One of the best things we can do to stay strong and healthy and protect our immune system is to take steps to improve our gut health. Though there are several ways we can do this, one of the most effective ways is to eat gut-friendly foods.
There are many different types of food that can help improve digestion and make sure our guts are populated with good bacteria.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at what some of these foods are and how they help our guts to stay happy and healthy.
Why is digestion so important for our health?
Digestion plays a significant part in our overall health and wellbeing. During digestion, the foods we eat are broken down, so that essential vitamins and minerals can be delivered to every cell in the body.
For this reason, our digestive health also plays a role in things like how comfortable our stomach feels, how easily we can go to the toilet, how much energy we have, and how well we feel in general.
The type of food we eat plays a key role in supporting digestion; some by improving the digestive process in the stomach, and others by helping to support the intestines.
Many of the best foods we can eat to improve digestion are those high in fibre – and according to the NHS, we should aim to get 30g of fibre each day (though the vast majority of us don’t do this). However, there are other foods – such as fermented ones, which contain plenty of bacteria – that can help too.
9 of the best foods to improve digestion
1. Whole grains
Whole grains aren’t only anti-inflammatory, they’re also great for improving digestion.
For a grain to be classified whole, it must contain 100% of the kernel. Some of the most popular types of whole grains include oatmeal, brown rice, barley, quinoa, bulgur wheat, and whole wheat bread.
The reason whole grains are so good for improving digestion is that they contain lots of fibre. Fibre reduces constipation and can also act like a probiotic and feed our healthy gut bacteria.
If you’d like ideas on how to eat more whole grains, check out these recipes from Serious Eats.
When it comes to improving digestion, fermented foods can be very beneficial. One of the healthiest fermented foods is tempeh, an Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans that you can buy in supermarkets.
Fermented foods like tempeh are great dietary sources of probiotics (healthy bacteria), and studies show that they have a positive effect on the gut microbiome. They form a protective lining in the intestines, which helps to protect them from harmful bacteria. This can also help to ease IBS symptoms, prevent diarrhoea, reduce bloating, and improve the regularity of bowel movements.
Tempeh is also an excellent source of plant protein and is packed with many other important nutrients, including iron, magnesium, and manganese. If you’d like to try cooking with tempeh, check out these recipes from Self.
To find out more about the benefits of fermented foods and how to make your own at home, you might also be interested in our articles; 8 fermented foods for gut health and How to make fermented foods at home.
Yoghurt is another well-known source of probiotics. However, it’s important to note that not all yoghurt contains probiotics.
When buying yoghurt, try to make sure that you buy live yoghurt, because this contains active cultures that carry good bacteria and help our guts stay healthy. Greek yoghurt is one of the best yoghurts to eat if you want to consume the live, active cultures that act as probiotics.
Not only can probiotics help with digestive issues like bloating, constipation and diarrhoea, they can also help us digest lactose – which is the milk sugar found in dairy that our bodies sometimes struggle to break down. So, if you like dairy, eating live yoghurt can make digestion that bit easier!
Drinking peppermint tea is an old remedy for curing digestive problems – but is there any truth to it? Science says yes. Peppermint leaves contain menthol – a compound that’s been shown to improve digestive issues, including bloating, stomach pain, and the symptoms of IBS.
It seems as though menthol also has a soothing effect on the muscles of your digestive tract, which in turn may help improve the digestive process. Plus, peppermint oil can help to reduce indigestion by speeding up how quickly food passes through our digestive systems.
If you’d like to add more peppermint to your diet, try drinking peppermint tea, or adding fresh peppermint leaves to salads, smoothies and desserts.
5. Chia seeds
Chia seeds may be tiny, but they pack an almighty punch when it comes to health and nutrition. They’re high in protein, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, contain many essential minerals and antioxidants, and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Chia seeds are also high in fibre, which is largely why they’re good for digestive health. Once they reach your stomach, these tiny seeds form a jelly-like substance that acts like a prebiotic. They help your gut to grow good bacteria, which improves digestion and promotes bowel regularity and healthy stools.
