Foods to improve digestion – let’s start this off with a fun fact.
As humans, we need between 25-40 grams of fiber per day for optimal gut health. (1)
It’s said that our ancestors ate up to 100g of fiber per day.
Do you know how much fiber an average American consumes?
15 grams. (1)
It’s well-established that a lack of pre-biotic, and probiotic foods in your diet can lead to a whole host of health problems. These include constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, Chron’s disease, leaky gut, and others. (2)
To make matters worse, many people base their diets on junk food these days.
Processed sugars, man-made trans fats, meat that comes from an animal that ate grains and was injected with hormones…
When you consider this, it’s easy to see why we suffer from so many ailments.
Luckily, many of these problems are treatable and even preventable.
In this article, we’re going to focus specifically on gut health, showing you the 10 best foods to improve your digestion.
Ready to dive in?
Kefir is a dairy product that contains bacterial cultures.
It’s made by mixing starter kefir grains with milk. These grains ferment in milk, serving as a breeding ground for friendly bacteria.
Because of this, kefir is one of the best foods to improve digestion – even better than yogurt.
Multiple studies show that kefir causes an increase in healthy gut bacteria, while simultaneously reducing harmful bacteria. (3, 4)
Many of the friendly bacteria that kefir strengthens are important for your digestion. Therefore, by increasing these bacteria’s numbers, kefir indirectly improves the absorption of everything that you eat.
Not only that, but kefir also lowers inflammation in your gut. By doing so, it further aids the digestion process. (3)
You might be asking: “but what if I’m lactose intolerant? Can I still eat kefir?”
In most cases, the answer is yes!
The friendly bacteria in kefir digest the lactose for you. This prevents digestion issues such as bloating, gas, and stomach pains. (5, 6)
If you can’t eat kefir or any dairy, worry not!
Sauerkraut is just as, if not even richer in friendly bacteria.
If you’ve never heard of this food, it’s basically fermented cabbage.
And just like with dairy products, the fermentation of cabbage causes it to become the breeding ground for millions of friendly bacteria.
In fact, studies suggest that sauerkraut contains over 26 unique bacterial strains. Each of these has its own benefits for your gut. But that’s not all. (7, 8)
Sauerkraut also helps enzymes to break down foods into more digestible nutrients. As a result, it’s one of the best foods to improve digestion. (8)
Kale (And Other Leafy Greens)
Kale, much like many other leafy greens, is prebiotic.
Unlike probiotics (think kefir and sauerkraut), kale doesn’t bring new friendly bacteria into your gut.
Instead, it feeds the existing ones.
See, kale contains a lot of fiber. A good chunk of that fiber is insoluble and can’t be digested by your body; instead, good bacteria in your gut ferment it.
By feasting on this fiber, the friendly bacteria are able to breed and grow stronger. At the same time, the number of harmful bacteria and yeast reduces, resulting in healthy gut microflora.
A recent study found that green leafy veggies such as kale contain a specific type of sugar that your good bacteria loves more than anything. This sugar is shown to help with digestion while at the same time killing off bad bacteria in the gut. (9)
But this isn’t all. The insoluble fiber in kale also helps the stool to move through your digestive tract faster. (10)
On top of this, kale also contains a good dose of magnesium, a mineral that helps against constipation. (11, 12)
This makes kale one of the most effective foods to improve digestion.
Apples are another rich source of fiber. However, unlike leafy greens, apples contain soluble fiber in the form of pectin.
Pectin is important because it’s needed by the good bacteria in your colon. (13)
Once it gets there, your bacteria start feasting on it.
Not only that, but pectin also increases stool volume. This helps it move through the digestive tract and relieves constipation. (13)
Additionally, pectin also shows promises when it comes to reducing inflammation in the colon, along with decreasing the risk of gut infections. (14)
If you’re looking to increase your fiber intake, consuming flax seeds is one of the easiest ways to do it.
Just one tablespoon of these seeds has 3 grams of fiber. (15)
And the best part is, flax seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
They work in conjunction to feed your good bacteria in the gut, along with improving the regularity of bowel movements.
While soluble fiber slows down the digestion and regulates blood sugar and cholesterol. Insoluble fiber enables more water to bind in your intestines, resulting in softer stools. This can be of huge help if you suffer from constipation. (16, 17)
Last but not least, flax seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These act anti-inflammatory in your whole body, including the gut.
If you’re a fan of porridge, then you’ll be happy to know that oats are among the best foods to improve digestion.
This food contains a wide range of prebiotics in the form of soluble and insoluble fiber.
These offer multiple benefits, as we’ve discussed above.
For one, fiber improves the bulk of your stool, helping prevent constipation. Secondly, oats contain prebiotics that feeds your gut bacteria, therein positively affecting your overall digestion. (18, 19, 20)
If you have a damaged gut, bone broth is one of the best foods you can eat.
When you look at its properties, it’s easy to see why.
Bone broth contains gelatin, a derivative of glycine and glutamine.
