Have you ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat?” It’s true—and you are what you digest and absorb, too. You could be eating the healthiest food in the world, but if you are not able to break down your food efficiently and absorb the nutrients, then you are missing out on a big opportunity for nourishment.
The first place that many people look for digestive assistance is in the pharmacy or supplement section of a grocery store. But it hasn’t always been that way. Throughout history, different cultures have used various healing foods to aid the digestive process and other health ailments. If you are someone who experiences digestive issues such as bloating, gas, heartburn, acid reflux, constipation, loose stool, or diarrhea, it’s time to start using food as medicine to support a healthy intestinal tract.
Here are six of the best foods for digestion.
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that contains natural probiotics. These probiotics are particularly helpful for maintaining a healthy balance in your gut flora between the ”good” and ”bad” gut bacteria. Probiotic-rich foods help to feed your good bacteria, which can reduce bloating, gas, and other lower gastrointestinal discomforts. You can add one to two tablespoons of sauerkraut as a condiment to the side of eggs, meat, chicken, fish, or vegetables. Look for ”raw” sauerkraut in a glass jar that is kept in the refrigerator. The refrigeration helps preserve more of the healthy probiotic bacteria. Some other probiotic-rich foods to consider are coconut kefir (fermented dairy) and kimchi (pickled vegetables).
Bitters are not a familiar flavor or food group for most Western cultures. They help to stimulate several organs in the body, including the pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, and liver. Some bitters foods that you can try are dandelion root, arugula, radicchio, and raw cocoa. Bitters also come in tincture form and can be taken before meals to help with digestion.
Bone broth has been used for centuries to support digestion and immune function. There are a variety of different bone broths that you can use, including chicken, beef, and fish. It is similar to a traditional chicken (or beef or fish) stock, but it is prepared in a different way. Learn all about the preparation and how to make your own broth here, or purchase it at a health food store. You will know that it is a bone broth if the container’s contents are gelatinous at room temperature instead of liquid. When you heat up the broth it becomes liquid—like a soup. It is the collagen that is excreted from the bones of the animals that helps to heal the gut lining. Drink one to three cups of broth per day on its own or mix it with another soup.
Water is vital for so many essential functions in the body and is especially important for digestion. Staying hydrated helps to naturally soften the stool to facilitate proper elimination. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of chronic constipation. If you experience any symptoms of constipation, a great place to start is by increasing your water intake. If you have a hard time drinking water by itself, you can add lemon and/or cucumber to create an infused water for more flavor. Eating fruits and vegetables as part of your everyday diet will help to increase your water intake as well.
Vegetables and Leafy Greens
Vegetables and leafy greens contain insoluble fiber that supports healthy elimination. If you experience loose stools, experiment with eating cooked vegetables instead of raw vegetables to see if it helps to regulate your bowel movements. Dark leafy greens, spirulina, and sea vegetables also contain magnesium, which helps to support elimination.
Ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory properties that help to sooth the digestive tract. It’s not only tasty, but also serves as an anti-nausea agent for chemotherapy-induced nausea and for motion sickness. Ginger comes in two different forms: fresh ginger root or powdered ginger spice. Some ways that you can add ginger to your diet is by drinking ginger tea, or adding it to smoothies or stir-fry dishes.
As a bonus tip, one of the most important nutrients for optimal digestion is oxygen. Taking slow breaths before and during meals helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest-and-digest mode. When your body is more relaxed, you are able to digest your food more effectively, which can help you take advantage of all the wonderful healing foods mentioned above. Using mindful-eating techniques can help improve digestive function, which can help with bloating and constipation.
Start by adding one of these foods into your diet on a daily basis. By isolating one single dietary factor, you will be able to clearly identify which foods are helping to improve your digestion. For optimal results, you may want to also consider removing foods that are high in sugar, processed carbohydrates, and fried foods as these foods can be inflammatory for the digestive tract. It isn’t just what you eat, but also what you DON’T eat!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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