The 19 Best Foods to Improve Digestion
The digestive tract plays a vital role in your health, as it's responsible for absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from digestive problems like bloating, cramping, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation for a variety of reasons.
Certain conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Crohn's Disease, diverticulitis and heartburn, can put you at risk for more severe digestive issues.
However, even a healthy person can experience digestive problems due to things such as a lack of fiber or probiotic-rich foods in their diet.
Here are the 19 best foods to improve your digestion.
Yogurt is made from milk that has been fermented, typically by lactic acid bacteria.
However, not all yogurt contains probiotics. When shopping, be sure to look for "live and active cultures" on the package.
Yogurt contains probiotics, which can aid digestion by promoting healthy bacteria in your digestive tract.
Apples are a rich source of pectin, a soluble fiber.
Pectin bypasses digestion in your small intestine and is then broken down by the friendly bacteria in your colon (5).
It increases stool volume and is therefore commonly used to resolve constipation and diarrhea. It has also been shown to decrease the risk of intestinal infections, as well as inflammation in the colon (5, 6).
The pectin found in apples helps increase stool bulk and movement through your digestive tract. It may also decrease inflammation in your colon.
Fennel, a plant with a pale bulb and long green stalks, is used to add flavor to food.
Fennel also contains an antispasmodic agent that relaxes the smooth muscles in your digestive tract. This action can reduce negative digestive symptoms like bloating, flatulence and cramping (9).
Fennel's fiber content and antispasmodic agent can improve digestion by limiting some negative gastrointestinal symptoms.
Kefir is a cultured dairy product made by adding kefir "grains" to milk. These "grains" result from mixing yeast and bacteria with milk and appear to have digestive benefits.
Like the probiotics in yogurt, kefir's cultures aid the digestion of lactose, decreasing some of the negative side effects associated with lactose intolerance such as bloating, cramping and gas (10, 11).
Kefir consumption has also been associated with decreased inflammation in your gut, further enhancing the digestion process (12).
Kefir's unique ingredient—"grains" made from yeast and bacteria—appear to improve digestion and decrease inflammation in your gut.
5. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, which causes them to form a gelatin-like substance in your stomach, once consumed. They work like a prebiotic, supporting the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and therein contributing to healthy digestion (7, 8).
Their fiber content also helps promote bowel regularity and healthy stools.
The fiber content of chia seeds can assist digestion by promoting the growth of probiotics in your gut and keeping you regular.
Kombucha is a fermented tea.
It's made by adding specific strains of bacteria, sugar and yeast to black or green tea, then undergoing fermentation for a week or more (14).
A glut of probiotic bacteria is produced during the fermentation process, which can improve digestive health (15).
Kombucha's ample probiotic content improves digestion and gut health. The drink may also help heal stomach ulcers.
The luscious tropical fruit papaya contains a digestive enzyme called papain.
It assists during the digestive process by helping break down protein fibers. While not required in your diet, it can aid the digestion of protein (17).
Papain may also ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as constipation and bloating (18).
It's commonly used as the main enzyme in digestive supplements due to its gastrointestinal capacities.
Papaya contains papain, which is a strong digestive enzyme that contributes to the healthy digestion of proteins. It may also relieve IBS symptoms.
8. Whole Grains
Grains are the seeds of grasslike plants called cereals.
To be classified as a whole grain, it must contain 100% of the kernel including the bran, germ and endosperm.
Popular fiber-packed whole grains include oats, quinoa, farro and products made from whole wheat. The fiber found in these grains can help improve digestion in two ways.
First, fiber helps add bulk to your stool and can reduce constipation (19).
Due to their high fiber content, whole grains can support healthy digestion by adding bulk to your stool, reducing constipation and feeding your healthy gut bacteria.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. Fermentation breaks down sugars through bacteria and yeast.
During the fermentation process, an antinutrient in soybeans called phytic acid is broken down. Phytic acid can interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients.
Thus, the fermentation process improves the digestion and absorption of those nutrients (22).
Tempeh's fermentation process and probiotic content can decrease negative digestive symptoms, as well as improve nutrient absorption by breaking down the antinutrient phytic acid.
Beetroot, otherwise known as beets, is a good source of fiber.
