What Can I Eat to Improve Digestion?

Digestive issues affect an estimated 60–70 million people. Here's how you can prevent them, with seven powerful foods to ease digestion and heal your gut.

7 foods that help with digestion:

1. Papaya 

Contains an enzyme called papain that treats and improves all types of digestive and abdominal disorders, including indigestion, hyperacidity (heartburn), and constipation, and is especially useful in protein digestion. In one study, people who took a papain-rich papaya preparation reported significant improvement in constipation and bloating. 

Try this: Purée 1 cup of frozen papaya cubes with the juice of one lime and honey to taste for a fast, creamy smoothie; make a salad of papaya slices with avocado slices, thinly sliced red onion, and baby arugula leaves, and drizzle with olive oil; combine papaya cubes with minced jalapeños, green onions, cilantro, and lime juice for a tropical salsa.

2. Fennel 

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Has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine to improve digestion and treat a wide range of gut ailments. It's rich in volatile oils that relieve gas, improve intestinal function, aid digestion, and may ease some forms of chronic colitis. 

Try this: Grind fennel seeds in a spice mill or coffee grinder, then add to oatmeal, burgers, or soups for flavor and digestive potential; toss raw fennel slices with baby arugula, grapefruit segments, minced basil, pine nuts, and olive oil; quarter fennel bulbs, toss with olive oil, and roast until tender.

3. Pineapple

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Like papaya, contains a naturally occurring digestive enzyme, bromelain, that's especially powerful in protein digestion. Studies show that bromelain helps treat indigestion and intestinal disorders, including pancreatic insufficiency. In one study, bromelain helped counteract the effects of intestinal pathogens that cause diarrhea, such as E. coli, and it may also reduce intestinal tract inflammation. 

Try this: Peel, core, and slice pineapples, toss with chili powder, then grill until lightly browned; make a tropical slaw with diced pineapple, shredded red cabbage, green onions, and a honey-lime-olive oil dressing; purée pineapple cubes with hibiscus tea, then mix with sparkling water for a fresh, fruity mocktail.

4. Sunchokes

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The root of a type of sunflower, are rich in inulin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. Because prebiotics aren't digested in the upper intestines, they serve as sources of energy for beneficial bacteria, improving the composition and increasing the activity of probiotics in the lower intestines, and protecting against flatulence and bloating. Be sure to cook them well; eaten raw or lightly cooked, they can have the opposite effect and may cause gas and bloating. 

Try this: Thinly slice sunchokes, sauté in coconut oil till lightly browned, then add balsamic vinegar and chopped thyme; cook chopped sunchokes, sweet potatoes, and onions in stock until soft, then purée with coconut oil for a creamy soup; roast chopped sunchokes with cubed beets, carrots, parsnips, and rosemary.

5. Onions

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Like sunchokes, also contain inulin, a prebiotic that encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria and protects the gut from pathogens. Some studies suggest that inulin from onions and other sources may also protect against colon cancer. 

Try this: Pack thinly sliced red onions into a pint jar and cover with a mixture of boiling water, apple cider vinegar, and honey, then refrigerate overnight for quick pickled onions; combine chopped yellow onions, red and yellow bell peppers, olive oil, vinegar, and basil for a fast, fresh relish; dip onion rings in beaten eggs and gluten-free bread crumbs, spray with olive oil, then bake until golden and tender.

6. Ginger  

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Has a long history of use in preventing nausea and vomiting, and many modern studies support these benefits. Reviews of studies using ginger for motion sickness and/or nausea associated with pregnancy or chemotherapy show that ginger is significantly more effective than a placebo in preventing nausea and vomiting. Ginger also prevents bloating by breaking down and expelling intestinal gas. 

Try this: Slice whole ginger root, combine with water, and simmer for 20 minutes, then strain and sweeten with honey to make a pungent tea; simmer grated ginger root with carrots, onions, and vegetable stock, then purée with coconut milk for a creamy soup; juice kale, apples, and ginger for a delicious digestive tonic.

7. Sauerkraut

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Made from fermented cabbage, is rich in probiotics to improve digestive health and relieve digestive symptoms, including diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence; prevent the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria; and promote regular elimination. Some studies show that probiotics are especially helpful in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Always eat it raw; heating will kill the bacteria and destroy the benefits. 

Try this: Toss prepared sauerkraut with baby spinach, grated carrots, and chopped green onions for an easy, healing salad; use it as a topping for burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, or scrambled eggs; make a hearty white bean soup, then top with sauerkraut after removing from heat. 

Written by Lisa Turner for Better Nutrition and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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