14 Best Foods for Digestion
There are many reasons why we might have tummy troubles from time to time. From minor gastrointestinal infections to food intolerances to more serious diseases, digestive conditions can affect millions of people around the world. Fortunately, as food must pass through our digestive tract there are many things we can consume to help our gut along the way. These best foods for digestion, which are commonly available at most grocery stores, are comforting and very delicious!
14 Best Foods for Digestion
Image: Dominik Martin via Unsplash
Ginger contains compounds called gingerols, which block pro-inflammatory compounds and can lessen pain. Ginger is also a great remedy for gastrointestinal upset and nausea, plus it has anti-cancer properties and is a fabulous food to eat when you’re sick.
A simple, digestive-friendly way to enjoy ginger is grating it fresh into hot water with lemon and a bit of raw honey.
Turmeric is a highly anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer spice to consider adding to your pantry. One of is main constituents, called curcumin, can help protect the gastrointestinal lining, positively impact gut bacteria and shows promise as a treatment for many gastric disorders like inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.
Due to its strong flavour, start off consuming small amounts of turmeric (about 1/8 tsp) and work your way up. It’s a great spice to add to teas, dairy-free elixirs and dairy-free nut or seed milk.
Image: Monika Grabkowska via Unsplash
Fermented foods are one of the best foods for digestion as they are rich in probiotics, which introduce favourable bacteria into the gut and help to fortify the intestinal lining. There are many different probiotic strains which have been studied for their ability to benefit inflammatory bowel diseases, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, and gastrointestinal infections caused by pathogens. As 70 percent of our immune system is found in gut tissue, fermented foods can also help to boost immunity.
The fermented foods we love include:
- Pickles and Fermented Vegetables
- Dairy-Free Yogurt
- Water Kefir
Fermented foods are straightforward to make at home once you learn the basics, and homemade versions allow you to control exactly what goes into your ferments – especially the type and amount of sugar. It also ensures you are actually cultivating probiotic cultures through true fermentation (as opposed to vinegar-based options, which are tangy but don’t contain probiotics).
Image: Brenda Godinez via Unsplash
When soaked in water, chia seeds become mucilaginous or ‘goopy’ and this is extremely soothing to the digestive tract. Chia seeds are rich in fibre, which helps to reduce constipation and encourage beneficial bacteria in the gut, as well as omega-3 fatty acids that reduce intestinal inflammation. They also are a good source of magnesium, a fantastic nutrient that relaxes intestinal muscles, and protein for gut healing and repair.
Use chia seeds in a chia pudding, add them to dairy-free smoothies, toss them in oatmeal or porridge, or use them to amp up your nut and seed butter.
Broth (Bone Broth or Vegetable Broth)
Broths are one of the best foods for digestion because they are simple to digest, comforting, wonderful for boosting the immune system, hydrating (which is handy if you have been suffering from diarrhea), and easy to enhance with more nutrition by adding vegetables, herbs, spices, sea vegetables, medicinal mushrooms and culinary adaptogens.
If you choose to consume bone broth, it contains amino acids (protein) for healing and repair, and also promotes the flow of gastric juices.
Get the full lowdown on how to create nutritious broths and stocks here.
Image: Louis Hansel via Unsplash
Who doesn’t love sweet potatoes? They are an absolutely delicious root vegetable that contain a wealth of Vitamin A, a nutrient that is key for maintaining and healing the intestinal barrier, as well as supporting a healthy immune system. Sweet potatoes have a specific kind of antioxidant called anthocyanins, which may play an important role in colon cancer prevention.
Sweet potatoes are simple to digest and emerging research on animals show that they can even trigger digestive enzymes.
We love sweet potatoes in almost every dish, from soups, stews and other one-pot meals to gluten-free baked goods. They are also wonderful roasted or mashed all on their own!
Winter squashes have cucurbitacins, which inhibit the production of enzymes that lead to inflammation. They are loaded with immune-enhancing vitamins A and C, plus they are a good source of fibre for digestive health. Learn more about the different squash varieties and why they’re so awesome in this Guide to Winter Squash.