One cup (136 grams) of beets contains 3.4 grams of fiber. Fiber bypasses digestion and heads to your colon, where it feeds your healthy gut bacteria or adds bulk to your stool—which both improves digestion (27, 28).
A few popular ways to eat beets include roasted, mixed in a salad, pickled or blended into a smoothie.
Beetroot's nutrients can help improve digestion by helping feed friendly gut bacteria and adding bulk to your stool.
Commonly consumed in miso soup, miso is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a type of fungus.
Miso contains probiotics that, like other fermented foods, help improve digestion by increasing the good bacteria in your gut.
The probiotics in miso can also help reduce digestive issues and overcome intestinal illness like diarrhea (29).
Miso's probiotic content makes it helpful for reducing digestive issues and overcoming intestinal illness like diarrhea.
By moving food from your stomach to your small intestine quicker, ginger reduces your risk of heartburn, nausea and stomach discomfort.
Ginger appears to expedite food's movement through your stomach, easing certain side effects associated with slow digestion. It has also been used to treat nausea, including morning sickness during pregnancy.
Kimchi, usually made from fermented cabbage, can also comprise other fermented vegetables.
Kimchi also contains fiber, which can add bulk to your stool and promotes bowel health.
Kimchi contains probiotics and fiber that improve digestion and promote bowel health.
14. Dark Green Vegetables
Green vegetables are an excellent source of insoluble fiber.
This type of fiber adds bulk to your stool, quickening its pace through your digestive tract (7).
Some of the most common dark green vegetables that provide this benefit are spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and other leafy greens.
In addition, a 2016 study revealed an unusual sugar found in green leafy vegetables that feeds good bacteria in your gut. This sugar is thought to aid digestion while also impairing some of the bad bacteria that can cause illnesses (36).
Green vegetables play a role in healthy digestion by providing fiber and magnesium to your diet, as well as feeding good bacteria in your gut.
Like tempeh, natto is made from fermented soybeans.
Typically eaten plain, some popular toppings for natto include kimchi, soy sauce, green onion and raw eggs. It can also be eaten with cooked rice.
Interestingly, one gram of natto contains almost as many probiotics as a whole serving of other probiotic-rich foods or supplements, such as six ounces (170 grams) of yogurt (39).
Its fiber content also improves the regularity of stools and reduces constipation.
Natto's rich probiotic content can aid gastrointestinal health and digestion, improving the regularity of stools and reducing constipation.
Sauerkraut is made from shredded cabbage that is fermented with lactic acid.
Due to fermentation, it contains probiotics.
In addition, sauerkraut's generous helping of enzymes break down nutrients into smaller, more easily digestible molecules (41).
Sauerkraut is a rich source of probiotics and contains enzymes that help with digestion by breaking down nutrients into more easily digestible molecules.
People with inflammatory bowel disease, food intolerances and other digestive disorders often have inflammation in the gut. Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce this inflammation and thereby improve digestion (44, 45).
The omega-3s found in salmon may reduce inflammation in your gut, thus improving your digestive process.
18. Bone Broth
Bone broth is made by simmering the bones and connective tissues of animals.
The gelatin found in bone broth derives from the amino acids glutamine and glycine.
These aminos can bind to fluid in your digestive tract and help food pass more easily (46).
The gelatin found in bone broth can help improve digestion and protect your intestinal wall. It may be useful in improving leaky gut and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
Peppermint, part of the genus Mentha, grows commonly throughout much of the world.
Peppermint oil is made from the essential oils found in peppermint leaves and has been shown to improve digestive problems.
Peppermint oil can also ease indigestion by accelerating the food's movement through your digestive system.
Peppermint has been shown to improve digestion. It can alleviate IBS symptoms and push food more quickly through your digestive tract.
The Bottom Line
Digestive issues can be challenging, but certain foods may be helpful in easing uncomfortable symptoms.
Research supports eating fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi and tempeh, to increase probiotics in your diet, which can improve digestive health.
Fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, dark green vegetables and chia seeds, also play a role in digestion by helping food move through your system more easily or quickly.
If you're seeking relief for your digestive woes, consider adding some of these 19 foods to your diet.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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