Did you know that the health of your gut could actually be a window into the rest of your health? In recent years, research has linked what happens along your digestive tract to a range of health outcomes ̵
When it comes to keeping your gut in tip-top shape, what you eat (or not) plays an important role.
“While there is no ‘right’ way to eat or a single ‘gut’ healthy diet, eating plant-based foods regularly will make you and your digestion good,” says Megan Rossi, Ph.D., RD, also known as Gut Health Doctor . “My tip when it comes to what you eat: diversify your diet,” she adds. Eating “a variety of foods means a variety of foods for the bacteria that naturally live in your gut – aka your gut microbiome,” says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD.
Although variety is key, eating enough high-fiber foods, which – no surprise – come from plants, can keep your digestive system regular (if you know what we mean!). Studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets lead to a more diverse and healthier gut microbiome than omnivorous diets. Lacey Dunn, MS, RDN, owner of Uplift Fit Nutrition also recommends “limiting your intake of processed foods, refined grains and artificial preservatives that can be irritating to your gut and cause indigestion.”
While no single food can create or destroy your digestive disease, there are some that come out on top when it comes to taking care of your gut. We’ve put together some of the best foods to include in your diet to support digestion – and how to use them.
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The best foods for digestion
“What I love about oats is that they are a prebiotic food, they are cheap, and they can be used for a variety of recipes, from your morning bowl of oatmeal to an ingredient in your banana bread,” Sauceda says. Prebiotics are essentially food for the good bacteria that live in your gut and keep your digestive system on track. Make one of our healthy oatmeal for breakfast. For a tasty option, try the Savory oatmeal with cheddar, collards and eggs.
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Sauerkraut and other fermented foods contain probiotics which help rebuild the inevitable loss of good bacteria in the gut (whether it is from stress, certain drugs or even environmental factors). Probiotics have been shown to reduce bloating, gas and other unwanted digestive symptoms. Just as eating a variety of foods is important for a healthy digestive system, so too is getting a variety of strains of probiotics (there are hundreds, if not thousands!).
An analysis showed that sauerkraut contains up to 28 different strains, which is more than you find in most other probiotic-rich foods or any supplement. And you do not need a lot of sauerkraut to get benefits; a serving is typically only 2 tablespoons and can be added to anything from sandwiches to cereal bowls. Try our apple, sauerkraut and cheddar quesadillas.
“Pineapple is not only a delicious fruit to enjoy, it can also support a healthy digestion due to the digestive enzyme it contains, called bromelain. Bromelain is known to break down proteins in the foods we eat, which helps to facilitate the digestive process and leave you less likely to feel gaseous and bloated, “says Kathleen Oswalt, RDN, owner of eatloveTRIATHLON. Bromelain has also been shown to counteract certain intestinal pathogens, reducing diarrhea and other digestive symptoms for some.
These small seeds are an incredible source of fiber. Just 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 11 grams of fiber, which is more than a third of the daily recommended amount. It is the soluble fiber that actually helps them make a pudding-like structure when soaked in a liquid, and the same fiber helps absorb water in the gut. “This type of fiber not only helps promote and support beneficial bacteria in the gut, it can also reduce constipation by promoting healthy, regular bowel movements,” says Oswalt. Try our Mango Coconut Chia pudding for a digestible breakfast or snack.
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“Apples contain a fiber called pectin, which is very subtle in the gut compared to others like chicory root or inulin, which can cause excessive bloating or stomach discomfort in those with pre-existing digestive conditions,” says Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD. Pectin has also been shown to provide protective benefits in the gut lining – potentially keeping out unwanted pathogens – and can improve the absorption of nutrients. All varieties offer similar benefits, so choose the ones you like best.
Beans, beans, the magic fruit … you know how the rest goes. But the slightly unpleasant side effect is actually a normal – and positive – response to eating a fiber called oligosaccharides. The fibers in beans are fermented by the good bacteria in the gut, which keeps them from doing their important job of letting nutrients into the bloodstream and keeping toxins out. “Mixed bean forms are one of my top staples. In fact, one of my best tips for increasing your fiber and plant diversity intake is to go for mixed beans with three or four different types instead of just the kidney beans,” Rossi says.
Broccoli, along with other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, has been linked to a better digestive system and the diversity of the gut microbiota. Cruciferous vegetables are also known to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and lower inflammation in the colon. It is hypothesized that intestinal fermentation of the prebiotic fiber in these vegetables helps to form short-chain fatty acids that can reduce inflammation. This can come with a side of gas, so if you do not regularly already eat cruciferous vegetables, add them to your diet in small amounts to start.
Bananas, especially those that are less ripe, contain resistant starch, which can feed the good bacteria in the gut and improve the gut microbiome. As they mature, the resistant starch turns to sugar, but there is still some beneficial starch. Bananas are such a versatile fruit, so get creative with how you eat them – for breakfast, as a pre-workout snack or dipped in chocolate or nut butter for dessert.
OK, so we know this is not technically a food, but we could not ignore the importance of hydration when it comes to healthy digestion. “Fluids work to break down the food you eat so your body can absorb these nutrients to keep you in good health,” says Oswalt. Water and fiber work together to keep you regular. “Fiber draws the fluid into the colon to help produce softer, larger stools that are easier to pass,” Oswalt explains. Sometimes, if people increase fiber intake too fast and do not drink enough water, they may also struggle with digestive symptoms. So drink up! Do you not love plain water? Try adding fresh fruit, citrus or some herbs to enhance the flavor.
The bottom line
A varied, plant-rich diet is the best way to support healthy digestion. However, adding these specific foods can give your gut a little extra boost. It’s also important to remember that “gut health is not just about what you eat. Sleep, stress and exercise can also have a big impact,” Rossi says. So take into account your entire lifestyle and make sure to tackle sleep, stress and movement in addition to food for the best digestive hygiene.