You’ll also find loads of delicious recipe inspiration from these 20 Best Winter Squash Recipes.
Image: Micheile Henderson via Unsplash
Wild salmon contains protein for gut healing and repair, omega-3 fats to reduce inflammation, and Vitamin D which is essential for good immune function and autoimmune disease prevention. Emerging research also shows that omega-3s can have a prebiotic effect on the gut, making positive changes to its bacterial composition.
The source of your fish is important – this is a great sustainable seafood guide to help you when shopping at the fish counter.
Apples are rich in array of nutrients, most notably polyphenols, which can help protect the gut and has anti-cancer properties. They also contain digestive-enhancing soluble and insoluble fibre and research shows that these fibres – especially pectin – help produce beneficial bacteria in the colon. Cooking and blending apples into applesauce makes these fibres much easier to digest.
If you have a strong blender or food processor, you can keep the peel on when making applesauce and you can enhance the flavour with spices like ginger and cinnamon.
A compound found in pineapple called bromelain helps us to better digest proteins, which reduces indigestion and acid reflux. It dampens inflammation and pain as well and can address the effects of diarrhea caused by certain pathogens like E. coli. You can enjoy pineapple on its own, or blend it into an anti-inflammatory smoothie or smoothie bowl. Ensure you include some of the pineapple stem too, as that is where much of the bromelain is concentrated.
Image: congerdesign via Pixabay
Mint helps to relax our intestinal muscles, reducing spasms and pain, and it relieves bloating and gas. It can help address a variety of gastrointestinal conditions, but is often used in irritable bowel syndrome to diminish symptoms and abdominal pain.
You can use different varieties of mint (peppermint, spearmint, etc.), either fresh or dried. We love pairing mint with cacao powder in hot chocolate recipes, or you can simply steep the leaves in hot water.
We adore mushrooms for their anti-cancer properties, energy-enhancing B vitamins, Vitamin D, and fibre for gut health. They also contain immune-boosting and modulating polysaccharides called beta-glucans, anti-inflammatory compounds and zinc, which helps improve the function of the intestinal barrier (zinc deficiencies may also lead to gastrointestinal diseases). As a sweet bonus, mushrooms are a food that you can grow indoors!
If you’re confused about the different varieties of mushrooms, grab our guide to mushrooms and how to use them.
This healthy cooking oil, mainly containing medium-chain fats, is easy for us to digest and use. Coconut oil is anti-inflammatory and contains lauric acid, an anti-microbial and anti-bacterial fatty acid that can help prevent harmful bacteria from growing in the digestive tract.
Coconut oil can be used as a cooking/baking oil, or you can add it to dairy-free elixir recipes. Have you ever tried buying a whole coconut? You can discover how to use all of the good bits of the coconut here.
Fennel enhances digestion by reducing bloating and gas, and can help reduce abdominal pain and symptoms of IBS. You can try consuming fresh fennel (you may want to cook it first) or steeping the seeds into herbal tea recipes.
Foods to Avoid for Good Digestion
When looking at the best foods for digestion, it’s equally important to eliminate the foods that aggravate the digestive tract and impede digestive healing.
Gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye, is linked to gut inflammation and can damage the intestinal wall, causing food particles to break through into the bloodstream where they don’t belong, leading to an immune response. Discover more about the negative effects of gluten in this podcast episode.
Dairy products, especially cow dairy, can be difficult to digest. Many of us don’t produce the lactase enzyme required to digest the lactose in milk and this may lead to poor digestion and bloating, gas or cramps. Some people react to the proteins in milk like whey and casein – and casein is actually similar in structure to gluten.
White, refined sugars boost our body’s production of inflammatory chemicals and contributes to dysbiosis in the gut, which is an imbalance of bacteria (and the sugar typically causes the harmful bacteria to proliferate). Craving something sweet? Try one of these natural sweeteners instead.
