Best Foods to Support Digestive Health
"Over 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of digestive disorder on a regular basis."
In today’s show Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, goes further in her digestive health series, looking at the best foods for digestive health. Dr. Nancy will review the food options that are great for digestive healing, and which foods to avoid. She’ll also explain the connection between digestion and immune health, and walk you through her daily routine that helps her keep her digestive tract stays on track!
- 04:50: Digestive Health Facts
- 11:13: Intestine Talk
- 13:20: Probiotic Support
- 17:26: Best Sources of Prebiotics
- 18:52: Whole Grains
- 20:53: Best foods to help you achieve optimal digestive health
- 35:27: Daily Gut Health Routine
- 38:06: Wrap-Up
A lot of us suffer from digestive issues. That can mean regular or frequent heartburn, indigestion, or frequent stomach upset. It could also mean something more severe like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s, or chronic constipation. In fact, over 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of digestive disorder on a regular basis.
Digestive Health Facts
- Food do not need gravity in order to get to the stomach. When you eat something, the food doesn't simply fall through your esophagus and keep moving down. The muscles in your esophagus constrict and relax in a wavelike manner, called peristalsis, pushing the food down through the small canal and into the stomach. Because of peristalsis, even if you were to eat while hanging upside down, the food would still be able to get to your stomach.
- Contrary to popular belief, your stomach does not do most of the digestion when you eat. In fact, the stomach is actually involved in very little chemical digestion, the process that reduces food to the size of molecules, which is necessary for nutrients to be taken up into the bloodstream. Instead, the small intestine, which makes up about two-thirds of the length of the digestive tract, is where most of the digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place. After further breaking down the food with powerful enzymes, the small intestine absorbs the nutrients and passes them into the bloodstream.
- The surface area of your small intestine is the size of a tennis court! Believe it or not, your small intestine is about 22 feet long, and about an inch in diameter. Based on these measurements, you'd expect the surface area of the small intestine to be about 6 square feet — but it's actually around 2,700 square feet! That's because the small intestine has three features that increase its surface area: the walls of the intestine have folds, and also contain structures called villi, which are fingerlike projections of absorptive tissue. What's more, the villi are covered with microscopic projections called microvilli. All of these features help the small intestine better absorb food and improve your digestive health.
- And how about this amazing digestive fact: your stomach must protect itself … from itself. Cells along the inner wall of the stomach secrete roughly 2 liters — or nearly ½ gallon — of hydrochloric acid every day, which helps kill bacteria, and aids in digestion. If hydrochloric acid sounds familiar to you, it may be because the powerful chemical is commonly used to remove rust and scale from steel sheets and coils, and is also found in some cleaning supplies, including toilet-bowl cleaners! To protect itself from the corrosive acid, your stomach lining has a thick coating of mucus. But this mucus can't buffer the digestive juices indefinitely, so the stomach produces a new coat of mucus every two weeks.
As you can see, your digestive system is actually a highly complex system that involves tons of chemical, biological and mechanical actions required in order to digest foods (or break them down in order to be absorbed for energy to fuel our bodies).
Now the foods we’re going to discuss are helpful to your stomach lining, but many you’ll find out are for support in your intestines. So let’s talk about your intestines where trillions of microbes live, taking up residence mostly in the large intestine.
Did you know that there are 1,000 different species of bacteria living in your large intestine? In fact the average person has between 2 and 6 pounds of bacteria in their digestive system on a regular basis.
The diversity of these species of bacteria plays a major role in your overall health — the more diversity, the better your overall health is believed to be. These microbes have a major impact on your body, including:
- Your ability to digest fiber
- How your body responds to infection and illness
- Cognitive function
- Reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Fighting chronic inflammation
So from a food standpoint, improving digestive health comes down to eating more whole foods like dark, leafy greens, lean proteins, and certain fiber-rich fruits. But getting these foods in every day can be hard at times. So taking a quality daily probiotic supplement will also help quickly build up the good bacteria in your stomach. Consuming fermented foods like kombucha and kimchi can also help with this.
If you do opt to try a probiotic supplement though, then you need to be careful because many formulas do not have hearty enough strains of probiotics to be effective; many need to be refrigerated in order to remain stable, and have already failed by the time they reach store shelves. Smarter Gut Health contains three probiotic strands hearty enough to survive, even without refrigeration.
Now when it comes to digestion, a high-grade probiotic can:
- Improve your immune system
- Increase digestion and nutrient absorption
- Help your food pass through the digestive tract more quickly
Also to get the most out of probiotics — since they are living organisms — they need to be taken care of in order to function properly, which means you need to feed them! This is especially important for ensuring digestive health!
Probiotics feed on complex carbohydrates and high-fiber foods commonly called prebiotics. This process encourages beneficial bacteria to multiply and become more resilient in your gut. If you haven’t heard of prebiotics, they are the talk of the gut health industry.
Best Sources of Prebiotics
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
Eating these foods raw is always better for prebiotics, so when possible feed your probiotics raw foods, rather than cooked.
Whole grains are also great for supporting your digestive system because they are loaded with fiber and can help move things more easily through the digestive tract.
This goes without saying, but avoid processed foods and artificial sweeteners. They exacerbate or even cause inflammation, and can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can then cause bad bacteria in the digestive system to grow.
