which places less strain on the pancreas and digestive system.
Used historically for numerous health conditions, peppermint may help ease indigestion as well as some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. It calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the movement of bile, which the body utilizes to digest fats. This allows for food to be passed through the stomach at a quicker rate.
- Sweet potatoes
This superfood is great for digestive health, especially when the skins are consumed. They are rich in gut-loving dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates and manganese. They’re also beneficial in treating peptic ulcers, duodenal ulcers and some other serious bowel ailments.
A digestive enzyme called papain found in this tropical fruit helps to ease the breakdown process of proteins in the stomach, which allows for good absorption of the nutrients and facilitates proper bowel functioning. Its anti-inflammatory properties help soothe the stomach, dissolve fats instantly and alleviate heartburn and food allergies.
Fennel has been praised for its ability to decrease bloat, relieve cramping, reduce inflammation and boost immunity all of which aid the digestive process. Fennel contains volatile oils which are particularly beneficial for relieving gas, constipation and diarrhea. Some people with IBS have seen improvement from including fennel and fennel seeds in their diet.
Artichokes contain undigestible nutrients that work to feed the beneficial bacteria growth within your digestive system. Their ability to boost the production of digestive bile and to detox the body makes them an important food for nourishing the digestive tract and restoring proper gut health.