Skip Navigation
Search Menu
Healthy Woman

Nutrition & Fitness

5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion

Digestive problems, such as gas, constipation and diarrhea, affect millions, with 15 percent of people in Western countries experiencing a severe form of gut sensitivity called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

In this slideshow, Linda Lee, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center, shares five foods that promote healthier digestion and help you avoid common gastrointestinal symptoms.  

 
whole grain foods

Whole Grains

White or brown rice? Whole-wheat or white bread? “If you want your gut to work better, choose whole grains,” says Lee, adding that optimal colon function requires at least 25 grams of fiber daily. Compared to refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta, whole grains provide lots of fiber, as well as added nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids. “When gut bacteria ferment fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids,” Lee says. These molecules encourage proper function in the cells lining the colon, where 70 percent of our immune cells live. 

Despite the popularity of low-carb diets for weight loss, Lee says avoiding grains altogether may not be so great for the good gut bacteria that thrive on fiber. 

 
spinach and spinach smoothie

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, are excellent sources of fiber, as well as nutrients like folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin A. Research shows that leafy greens also contain a specific type of sugar that helps fuel growth of healthy gut bacteria.

“Eating a lot of fiber and leafy greens allows you to develop an ideal gut microbiome,” says Lee, referring to the trillions of organisms that live in the colon.

 
salmon

Lean Protein

People with IBS or bowel sensitivity should stick with lean proteins and avoid foods that are rich in fat, including fried foods.

“We know that high-fat foods can trigger contractions of the colon,” Lee says, noting that fat content is just one reason to avoid red meat. “Red meat also promotes colon bacteria that produce chemicals associated with an increased risk of clogging the arteries.”

 
fruit salad

Low-Fructose Fruits

“If you’re somebody who’s prone to gas and bloating, you may need to reduce your consumption of fructose, or fruit sugar,” says Lee, pointing out that foods like apples, pears and mango are all high in fructose. 

Berries and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, contain less fructose, making them easier to tolerate and less likely to cause gas. Bananas are another low-fructose fruit that are fiber-rich and contain inulin, a substance that stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the gut.

 
avocado

Avocado

Avocado is a superfood packed with fiber and essential nutrients, such as potassium, which helps promote healthy digestive function. It’s also a low-fructose food, so it’s less likely to cause gas. 

“Foods like nuts and avocados are really nutrient-dense,” says Lee. “They also have a lot of fat, so you have to eat them in moderation.”

Learn more about eating well for digestive health

You May Also Like

woman in sunglasses looking towards sun

How Does Vitamin D Affect Women’s Health?

Researchers think that Vitamin D has a potential role in a number of chronic diseases.

woman holding yogurt

Can Probiotics Improve Your Mood?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in foods like yogurt and kimchi.

Berry Good for Your Heart

Many kinds of berries are high in heart-healthy antioxidants. Meet some of the top varieties and get delicious ideas for enjoying them from a Johns Hopkins expert.