Your digestive health is a bit like your household WiFi.
When it is working perfectly, you never really pay it any heed. This internal network efficiently takes whatever food you give it and breaks it down, keeping the vitamins and nutrients your body needs while getting rid of the rest. This whole process operates seamlessly and unnoticed, providing you with only the benefits of having a healthy body.
However, just like your WiFi, when gut health issues interrupt you network connectivity, it becomes an all-consuming problem. A digestive system that is not performing correctly can lead to various degrees of discomfort and many different symptoms. These can include:
There are also numerous, and sometimes chronic, conditions that may not be caused by an unhealthy gut but can be aggravated by it, such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Acid reflux/gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Chrohn’s disease
- Chronic fatigue
- Mental health issues
There are many factors that can adversely impact our digestive systems, and intolerances can differ from person to person; even the healthiest of people can experience gut issues. While there are no real hard and fast cures for gut health problems, there are definitely things that we can do to help, and one of those is eating right.
Sufficient exercise and rest play a part, but getting your diet right is key to maintaining a contented digestive system. Different foods do different things, but there are certain superfoods that are widely considered to be the most beneficial when it comes to keeping your digestion running smoothly.
To help you navigate through the maze of what and what not to add to your diet, here are some of the superfoods that have been proven to help with your digestive wellbeing.
1. Whole grains
While many popular diets would recommend that you steer clear of carbohydrates altogether, when eating for gut health, the advice could not be more different. Carbs in the form of whole grains are essential to avoiding digestive problems.
Whole grains have two main beneficial qualities. First, they are packed full of fiber, which helps to bulk up your stool and keep you regular (World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2012). Second, gut bacteria ferment fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids (Frontiers in Nutrition, 2019). These fatty acids, in turn, promote the function of the immune system cells lining the colon (Frontiers in Immunology, 2019).
When introducing whole grains to your diet, make sure that you are getting just that: the “whole” grain — 100% of the kernel. Foods like white bread and pasta generally only use part and, as such, are not as beneficial. Some foods you should consider are:
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat bread
2. Leafy green vegetables
While veggies may not be your personal favorite foodstuff, your gut has an insatiable want and need for them.
Similarly to whole grains, leafy greens provide your body with fiber, as well as magnesium, helping to counteract issues with constipation (Thieme Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery, 2012). They also contain sugar that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut (Nature Chemical Biology, 2016). Finally, they are excellent sources of folate and vitamins A, C and K, which both help aid digestion and protect against inflammatory bowel disease (World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2015).
If you are looking to increase the plant-based portion of your diet, a great place to start is with leafy greens like:
- Brussels sprouts
3. Fatty fish
Understandably, the association of fat with a healthy diet can initially be confusing. However, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been proven to help your digestive tract, and their absence in a diet has been linked to cases of inflammatory bowel disease (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2017).
Getting your recommended levels of fish oil is as simple picking up some supplements in your local grocery store — but if you want to get it from the source, you can start eating more fatty fish, such as:
4. Low-fructose fruit
Fructose is a sugar that naturally occurs in fruit. Usually, this sugar is absorbed by the small intestine during the digestive process. However, if you have a fructose intolerance, it can travel as far as the colon, where it is fermented by bacteria. At best, this can cause some excess flatulence (Mayo Clinic), and at worst, it can lead to bloating, pain and diarrhea (Mayo Clinic).
This does not mean that you should avoid including fruit in your diet, though. Fruits can be an easy source of gut-friendly fiber, as well as inulin, a prebiotic known to improve gastrointestinal health (Nutrients, 2013). The key is to favor fruits with a low fructose content, allowing you to get the benefits of fruit without any adverse side effects. Try filling up your fruit bowl with:
When researching healthy foods and diets, you will see numerous references to probiotics. These are what are commonly referred to as “good” or “friendly” bacteria, and rightly so. Probiotics live inside your digestive tract, helping to create a balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiome, which goes a long way in aiding digestive health (ISRN Nutrition, 2013).
While probiotics naturally occur in your gut, it can never hurt to give them a boost, and yogurt can do the trick — specifically, yogurt that contains live and active cultures, which are known to help with many issues, such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Probiotics have also been shown to improve lactose digestion (Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2007).
Our digestive health can have a significant impact on our overall wellbeing. Problems associated with gut health can cause pain and discomfort of varying degrees, including anything from short-term issues to chronic conditions. However, simple changes and additions to your diet can go a long way in helping your gastrointestinal tract run as smoothly as possible.