A healthy digestive system is one of the most important measures in reaching great health. If we’re not breaking down our food properly then we won’t be able to absorb it properly, leading to all kinds of macro and micronutrient deficiencies. Not only that, poor digestion can also lead to all kinds of unpleasant and even embarrassing symptoms - so optimising your digestive health really is a key starting point to ALL nutrition or healthy eating programmes.
Remember that digestion doesn’t start in the gut, it actually starts long before that in the mouth. When preparing your meal or thinking about food, digestive enzymes are stimulated so food can start to be broken down as soon as it enters your mouth. Ever wondered why we ‘salivate’ when we think about yummy food? Here are my 6 top foods for better digestive health:
Not only has fennel long been used as a cooking spice in cuisines all around the world, but it has also been used more traditionally as a digestive aid. Fennel seeds contain phytonutrients thought to
have antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties - which is great for anyone that suffers with bloating, gas, stomach cramps, flatulence or problematic bowel movements; all typical IBS type symptoms. Eat raw fennel, drink fennel tea OR chew on ½ teaspoon fennel seeds post dinner to help ease these symptoms.
Try: I love the product DigestZen oil from DoTerra; it doesn’t just strictly contain fennel, but a combination of herbs and spices that aid digestion and maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Simply one drop in a small glass of water following a meal will suffice - or mix two drops with a massage oil such as coconut or almond and rub onto the stomach in a clockwise motion before bedtime.
2. Bone Broth
This is a particular favourite of mine for its many health promoting properties - but in the case of digestion it may also help to improve gut integrity and digestive function by repairing the gut lining, which can very often be weakened by modern day diets. This is because bone broth contains gelatin, which is rich in amino acids such as proline and glycine that help to protect and restore gut lining - therefore strengthening the digestive system. Bone broth is also incredibly easy for the body to absorb and is thought to be one of the most healing foods for the digestive tract.
Try: Daylesford Organic Bone Broth , £3.99, or make your own at home.
Sauerkraut is a fermented food considered to have probiotic properties . Probiotic foods or fermented foods are those which contain-live friendly bacteria and help to maintain a healthy gut. Sauerkraut is from the cabbage family that naturally contains the friendly bacteria, Lactobacilli Plantarum, which promotes better digestive health by helping with IBS type symptoms and bloating. It’s also commonly used to support inflammatory bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease. By increasing your intake of fermented foods, levels of probiotic bacteria increase and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria, whilst playing a role in eliminating pathogens, therefore maintaining the natural balance of the gut to allow it to do its basic job of digestion and absorption more efficiently.
Try: If fermented foods aren’t your thing then try taking a probiotic supplement such as Biocare’s Bioacidophilus , £22.30, for maintenance. Good supplements tend to be on the expensive side, hence why sauerkraut and other fermented foods are a much more budget friendly way of consuming probiotic bacteria.
Chia is a source of soluble fibre and can be particularly helpful for people who suffer with constipation. Soluble fibre helps by stimulating the motility of the digestive tract as well as giving stools a looser consistency so things can move along more efficiently. Chia works by swelling when water is added to it and forms a gel-like substance, so you can imagine when this occurs in the digestive tract it helps to bulk up stools. Even earlier in the digestive process, the swelling of chia makes you feel full and therefore you’re less likely to over consume additional calories - making it also a useful ingredient for weight loss programmes.
Try: Accompany chia with plenty of water. Consume one large glass of water with one to two teaspoons of chia to ensure proper transit through the digestive tract (at least one pint of water following chia consumption if you’re constipated).
Papaya is an enzyme rich food containing papain and chymopapain, which are particularly beneficial when consuming high protein meals. A number of symptoms can indicate that we’re not breaking down proteins adequately, such as flatulence, diarrhoea, bloating, or foul-smelling stools for example. Not only does papaya assist with protein digestion but it’s also a great source of fibre and therefore helps to keep us regular. Fresh papaya can easily be had after meals, but they’re also wonderful to add into smoothies. If you’re not keen on papaya then pineapple is a good alternative!
Try: An easy and on-the-go option is to take a papaya concentrate called Caricol , £13.45, offered by supplement companies such as Nutri. These come in tubes that you can fit in your bag and consume after meals if you’re out and about.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Due to the natural acidity of apple cider vinegar it can be used to acidify the digestive tract prior to meals. If stomach acid levels are low then one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar taken in water 20-30 minutes prior to a meal may aid protein digestion in the stomach. In addition, apple cider vinegar is high in vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids and is thought to have anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties good for overall digestive health. Be careful if you suffer from ulcers however, as apple cider vinegar may irritate them.
Try: Find an organic or raw organic apple cider vinegar such as Biona , £11.87, and add to dressings and sauces for some zing. Apple cider vinegar should also be used if you’re making your own bone broth to help pull minerals out of the bones into the stock water.
Finally – remember to take your time and chew! No amount of good food is going to help with digestion if you’re not chewing it properly. Chewing is the first and most fundamental step to better digestive health - it’s also free!