Bloat, tummy aches, gas, indigestion … a hitch in your digestive system can really wreck your day. Healthy habits like sticking to routine mealtimes, having smaller meals, eating slowly, and managing your stress levels can help keep your digestive system running smoothly.1 And, naturally, what you eat also has a significant effect on your digestive health. Keep that queasy tummy at bay with these foods which are good for digestion.
Papaya contains an enzyme called papain which helps break down and digest protein. This fruit is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals. It tastes great with a little lime juice squeezed over it or as a topping for rice pudding. You can also mix in other fruits to make a fruit salad and make it count toward your daily serving of fruit and veggies.2
Yogurt is a no-brainer when it comes to your digestive health. In fact, fermented milk products may have been used to remedy diseases of the digestive tract by even the ancient Romans. Yogurt contains good bacteria or probiotics that help your digestive system. These organisms can break down fat and protein and improve digestion as well as the absorption of nutrients and food. Probiotics also benefit you in other ways such as improving the functioning of your immune system and protecting against germs that cause infections.3
Artichokes might not find a regular place on your dinner menu but here’s one reason you should be having them more often. They contain a fiber known as inulin which encourages the growth of good bacteria or probiotics in your gut – a process known as prebiotic activity.4 And as we just saw, probiotics can help keep your digestive system running smoothly.
Artichokes also contain insoluble fiber which helps food pass through your digestive system and encourages bowel regularity. But do keep in mind that it’s important to drink sufficient fluids with fiber since it absorbs fluids as it passes through your digestive system. And take care to increase your consumption of high fiber foods gradually – otherwise, it can lead to bloating and gas.
Banana is another fiber-rich food that contains inulin and can, therefore, promote the growth of good bacteria.5 But that’s not all. Bananas can also trigger the production of mucus that protects your stomach lining from gastric acid. This acid can irritate it and cause heartburn or an upset tummy.6
Adopt the ayurvedic practice of having a piece of ginger with some drops of lemon juice before your meals to keep your digestive system humming along smoothly. You can also have a cup of ginger tea to deal with indigestion and flatulence.
Ginger improves intestinal movements that help digestion. A delay in the emptying of the stomach is thought to play a part in indigestion. According to research, having ginger before a meal can hasten the emptying of your stomach and help with this condition.7 8 9
6. Whole Grains
Torn between white bread and whole wheat bread? Choose whole wheat and your gut will thank you for it. Not only are whole grains more nutritious, they also contain more fiber than refined carbs.10 And as we saw, fiber can make you regular and fuel the growth of bacteria that help with digestion.
7. Leafy Greens
You already know that leafy greens like kale and spinach are chock-full of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, and folate. But that’s not all they have to offer. Studies show that leafy vegetables contain inulin and help promote the growth of probiotic bacteria.11 So load up on these nutritious digestive aids to keep your gut happy and your body healthy.12
Turmeric is a spice that’s widely used in Southeast Asian communities. Curcumin, a compound present in it, triggers the production of bile by the gall bladder, which then helps enhance digestion. Research has also found that turmeric can reduce gas and bloating in those suffering from indigestion.13 Spice up your curries and stews with potent turmeric. Or try a cup of healing turmeric tea every day.
Pineapples contain a digestive enzyme called bromelain which helps to break down protein. They are also a good source of nutrients like manganese and vitamin C, making them a nourishing digestive aid. This juicy fruit can be used in sweet as well as savory dishes. So add it to noodles, dice up into a salsa, or use it as a pizza topping – the sweet pineapple can make almost anything taste better!14 15
Does fatty food make your digestive system groan in protest? Try coconut oil. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are mostly medium-chain triglycerides which are processed more efficiently by your body and don’t strain your gall bladder. Moreover, lauric acid present in coconut oil may fight off harmful bacteria and keep your gut healthy.16 To top it all, animal studies have found that medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil may actually promote the digestion of fat by enhancing enzyme activities associated with fat metabolism.17
Asafetida is typically roasted in a little oil along with other spices and added to curries. But remember to use just a pinch of hing in your dishes – this spice can easily overpower other flavors if you use too much of it.
Asafetida or hing is the sap of the asafetida plant. And this spice is commonly recommended in ayurveda as a digestive aid. It is thought to help awaken the digestive agni and tone the digestive system.18
Special Diets May Be Required For Certain Digestive Problems
While these foods can help keep your digestive system healthy, if you have a specific digestive disorder you may need to tailor your diet to suit it. For instance, people with celiac disease may need to avoid gluten while those with lactose intolerance may need to limit dairy products. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, your doctor may advise you to follow a low FODMAP diet. This means limiting certain foods like rye, wheat, mangoes, pears, artichokes etc. which contain carbohydrates that are hard to digest.19 20
|↑1||Keeping Your Gut in Check. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2, ↑14||Roxas, Mario. “The role of enzyme supplementation in digestive disorders.” Altern Med Rev 13, no. 4 (2008): 307-14.|
|↑3||The benefits of probiotics bacteria. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑4||Fissore, Eliana N., Cinthia Santo Domingo, Lía N. Gerschenson, and Leda Giannuzzi. “A study of the effect of dietary fiber fractions obtained from artichoke (Cynara cardunculus L. var. scolymus) on the growth of intestinal bacteria associated with health.” Food & function 6, no. 5 (2015): 1667-1674.|
|↑5||Slavin, Joanne. “Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits.” Nutrients 5, no. 4 (2013): 1417-1435.|
|↑6||Bananas and nausea. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Ginger. University of Michigan.|
|↑8||Hu, Ming-Luen, Christophan K. Rayner, Keng-Liang Wu, Seng-Kee Chuah, Wei-Chen Tai, Yeh-Pin Chou, Yi-Chun Chiu, King-Wah Chiu, and Tsung-Hui Hu. “Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia.” World J Gastroenterol 17, no. 1 (2011): 105-10.|
|↑9||Camilleri, Michael. “Does delayed gastric emptying really cause symptoms in functional dyspepsia?.” Gut 55, no. 7 (2006): 909-910.|
|↑10||5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion. The John Hopkins University.|
|↑11||Kassim, Muhammad Arshad, Himansu Baijnath, and Bharti Odhav. “Effect of traditional leafy vegetables on the growth of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.” International journal of food sciences and nutrition 65, no. 8 (2014): 977-980.|
|↑12||5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion. The John Hopkins University.|
|↑13||Turmeric. University of Maryland.|
|↑15||Pineapple. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑16||What to eat for… Better digestion. British Broadcasting Corporation.|
|↑17||Wang, Jianhong, Xiaoxiao Wang, Juntao Li, Yiqiang Chen, Wenjun Yang, and Liying Zhang. “Effects of dietary coconut oil as a medium-chain fatty acid source on performance, carcass composition and serum lipids in male broilers.” Asian-Australasian journal of animal sciences 28, no. 2 (2015): 223.|
|↑18||Balance Agni for Better Digestion. The Yoga Journal.|
|↑19||Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Gas in the Digestive Tract. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑20||Try a FODMAPs diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome. Harvard Health Publications.|