Health and longevity starts in the gut. But your gut needs help. You need to provide your gut with the building blocks in order to improve digestion.
Great digestion means you’re absorbing all the nutrients from food.
Here are some foods that will improve your digestive health to keep your gut happy.
Most of you know the old adage, drink ginger ale when you have a stomach ache then all is better. There is a ton of merit to this!
Fun fact about ginger, it belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, alongside cardamom and turmeric.
Ginger has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years for the treatment of colds, nausea, arthritis, migraines and hypertension.
In addition to the digestive benefits of ginger, it’s also been used to treat cardiovascular disease, some cancers, pain and inflammatory conditions (1).
However the most well establishment use for ginger is for reducing nausea.
The unique blend of compounds in ginger help stimulate your digestion. It does this by accelerating gastric emptying which relieves any gastrointestinal (GI) issues (2).
Basic ginger gets things moving in your GI tract so that you can digest food properly.
Fresh ginger can be chopped or crushed in savory dishes like curry or dried / crystallized in sweets.
Dried ginger powder is great for flavoring meals. Choose an organic ginger root powder.
If you have time, fresh ginger minced or cut finely makes for a great tea. Just steep like you would a tea bag.
If my stomach is off, I’ll usually throw some (half a thumb size) chopped raw ginger in whatever food I’m eating. Not recommended on an empty stomach.
Vegetables in all shapes and sizes
As if you needed another reason to eat your vegetables. Some may taste questionable to you, but vegetables are a great source of nutrients and fiber, both of which aid digestion.
Vegetables have both soluble and insoluble fiber.
You want a variety of starchy and non-starchy vegetables prepared in different ways as both fiber types have digestive benefits.
This helps feed your gut bacteria with a variety of prebiotics to feast on. Prebiotics help grow the good bacteria in your gut.
Insoluble fiber comes mostly from dark leafy green vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are also packed with nutrients and antioxidants that help your digestion.
Insoluble fiber keeps you regular. Why? Because it does not dissolve in water. These food sources pass through your gut without taking up long term residence.
Just be careful to not overdo it with insoluble fiber.
You may think you’re getting tons of nutrients. But too much of a good thing is bad in this case.
If you have an inflamed gut or GI distress, large amounts of leafy green vegetables (insoluble) will further disrupt things.
Soluble fiber is found in root vegetables and more starchy plants like brussels sprouts, yams, turnips and carrots. Unlike insoluble, soluble fiber draws water into your gut.
Soluble fiber gently sweeps things through our digestive system, often forming a gel.
This helps to soften your bowel movements and provides a great bacteria source for your large intestine (3).
Start slow and prepare the vegetables correctly when looking to increase your soluble and insoluble fiber intake.
You don’t want to nuke the system (and your toilet) by going from 5g to 30g of of raw fiber sources per day. Not advised. Gradually build up and drink water.
If you have stomach distress with raw foods then it’s best to gently steam, sauté or roast your vegetables.
Better yet you can cook the vegetables in broth to make a soup. This way you limit the nutrient loss from cooking since you’re drinking the broth anyways.
Sauerkraut and kimchi
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi are full of natural probiotics. Probiotics are naturally helpful live bacteria that provide powerful health benefits (4).
They’re a great way to maintain your digestive health by complementing your existing gut bacteria or flora.
Gut bacteria is important is it is your first defence against potentially harmful toxins you ingest from food and the environment.
Probiotics like those in kimchi and sauerkraut also directly improve digestion (5).
They also increase your gut’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, helping to make foods more digestible (6).
How does fermentation work?
Yeast and bacteria found in vegetables like cabbage are exposed to your hands and the air.
Probiotics feed off the naturally occurring sugar and fiber in the cabbage. Gradually the probiotics in the jar converts these sugars into organic acids and CO2.
The cabbage, the jar and time creates perfect conditions for the growth of gut healing probiotics.
If you are going to eat any fermented food for probiotic benefits, make sure they are not pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the bacteria, rendering them useless.
Pasteurization is a method to preserve foods using heat or pressure so that they can be shelf stable.
A good rule of thumb if you’re purchasing fermented vegetables is to ensure it’s at least in the fridge section of the market.
From there you want to read labels. Avoid products with added preservatives or sugar. Ingredients should be very short: cabbage, salt.
You can look for something like “live and active cultures” on the label to be sure.
Kefir is a rather thick fermented probiotic drink. It’s fermented by adding milk to kefir grains.
The great thing about kefir is that you can ferment it with coconut milk or water if you’re out on dairy like me.
There was a point a couple years ago when I made coconut milk kefir every week or so.
The grains multiply with each fermentation. Meaning you can give some to a friend who shares your fermentation habits. Maybe don’t bring to a potluck.
Kefir is one of the most probiotic rich foods available to you and I. The gut and digestive health benefits are well researched.
I’ll mention that if you tolerate dairy then yogurt is a source of probiotics. Most yogurt is pasteurized contains added sugar, so I didn’t recommend it. Kefir is superior.
Finally, bone broth has the right amino acids to help your digestion by making your GI tract and gut lining more resilient.
Two amino acids in bone broth that improve digestion are glutamine and glycine. Glutamine is shown to help repair the cells in your gut when damaged (11).
Glycine makes up one third of properly made bone broth. It helps regulate inflammation in your small intestine, stomach and GI tract (12).
Glycine reduces inflammation by rebuilding connective tissue in your gut. It literally protects your intestinal cells from unwanted toxins from poorly digested food (13).
The most promising part of glycine is the research showing it to be useful to manage Crohn’s disease, colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (13).
There’s 5 food that will help improve your digestive health. Adding food is great, but removing damaging foods may provide more benefits.
Alcohol in large quantities, refined sugar and industrial seed oils are the main culprits that we need to consume less of.
Want more foods that are good for you? Read our list of 7 superfoods for healthy skin. It's a companion piece to this one!
Over to you!
What are your favourite foods for digestion?
Images via Dominik Martin, Pille Riin Priske, unsplash. Ajale from Pixabay.
Disclaimer: this information is for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the FDA or CFIA. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your primary care physician for advice on any of this.