There are lots of easy ways you can eat more chia seeds. Why not try sprinkling them over cereal, soups, or salads? Or for something more indulgent (but just as healthy), why not try making chia seed pudding? To get inspired, check out our article; 7 health benefits of chia seeds and different ways to use them.
Ginger has been used for centuries for its medicinal benefits – and it’s known to be especially good for digestion.
One comprehensive scientific review found that aside from helping to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, ginger is effective in treating gastrointestinal issues like nausea and vomiting.
Ginger has also been shown to speed up gastric emptying. This is beneficial for digestion because the faster your food moves from your stomach to your small intestine, the less at risk you are of experiencing heartburn, nausea and stomach discomfort.
Plus, ginger has antimicrobial properties. This means it can destroy harmful microorganisms like viruses and bacteria, which affect your digestion. In particular, ginger has been shown to protect against helicobacter pylori, which is the bacterium that’s often responsible for stomach ulcers and inflammation.
If you’d like more inspiration for tasty ways to use ginger in your cooking, check out these suggestions from Bon Appetit.
Like live yoghurt, kefir is another dairy product that can support digestion. Kefir is a fermented milk drink that’s made by adding kefir ‘grains’ to milk.
Just like the probiotics found in live yoghurt, the cultures found in kefir can make it easier for our bodies to digest lactose, and reduce side effects like bloating, cramps and gas.
Studies show that kefir can increase the number of good bacteria in our guts while simultaneously reducing the number of harmful bacteria. Eating kefir is also linked to decreased inflammation in the gut, which can further help improve digestion.
You can buy flavoured kefir drinks and desserts in supermarkets, but to avoid high amounts of added sugar, it’s best to eat plain kefir. However, kefir does have a very tart taste that many people don’t like, so, if you’d like some ideas for how to make kefir tastier, check out this article by What’s Good.
Another fermented food that’s incredibly healthy and great for your gut is miso.
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning that’s made by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji (which is a type of fungus). It’s so healthy that one of the world’s top wellness spas serves it for breakfast every day – and in Japan, it’s consumed as a failsafe hangover cure too!
Like other fermented foods, miso is packed with probiotics that boost the healthy bacteria in your gut. These probiotics have also been found to reduce digestive issues and help you get over gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhoea.
One of the easiest and most popular ways to eat miso is to have a cup of miso soup. These miso sachets from Itsu are ready in seconds and are absolutely delicious. Or, if you’d like to use miso in more substantial meals, why not check out these tasty miso recipes by BBC Good Food?
Papaya isn’t only delicious and refreshing – it also contains digestive enzymes called papain and chymopapain. Both papain and chymopapain can support digestion by helping to break down protein fibres, which makes them easier to digest.
Papain is also thought to alleviate common symptoms of IBS like constipation and bloating. It’s so powerful that it’s often used as the main enzyme in digestive supplements. Plus, papaya contains high amounts of fibre, which we know is essential for maintaining healthy digestion.
Try eating papaya like melon, adding it to fruit salads, or drizzling it with lime and scooping out the flesh. For more inspiration, check out these papaya recipes from BBC Good Food.
If you suffer from digestive problems, you’ll probably know how challenging they can be. However, the good news is that there are several foods that can ease uncomfortable systems and help improve your digestion.
Fermented foods like tempeh, live yoghurt, miso, and kefir can increase probiotics in your gut, which can give your digestive health a big boost. Though, in general, most foods that help digestion are fibre-rich – so, it’s always good to make sure you’re eating a healthy, whole foods diet.
For more healthy gut tips, you might like to check out our articles; 7 tips to improve gut health and Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): symptoms, causes, and prevention.
Do you suffer from any digestive issues? Or do you have any additional ideas to improve your digestion? We’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.