A heart-shaped bowl of colorful berries.
A heart-shaped bowl of colorful berries.
A heart-shaped bowl of colorful berries.

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 article, Linda Lee, M.D. , shares five foods that promote healthier digestion and help you avoid common gastrointestinal symptoms.

healthy-grains

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 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.

woman with a glass of orange juice

The Brain-Gut Connection

If you’ve ever “gone with your gut” to make a decision or felt “butterflies in your stomach” when nervous, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.

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.”

Heart Berries

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.

guacamole-fats

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.”

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