When it comes to nourishing our gut, nature has provided us with a number of foods that hold the key to a thriving digestive system. Supporting digestive health is important for a number of reasons. In this article, we’ll discover the importance of gut health, the best foods to support digestion, and some of the most common trigger foods. We will also shed light on a few key practices that you can implement to further enhance digestion.
Within our bodies, an extraordinary ecosystem of trillions of microbes resides in our gut, forming what is known as the microbiome. These microorganisms play a pivotal role in our digestive processes, aiding in nutrient absorption and facilitating smooth digestion.
But, the importance of our gut extends far beyond digestion alone. In fact, our gut microbiome holds the distinction of comprising the largest portion of our immune system, acting as a powerful defender against harmful pathogens. A well-functioning digestive system not only ensures efficient absorption of vital vitamins and minerals, but also promotes regularity and optimal energy levels, empowering us to thrive.
From vibrant fruits and vegetables to wholesome grains and probiotic-rich foods, each bite we take can be a step towards a happier, healthier gut. Let’s dive in and explore the top foods to support digestion!
Fiber is responsible for supporting regular bowel movements and aiding in healthy digestion. But, how exactly does fiber do this?
Well, dietary fiber refers to the indigestible portion of plant-based foods that the body is unable to absorb or digest. This means that it passes through the digestive system completely intact, moving stool and trapping other toxins throughout the digestive tract to be excreted. As an added bonus, when you consume foods high in fiber, you tend to feel fuller for longer periods of time.
And, fiber-rich whole grains are first on our list for supporting digestive health. Incorporating whole grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice into your meals can effectively support a well-functioning digestive system. Additionally, if you’d like to enhance your fiber intake further, consider Care/of’s Chia-Flax supplement, which can provide an additional fiber boost to your diet.
The recommended daily intake for fiber is around 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men, with a general guideline of 14 grams per 1000 calories consumed. It’s important to note that adequate hydration is essential when increasing fiber consumption to avoid any potential discomfort.
It’s a good idea to increase your fiber intake slowly. Consuming excess amounts can result in digestive discomfort, with some studies suggesting that fiber intake above 70 grams per day can cause discomfort until the gut microbiome properly adjusts.
Including a variety of fruits and vegetables in our diet ensures that we receive a wide spectrum of nutrients that are important for our digestive health. Like whole grains, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber. In addition, they are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are necessary for supporting every cell in our bodies.
The recommended servings of fruits and vegetables can vary depending on individual needs, but a general guideline is to aim for at least 5 servings per day. This can be achieved by incorporating a colorful assortment of fresh, frozen, or even canned fruits and vegetables into our meals and snacks. According to the guidelines from MyPlate, about half of your plate should consist of either fruits or vegetables!
When it comes to digestive health, everything leads back to the gut microbiome. Within this intricate ecosystem resides a diverse array of bacteria (both good and bad), whose delicate balance is crucial for optimal digestive function. The symbiotic relationship between our gut and its resident microbes directly impacts digestion. By maintaining this balance, our digestive system is able to operate at its absolute best, reducing symptoms of bloating, gas, and loose stools related to antibiotic use.
By incorporating probiotic-rich foods into our diet, we can keep the balance of these gut microbes in check. Yogurt and kefir are both rich in probiotics, meaning they contain the “good” bacteria that our gut needs to thrive.
Ginger and peppermint have been used as natural remedies for stomach discomfort for thousands of years. They are wonderful aids in soothing the stomach as they have calming properties that help to promote gut comfort. Ginger contains bioactive compounds that can help ease nausea related to pregnancy and aid in digestion. As for peppermint, it has been shown to relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, which can soothe indigestion, ease bloating, and relieve abdominal discomfort. Both ginger and peppermint can be consumed in the form of comforting teas.
For some individuals, high-fat animal meats and saturated fats can be difficult to digest, resulting in uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Alternatively, lean proteins and unsaturated fats are much easier for the body to digest and are better absorbed. Lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, tofu, and legumes are excellent sources of amino acids and are also easier for the body to break down than rich, fatty meats. A great way to support digestion of fats is adding in a digestive enzyme to help you break down your foods and absorb the nutrients.
Moreover, unsaturated fats found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil contribute to our digestive health by aiding in the absorption of fat based vitamins (think vitamin A, D, E, and K), as well as combining with fiber to ease bowel movements.
Aside from probiotics being able to enhance digestion and promote digestive comfort, they also have an influence on the immune system. It’s been found that approximately 70-80% of immune cells are associated with the gut mucosa. This allows probiotics the ability to communicate with and positively affect the immune system.
