Do you have the following troubles- gas, stomachaches, constipation and diarrhea? These are common signs that your digestive system is off-kilter. But did you know that brittle hair and low energy can also point to tummy troubles? There are foods that support your good gut bacteria (mircobiome) while keeping your digestion track moving smoothly…
Here are 5 food types that can keep your digestive system working....
1: Dietary Fiber
Foods: Prunes, Berries, Apples, Lentils and Other beans...
Fiber keeps things moving through your digestive system. Otherwise, toxins, hormones and other substances will build up and be reabsorbed. A diet rich in fiber protects against colon cancer and cancers of the small intestine, according to a 2008 study in the Gastroenterology journal . It also keeps blood sugar on an even keel. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are all packed with healthy fiber. But when it comes to staying regular, prunes are the go-to fruit. Why? They have a mild laxative effect, but they’re also a great source of energy, nutrients and disease-fighting phenolic compounds.
Probiotics are those good bacteria or microbiome that you hear people raving about. Our intestinal flora, in fact, is made up of trillions of good bacteria that aid in digestion and promote healthy immune systems. The No. 1 probiotic food is yogurt-- most people associate this with the Activia (not a promotion) commercials. Please keep in mind that it is a dairy product most of the time but there are great alternatives for those that can't consume dairy. No matter if a yogurt is dairy or not, eating a yogurt calms digestive complaints. That’s because it contains live cultures, typically lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, that help lactose digestion. When choosing a yogurt, make sure the cultures are listed as “live” or “active” no matter if dairy or not. Yogurts with added fiber are even better. But steer clear of yogurts with a lot of sugar--fruit on the bottom etc. Sugar hurts your digestive health because it feeds the bad bacteria in your GI tract. Plain, unsweetened yogurt is best.
Foods: Lentils, Onions, Garlic, Bananas
Prebiotics help good bacteria thrive while driving down the number of disease-producing bacteria trying to invade the digestive tract. Fortunately, prebiotics are found in many foods. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin are two naturally occurring prebiotics in onions, garlic, leeks, legumes, bananas, asparagus, sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and more. Lentils, are a great source of prebiotics and dietary fiber. To help your body better use the iron found in lentils, prepare them with a vitamin C-rich food such as tomatoes or bell peppers.
4: Gluten-free grains
Foods: Quinoa, Oats, Millet, Buckwheat
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye which isn’t necessarily bad for you unless your gut and/or immune system reacts to the protein causing an intolerance and/or allergy. Regardless, many people, whether family history or ailment, feel better when they stop eating gluten. So expanding your grain repertoire is a good idea whether or not you’re gluten-intolerant or not. Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is an excellent option. This gluten-free grain is a complete protein, meaning it provides all eight essential amino acids that we need to gain from our dietary intake. It’s also fiber-rich and bursting with minerals. It cooks up like rice (two parts water to one part grain) and adds a unique texture (chewy yet crispy) to side salads, casseroles, soups and more.
5: Fermented foods
Foods: Sourdough, Tempeh, Miso, Kimchi, Sauerkraut
Sometimes your GI tract just needs a break. Fermented foods can be this solution. Fermenting also increases our absorption of the other nutrients too. Pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, tempeh and Japanese tamari or soy sauce are all easy-to-digest fermented foods. So is sourdough. It can sub in for wheat bread if you’re sensitive to gluten. Sourdough breads are often made with wheat flour, but the fermentation weakens the gluten. If you want to avoid wheat entirely, many grocery stores now offer 100% gluten-free sourdough- if you can find it.
Basically, a healthy digestive system begins with a healthy nutrient dense diet. There are foods that help improve digestion and there are foods that we should limit and/or avoid if possible when wanting to keep a healthy gut or to heal our guts. Food types to limit and/or avoid will be part II...so check back.
Furthermore, the foods you consume not only affect the gut function but also how you feel and other areas of your body too. So when deciding what to eat keep in mind that one of the best ways to a healthier you is by taking care of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Our gut is "home" to our most precious disease-fighting resource- the immune system. The majority of our immune system is in our digestive tract along with numerous neurotransmitters and nerve endings that are so important in maintaining our health and wellness. Remember food is medicine.. it's our first defense.
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Linnette Johnson, MS, MA, CNS, RALC, LDN
Board- Certified Nutrition Specialist
Certified Health & Wellness Coach
Registered Ayurveda Lifestyle Coach
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Doctoral Student In Training In Clinical Nutrition & Integrative Health
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