Alcoholic beverages disrupt the bacteria in the gut, leading to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. If you’re looking for a good cocktail, these healthy mocktails are sure to do the trick.
Coffee can cause the stomach to release its contents prematurely, which may lead to impaired digestion down the line. Coffee can also interfere with our hormones, leaving us stressed out. Stress, whether physical or emotional, impairs digestion.
helpful Habits to Enhance Digestion
Digestion has a specific flow and order, and skipping steps can impede what happens later on. Mechanical digestion happens in the mouth, so we need to chew well to ensure everything is broken down and can trigger the hormones that signal the next part of the digestive cascade. Chew more times than you think you need to!
Eating at a Table
Focusing your attention on the food while sitting at a table can help enhance your digestion. When you can, sit down at a table and eat rather than consuming food in front of the TV, in your car, or while standing up.
Relax and Take Your Time
We often rush through eating, as sometimes we feel we don’t have the time to enjoy a meal or that taking time to eat is somehow unproductive or wasteful. Nothing could be further from the truth! You don’t have to take a three-hour lunch, but try to relax while eating – when we are in a relaxed state our nervous system helps us digest more effectively. When our bodies are stressed, digestion isn’t a priority.
Eat With Other People
The social aspect of eating with others not only aids digestion, but also enhances bonding and helps us maintain a healthy weight. Family meals have benefits for children and teens, too, improving self-esteem and reducing violent behaviours, eating disorders, substance abuse, depression and suicide.
Digestive Enzymes or Bitters
These supplements can provide a little extra help if you are struggling with digestion. We love this blend of digestive bitters!
Eating for good digestion is a multi-faceted process and it takes time to learn what foods do or don’t work for your body. Experiment with these best foods for digestion as a starting point and add or subtract foods as you need.
More Wisdom from our Experts
If you’ve ever experienced a burning sensation in your chest after you eat, you’re certainly not alone. Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is…Read More
In culinary nutrition, we talk a lot about digestion, but there’s one phase of digestion that nobody ever seems to talk about. It also happens…Read More
Cultures around the world have used fermentation for thousands of years, and each region has its own fermented specialty. From tempeh to kimchi to kefir…Read More
Many students who come through the virtual doors of the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program are confused about what to eat. There are a wide range…Read More
We all feel blue from time to time, and food can play an important role in helping us lift our mood and improve our outlook…Read More
Tea is one of our favourite beverages. On a cold, blustery day, a hot cup of tea is warm and soothing, while in the throes…Read More
4 responses to “14 Best Foods for Digestion”
I love chia seeds and sweet potatoes. I feel like I can’t get enough of them. Separately, of course. Haha
By the way, what do you guys think of the comprehensive stool analysis tests to determine what one should eat more or less of?
I watched this Youtube video by Eric Bakker and he’s all for these tests. I trust Dr Bakker’s opinion since he did wonders for me and helped me get rid of my candida issues. Anyway, here’s the video if someone’s interested – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOspDcp1cOk
Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for your comment – we love chia and sweet potatoes, too. The type of tests people need, including stool tests, will depend on their unique health situation and history, it’s not ‘one size fits all’. With any kind of testing, we recommend working with a health care practitioner who can help to interpret the results and create an action plan. A stool test isn’t helpful if you don’t know what the results mean, and if you aren’t willing to make changes based on that information.
You mentioned that dairy is to food to avoid. What about yogurt and especially greek yogurt? I thought it was beneficial to the digestion.
Hi Lana! If someone is struggling with digestion, it’s likely they wouldn’t be able to tolerate yogurt or Greek yogurt as well. If someone is looking to yogurt as a source of probiotics, a cultured dairy-free yogurt has beneficial bacteria, as do the other fermented foods mentioned in this post.
If you’re looking for more information about dairy and its health impacts, you can check out this podcast episode: https://www.culinarynutrition.com/is-dairy-healthful-or-harmful/ and this blog post: https://www.culinarynutrition.com/5-tricks-to-ditching-dairy-for-good/