The 5 best food types to improve digestion
The digestive system plays a key part in our general health as it breaks down food into energy and nutrients that our bodies can use. Digestive problems can happen to anyone and may include bloating, gas, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and constipation. These are generally short-lived and can happen for a variety of reasons such as the occasional fry-up or a weekend heavy in alcohol. However, such problems can persist if you suffer from certain conditions such as Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and Crohn’s disease.
Either way, you can adjust your diet to ease uncomfortable symptoms and potentially diminish the risk of further issues. Some foods are particularly helpful in assisting the digestive system and ensuring healthy digestion:
Fermented products contain probiotics as a result of the fermentation process. Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that are naturally present in the gut and help improve the digestive process. Having more of these bacteria and a wide variety of them helps avoid digestion issues and can relieve the symptoms of digestive disorders such as IBS.
Healthy digestion can therefore be promoted by including fermented products in your diet, including:
- Tempeh – made from fermented soybeans
- Kimchi – fermented cabbage
- Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage
- Kefir – fermented milk drink
- Kombucha – fermented tea
- Yoghurt – fermented milk (does not always contain probiotics so it is advised to check the food label for probiotic content)
Unsaturated fats are considered ‘healthy fats’ as they constitute a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body and can therefore assist in the reduction of inflammatory gut problems and alleviating the symptoms associated with food intolerance.
Foods that are high in unsaturated fats can therefore help promote healthy digestion, and the best sources of such fats include:
- Oily fish – salmon, mackerel sardines
- Seeds – flaxseeds and chia seeds
- Nuts – particularly walnuts
- Plant oils – for instance, sunflower and olive oil
A diet rich in fibre is key to maintain a healthy bowel and improve digestion. A diet high in fibre helps reduce the risk of reflux, stomach ulcers, haemorrhoids, constipation and IBS. However, most people in the UK have a diet lacking fibre. You can get a good amount of fibre from a wide range of sources, including:
- Wholemeal/wholewheat bread
- Brown rice
- Fruit such as apples, oranges and bananas
- Vegetables such as potatoes, dark leafy greens, beetroot, beans, fennel and legumes (ideally with their skin on, as the skin contains a lot of fibre)
- Whole grains such as oats, farro and quinoa (although these may cause bloating in certain individuals)
The recommended daily dietary intake of fibre is 30g per day. However, it is also essential that plenty of fluids – ideally water – is also consumed as it plays a key role in digesting fibre and encouraging the passage of waste through the digestive system. A high intake of fibre without liquids can also lead to constipation.
Research has shown that ginger contains enzymes that help the body break up and expel gas, which aids speed up digestion and relieve any discomfort in the stomach. This entails a reduced risk of digestive problems such as constipation. Ginger has also been found to reduce the risk of heartburn and nausea, as well as morning sickness in pregnant women.
You can up your ginger intake by using ginger as an added spice in your cooking. However, the best form to consume ginger in is ginger root – which you can use in teas and juices.
Peppermint has been found to alleviate digestive problems due to the menthol content found in its leaves. In fact, it may reduce issues such as bloating, stomach discomfort, IBS, and bowel movement problems. It may also help speed up the digestive process by relaxing the stomach muscles.
You can increase your peppermint intake by drinking peppermint tea. However, peppermint oil is found to be more efficient in supporting the digestive system. You can add a few drops of peppermint oil to water, or take it as a supplement for instance in capsule form.