And if you do have frequent digestive issues, then consider switching to a more plant-based diet, as vegetarians are found to have less inflammation and lower cholesterol. Not to mention, they lack the presence of E. coli, a bad bacteria present in the gut of many meat-eaters.
Best foods to help you achieve optimal digestive health
Ginger is the absolute best. It’s a superfood, and its health benefits are vast and great. Indigestion is caused, in part, by the stomach’s inability to empty entirely. Ginger helps facilitate that emptying, and as a result may work as a treatment option for those who suffer with chronic indigestion. Ginger is also great for easing nausea and can help kill the bacteria H. pylori, which is a leading culprit in stomach ulcers. A very simple way to consume ginger is to slice or chop it up finely and let it steep in a mug of hot water. Add a little honey, cinnamon, or lemon to boost the flavor and enhance its digestive effects.
Salmon is near the top of the list of healthiest fish you can eat. It’s also high on the list of foods that can help keep you in good digestive health. Salmon is a fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, among other things, have anti-inflammatory properties. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other issues associated with poor digestion are often a result of excess inflammation in the stomach. Salmon, therefore, is an excellent remedy for digestion-related issues and conditions.
Peppermint is another super food that’s wonderfully beneficial for your digestive tract. It’s good for people with IBS, especially when taken as an oil for at least a month. Studies show it effectively reduced symptoms. Peppermint has a relaxing effect on the digestive system and can therefore soothe symptoms associated with gas, indigestion, bloating, and nausea since it prevents the smooth muscles of the digestive tract from contracting. You can drink peppermint as a tea, chew on the leaves directly, take a peppermint oil supplement, or take it as an essential oil.
The protein, fiber, and omega-3s found in walnuts make them a great food to eat to improve your digestive health. They act as a prebiotic, a type of fiber that encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut, and increase the amount of good bacteria overall. They also work as an anti-inflammatory and can reduce inflammation-related digestive issues.
Kombucha is great, in the right quantities. It’s a wonderful drink to incorporate into your morning routine. Kombucha is fermented tea that is made by adding very specific strains of good bacteria. The beverage then acts as a probiotic and can kill bad bacteria in the stomach. Kombucha is also good in fighting candida, an overabundance of yeast in the body, and helps heal stomach ulcers.
Kimchi, a Korean dish made with cabbage or radishes, is good for digestion because it promotes the growth of good bacteria in the stomach. When made with cabbage, especially, kimchi helps with elimination since the fiber contained therein isn’t digested by the body and helps move things along. Be mindful that you don’t choose a variety that’s overly spicy — spicy foods can only exacerbate digestive issues.
The gelatin in bone broth contains glutamine, an amino acid that helps protect the intestinal wall. This is another one that helps to heal digestive issues associated with inflammation and can help heal leaky gut, a digestion issue in which bacteria, toxins, and undigested food leak through the wall of your intestines if the gut lining develops small holes and tears. Leaky gut can lead to inflammation and other, more severe digestive issues. The amino acids in bone broth can also help move food through your digestive tract with more ease because they have the ability to bind to the fluid there.
This one is probably not as well known as others on this list, but papaya is an excellent tummy soother. Like peppermint, it can ease symptoms of IBS and works wonders on an upset stomach and indigestion. This is because papaya contains papain, a digestive enzyme that aids in digestion by helping break down protein. Remember, papayas are a popular GMO fruit — make sure you always by organic or non-GMO papaya and papaya supplements! Next time you have a belly ache, grab for some papaya instead of Tums. You can also look for organic papaya supplement, which should be available at health food stores, or you can buy them online.
Apples contain pectin, which is a source of soluble fiber. During digestion, soluble fiber draws water to it and turns into a gel-like substance that slows digestion. Pectin skips the digestion process altogether and is broken down by good bacteria in the colon. Apples work to cut down inflammation in the colon, as well as relieve constipation and diarrhea because they help increase the volume of your stool.
Flax seeds and chia seeds are also wonderful for digestive health, but if you frequently tune in to The Dr. Nancy show, you know chia seeds are high on her list of healthy anti-inflammatory foods, and today we want to focus on some of the other foods we don’t discuss as often.
Daily Gut Health Routine
Dr. Nancy truly believes the health of your gut reflects and influences the health of your entire body. With that being said, there are very specific things she does to support a healthy digestive tract, and today she’s letting you in on her routine.
She starts many mornings with kombucha and follow that with a Smarter Nutrition Probiotic supplement. From there, she makes sure to eat foods throughout the day that further promote good digestive health, which includes eating organic sources of fiber with each meal, making sure to drink peppermint tea, and adding fresh ginger to every meal possible!
It’s also important to do some body movements throughout the day, including some stretches that are great for digestive health: things like cobra, up-dog, and cat-cow yoga stretches are great for massaging internal organs and keeping things moving along nicely.
Recently, a lot of Dr. Nancy’s talks have been about food — especially foods that are high in protein, low in saturated fat, and high in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods like chicken, turkey, salmon, and shrimp are all lean proteins that are easy for the digestive system to break down and pass.
Salmon made today’s list, as well, alongside foods like walnuts, peppermint, ginger, and kimchi, to name a few. Whole grains like brown rice are loaded with fiber and can help with proper elimination, as well as alleviate constipation.Eating foods that are beneficial to the digestive health can not only help keep you regular, but can help keep you healthy and reduce inflammation so you don’t suffer a more serious issue down the line, whether that issue relates to your digestive tract or somewhere else in your body.