These amino acids bind to fluids in your intestines where they help food pass more smoothly. (21)
Glutamine also protects and heals your gut cell lining. Since bone broth is a rich source of this amino acid, it’s one of the best foods to improve digestion, leaky gut, or any other gut issue you might have. (21, 22)
Ginger is one of the most used natural digestion medicines.
Many people use it to treat stomach sickness, but did you know that it also promotes food digestion? (23, 24, 25, 26)
That’s correct – ginger helps food pass quicker to your small intestine.
It does this by accelerating gastric emptying. In other words, ginger helps your stomach to digest the food faster, reducing the risk of nausea, heartburn, and other stomach issues.
Looking at overall health benefits, turmeric stands shoulder to shoulder against some of the healthiest foods and spices on Earth.
However, covering all of its benefits is out of the scope of this article. That’s why we’ll focus specifically on how turmeric benefits your gut.
So, how does it do it?
The answer is, through a number of mechanisms, the most important one being a reduction in inflammation.
The active ingredient in turmeric – curcumin – reduces inflammation at a molecular level. It does this by blocking the molecule called “NK-kB”. This molecule activates genes that trigger inflammation. It’s thought to be the culprit for many diseases, including gut inflammation. (27, 28, 29)
By rendering this molecule inactive, turmeric doesn’t just reduce inflammation. It stops it in its tracks. Some studies even show that turmeric is as effective as anti-inflammatory drugs you’d get from a doctor. (30, 31)
Because of these effects, turmeric can help heal any gut issues you might have, and in turn, help with nutrient absorption. That’s why it’s among the best foods to improve digestion.
There’s a small catch, though.
If you want turmeric to target inflammation in your gut, you should consume it without black pepper.
Many people advocate consuming turmeric with black pepper. Because pepper increases curcumin’s bioavailability in the blood.
However, by taking turmeric alone, it will end up in your intestines, where it will act anti-inflammatory. And that’s exactly where it needs to be.
Sardines are different than most foods on this list. In a sense that they don’t colonize your gut with new bacteria. They don’t even offer fiber to feed the existing bacteria.
So why are sardines on this list?
Because they reduce the inflammation in your gut.
See, sardines are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These include EPA and DHA, among others.
EPA and DHA are shown to drastically lower inflammation in the whole body – including your intestines. (32)
If you want proof, here’s a quote from a study published on PubMed:
“Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are n-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and fish oil supplements. These fatty acids are capable of partly inhibiting many aspects of inflammation. The anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving actions of EPA, DHA and their derivatives are of clinical relevance.” (32)
By reducing inflammation, sardines work to heal leaky gut, IBS, and even constipation.
More and more people suffer from digestive issues. Fortunately, there are many foods that can help ease uncomfortable symptoms of these ailments.
Studies show us that foods such as fermented kefir or sauerkraut increase the number of good bacteria in your gut while killing off bad bacteria and yeast. This results in improved digestion.
On the other hand, foods rich in fiber feed your existing friendly gut bacteria, helping them thrive and absorb nutrients properly.
There are also foods which directly reduce inflammation in the intestines, or even repair the gut lining. Best examples of this are turmeric, flax seeds, and bone broth.
By adding some of these foods into your diet, you will have a healthier, happier gut.
Fiber: How Much Do You Need? (source)
The role of dietary fiber in health and disease. (source)
Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. (source)
The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir. (source)
Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion. (source)
Milk kefir: nutritional, microbiological and health benefits. (source)
Bacteriophage ecology in commercial sauerkraut fermentations. (source)
Fermented Fruits and Vegetables of Asia: A Potential Source of Probiotics. (source)
YihQ is a sulfoquinovosidase that cleaves sulfoquinovosyl diacylglyceride sulfolipids. (source)
Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. (source)
Medical Management of Constipation. (source)
Association between dietary fiber, water, and magnesium intake and functional constipation among young Japanese women. (source)
Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health. (source)
[Health-promoting properties of pectin]. (source)
Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber. (source)
Flaxseed dietary fibers lower cholesterol and increase fecal fat excretion, but the magnitude of effect depend on food type. (source)
Flaxseed—a potential functional food source. (source)
Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta-analysis. (source)
Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. (source)
New hypotheses for the health-protective mechanisms of whole-grain cereals: what is beyond fibre? (source)
Glutamine and intestinal barrier function. (source)
Protection of gastric mucosal integrity by gelatin and simple proline-containing peptides. (source)
Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. (source)
A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. (source)
Effects of ginger on gastric emptying and motility in healthy humans. (source)
Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. (source)
Activation of Transcription Factor NF-κB Is Suppressed by Curcumin (Diferuloylmethane) (source).
Curcumin downregulates the constitutive activity of NF-kappaB and induces apoptosis in novel mouse melanoma cells. (source)
Efficacy of curcumin in the management of chronic anterior uveitis. (source)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-kappaB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. (source)
Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. (source)
Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. (source)