Furthermore, probiotics can also influence enzyme function, which in turn affects the absorption of nutrients. Some studies even suggest that certain probiotics can aid in the elimination of fat. Lastly, probiotics can also impact hormones related to metabolism, appetite, and even bowel movements, contributing to a more balanced and efficient digestive process.
For those who may not consume probiotic-rich foods or fermented foods regularly, incorporating probiotic supplementation can be an alternative route. Probiotic supplements provide a concentrated dose of specific strains of beneficial bacteria that can support digestive health and immune function. Notably, certain strains have been extensively researched for their immune-boosting and digestive benefits. These include Lactobacillus rhamnosus: GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus: LA-5, and Bifidobacterium lactis: BB-12. In fact, Care/of carries a probiotic supplement that contains a blend of all of these strains.
It’s important to be aware of individual trigger foods that may lead to feelings of bloating and discomfort. Let’s take a look at some of the most common culprits.
High-fat and fried foods are some of the most common culprits for bloating. However, not all fats are created equal. Some fats can be beneficial to our health, whereas others can be detrimental. For instance, avocados are a high-fat food that is a great source of heart-healthy fats. On the other hand, it’s recommended to steer clear of trans fats, as they have been associated with a higher potential for health problems.
To make the best dietary choices, it’s ideal to focus on consuming polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). PUFAs include essential omega-3 fatty acids which are crucial for heart and brain health. Since our bodies can’t produce omega-3s on their own, it’s important to obtain it through our diet. So, if getting enough omega-3s is a challenge for you, consider Care/of’s fish oil supplements or Care/of’s Veggie Omega capsules.
Something worth noting is that fat is the macronutrient that takes the longest to digest. This means it can remain in our digestive tract for an extended period, triggering digestive symptoms for some individuals. To support the digestion of high-fat meals, incorporating digestive enzymes can be helpful. These enzymes aid in breaking down food, facilitating nutrient absorption, and alleviating gas and indigestion.
Highly processed foods can pose significant challenges for our digestive system. When we think of ultra-processed foods (UPFs), the typical “junk foods” come to mind, but these UPFs encompass a wide range of products, including items marketed as healthy, such as light, vegan, organic, or even gluten-free products.
While there are benefits to some highly and ultra processed foods, what truly matters is the quality of the ingredients used. Studies have shown a correlation between a high consumption of ultra-processed foods and an increased potential for health risks. The general understanding is that as a food becomes more processed, it tends to lose vital nutrients, fiber, and beneficial compounds.
Caffeine has been found to be irritating for some individuals, especially when combined with certain ingredients, such as the acidity of coffee. Likewise, alcohol is a common irritant among many people. It can cause digestive upset by irritating the lining of the stomach. Furthermore, soft drinks, depending on their ingredients, can also be problematic. Excessive sugar or high-fructose corn syrup in these beverages can disrupt the balance of gut microbes, leading to bloating and digestive issues. As with many things, moderation is key when it comes to consuming any of these substances.
There are a few practices we can implement into our meal times to help further improve our digestive abilities. Let’s check out some easy and simple tricks to help optimize digestion.
Did you know that experts recommend chewing each bite of food 32 times? This may seem like a lot, but it has been associated with various benefits for your digestive system. By chewing more, you are allowing your teeth to grind up your food into smaller particles, facilitating better absorption of all the vitamins and minerals it contains. To practice this, try chewing each bite of food about 20-30 times, and then place your fork down between each bite.
Chewing more will not only help you improve absorption, but it will also help you slow down your eating. When you eat slower, you can pay more attention to the taste, aroma, and textures of the food, which can allow you to feel more satisfied at the end of your meal. Eating mindfully and slowly is also one of the best ways to prevent overeating.
Water is necessary for helping to break down food and for easier passage throughout the digestive tract. It aids in the absorption of nutrients, supports smooth movement of waste throughout the intestines, and works with fiber to promote regular bowel movements. Keeping a water bottle on you at all times throughout the day can help hold you accountable to drinking more water.
Preferences and tolerances for certain foods can vary from person to person. What works well for one individual may not be suitable for another. Therefore, it's important to consider any ingredients or food sensitivities you may have when planning your meals. If you're looking for easy-to-digest options, it's generally recommended to focus on simple, minimally processed foods.
Taking care of your gut and nourishing it with the right foods can have a positive effect on your entire body. From incorporating fiber-rich whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables to soothing your stomach with ginger and peppermint, there are numerous natural ways to support your digestive system. Likewise, lean proteins and unsaturated fats are easier for the body to digest than higher-fat meats and saturated fats. Also, including more probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi can help restore balance to the microbiome.
It's important to be mindful of common trigger foods for bloating and to choose minimally processed options over highly processed foods whenever possible. Lastly, staying hydrated and practicing mindful chewing can further promote optimal digestion.