Once the sight or smell of a scrumptious food makes you salivate, digestion is underway. Digestion starts in your mouth, where your saliva and teeth break down food, and ends in your colon, where water is absorbed and waste is released. Nutritious foods can help ensure normal digestion and boost overall digestive health. If you're experiencing long-lasting or unexplainable digestive symptoms, seek guidance from your doctor.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are top fiber sources. Because you can't digest it, fiber moves through the body unchanged, helping food and other nutrients travel efficiently through your digestive tract. Fiber also adds bulk to waste, allowing for release. Consuming too little fiber is a leading cause of constipation, says the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, a condition affecting more than 4 million Americans frequently, and more women than men. Fruits and vegetables also provide water, an additional guard against constipation. Particularly fiber-rich varieties include berries, pears, artichokes and cooked leafy greens, broccoli and winter squash. Add fiber-rich foods to your diet gradually to prevent gas, bloating and cramping while your body adjusts.
Good bacteria isn't an oxymoron. Healthy bacteria in your digestive tract protect against infections and disease, and prevent damage from harmful strains. Yogurt is the best food source of healthy bacteria known as probiotics, says Carol Ann Brannon, a Georgia-based registered dietitian. Probiotics are similar to the healthy bacteria in your body, and they can help restore intestinal balance and reduce gastrointestinal symptoms, such as constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating. For best results, choose yogurt that lists live active cultures, such as lactobacillus acidophilus, on the packaging.
Lean Protein-Rich Foods
Protein is present in all of your body's cells, including cells in your digestive organs. The Cleveland Clinic recommends lean protein sources, such as fish, lean red meat, poultry and tofu, for digestive health. Fatty sources, such as fried and processed meats, can trigger or increase inflammation, making conditions like diarrhea and cramping worse. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, albacore tuna and halibut, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation. Healthy cooking methods include baking, poaching and grilling with light amounts of healthy oil, such as olive.
Whole grains offer serious digestive health benefits. Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grains aren't stripped of nutritious components during processing. As a result, they supply more fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. The Cleveland Clinic recommends brown rice, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain breads as digestion-friendly staples. When purchasing prepared grain products, check packaging to make sure whole grains appear as the top ingredient. One serving should provide at least 2 grams of fiber. Examples of nutritious whole grains include whole wheat, oats, popcorn, spelt, barley and quinoa.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Your Digestive System and How It Works
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation
- Mayo Clinic: Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet
- Today's Dietitian; A Healthful Dose of Bacteria — Yogurt Is the Best Probiotic Source, but Clients Do Have Other Options
- Cleveland Clinic: Healthy Eating for the Digestive System
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com