Foods for improving digestive health
As the quote says ‘let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food’ and this is very applicable for the digestive system. We are so lucky to have so many foods available to us that have a beneficial impact on your digestive health. Whether you are suffering from digestive issues or not, below is a collection of my favourite foods that you can add into your diet on a regular basis to improve digestive health.
Apple Cider Vinegar
The bitterness of apple cider vinegar stimulates digestion by increasing stomach acid production. This in turn ensures that our food is broken down efficiently and reduces bloating. It has lots of other health benefits such as improving liver function, stimulating gall bladder function, regulating bowel movements, increasing nutrient absorption and stimulating metabolism. In fact, anything that tastes bitter will stimulate digestion and reduce bloating such as lemon juice in water, a few olives before dinner or dark green leafy veggies such as chicory or radicchio. Apple cider vinegar is a cost effective and strong way of incorporating more bitter foods. Add 1 tsp of good quality and ideally organic apple cider vinegar into about 30-50mls of room temperature water and ‘shot’ before breakfast and dinner.
Peppermint is great for bloating and other digestive symptoms such as gas or indigestion. It is a carminative herb, which means that it acts as a relaxant to the digestive tract, calming down spasms and reduces the buildup of gas, thereby preventing bloating. The volatile oils within peppermint work locally in the digestive tract to reduce inflammation and also tastes pleasant and is cost effective. A cup of peppermint tea is a lovely refreshing drink. Try it cold in summer with a slice of lemon. You can also use peppermint oil. Add 2 drops into a glass of water or herbal tea and sip. You can also try rubbing some peppermint oil on the abdomen for bloating relief.
Ginger is another carminative herb that reduces abdominal bloating. It is a digestive stimulant and demulcent. Demulcent herbs work to soothe and reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract. Ginger’s effect on stimulating digestion means it increases transit time, as well as increasing digestive acid and enzyme production to clear contents of the GI tract more quickly. The longer something sits around in the digestive tract, the more gas and fermentation will occur, leading to bloating. A ginger tea between meals helps to reduce bloating and improve digestion. Ginger tea bags will work, however it is just as easy to add some freshly grated ginger with a squeeze of lemon into boiled water and strain after 5 mins or so.
Sauerkraut is a fermented food that offers a delicious and nutritious way to get the good bacteria balanced in your gut. Fermented foods are not a new fad, they have been around for centuries in countries like Japan, India and Africa. The fermentation process occurs when naturally occurring healthy microorganisms such as lactobacillus bacteria feast and multiply on sugars and other carbohydrates in foods, creating a lactic acid by-product and loading our food with healthy flora. Eating sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables is a great way to top up for gut flora and discourage the growth of any bad bacteria. While it is ideal to make these yourself, this can be quite time consuming and there are some great companies who now sell fermented foods. Try your local farmers markets or health food stores for premade sauerkraut and fermented veggies.
Kefir is another fermented food made from milk and is similar to yoghurt. It contains very high levels of probiotics and also contains prebiotics such as inulin which act as a food source for the food bacteria in our guts. Aside from being delicious, kefir is a good alternative to yoghurt for those unable to tolerate dairy as it can also be made from goat or coconut milks. It’s a great digestive boost for kids due to its pleasant taste. Kefir can also be bought from health food stores and can be taken in a number of ways. Use it as a yummy drink or add some into your smoothies.
Fennel is my number one herb for bloating. It is a carminative herb and the British herbal pharmacopeia states that it is useful for ‘flatulent dyspepsia’. It works best when the bloating is related to flatulence and gas. Fennel has an aniseed flavour, and tastes great when added into salads. I use a potato peeler to add shreds into my salads. Fennel seeds make a nice addition to meat marinates when crushed using a mortar and pestle. Fennel can also be purchased in a tea bag to sip throughout the day and is often combined with other herbs such as licorice or ginger for digestive support
Dandelion Root Tea
Dandelion root tea is a bitter herb that works on many aspects of digestive health. It improves liver function. It works to stimulate bile flow and gall bladder function, and therefore helps us to digest fats. It increases enzyme and acid production and is also useful for regulating bowel movements. It is also a great alternative to coffee for those coffee addicts out there as it has a similar taste and definitely tastes better with a splash of milk and a little honey to hide its bitter taste.
Water Sounds simple, but so many of my patients forget this simple essential! Water is necessary for digestive health and to ensure we have healthy transit time and bowel movements. Aim for a minimum of 2L daily. Including herbal teas are an easy way to increase your water intake.
Turmeric is one of my favorite herbs due to its many health benefits and many of these benefits apply to the digestive tract. It is a strong anti-inflammatory for the gut lining so is very useful for anyone who has an inflammatory digestive disorder such as ulcerative colitis or leaky gut. This also means it is useful for use in stomach ulcers and for people who have damage or irritation due to reflux. Turmeric has beneficial effects on liver detoxification. Add turmeric into your food as often as you can. You can use fresh or dried turmeric. It’s great in curries, stews, casseroles, soups, salad dressings or marinades. Add a pinch into cooking rice or quinoa or into scrambled eggs. Obviously it will turn all of your foods yellow which adds an interesting element into dinner time!
Read more health and wellbeing tips from Hayley Stockbridge.