The digestive system is one of the most important systems in the body. It is at the heart of life itself, and this simply means that one must find ways of ensuring it remains healthy. At the core of this system is the body’s capacity to extract nutrients from ingested food, all the while keeping off bacteria and allowing for the passage of waste material.
This perfectly captures the term ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Essentially, what you eat is what your body will feel like and look like on the outside. What we eat affects the quality of life, and in many cases, reduces the risk of certain diseases.It is important to note, however, that when it comes to the process of digestion, women face a unique set of challenges owing to the biology of life. Fluctuating levels of hormones at different stages of life have a significant impact on the gut.
These stages, which include menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, coupled with the female anatomical structure means that there are distinct changes that the process of digestion presents in women.In the latter, women typically have the same digestive organs as men, but the difference comes in the fact that in women, these organs are squeezed alongside the reproductive system. As such, the organs have minimal space when packed with excess gas or food.
With this in mind, it becomes important for you to consider what you put in your mouth. A weak digestive system can be improved by making simple dietary changes.A general overview of these changes is that the foods included ought to be rich in fiber and nutrients as well as improve the population of the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, while avoiding highly processed and deep fried foods.
Remember, a healthy gut is not only essential to nutrient uptake, it is also required for elimination of toxins. Below are some of the best foods to eat for good digestive health, each alongside its great benefits.
1. Probiotic Power Foods:
Probiotic-rich foods belong to a category of foods that are prepared by allowing natural fermentation. Fermentation is made possible by the presence of common bacteria introduced to the foods. Two of the most common types of bacteria are lactobacilli and bifido bacteria.
These two types of bacteria have been shown to promote good health of the colon while enhancing motility. More importantly, these bacteria do not undergo digestion and are therefore able to survive acidic digestion within the stomach.
In the presence of these bacteria, the food sugars present are broken down to acids. This not only preserves the food, it also gives it a unique tangy flavour. The fermented food, once ingested, makes an excellent source of fibre within the gut.
Additionally, it also provides a fresh supply of bacteria. This new bacterial population improves the diversity of the gut bacteria while improving their overall function. Below are some excellent sources of probiotic foods.
i) Cultured dairy products such as yogurt, cheese or buttermilk
ii) Cultured products from non-dairy sources such as soy or coconut milk
iii) Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut beets, kimchi and even fermented pickles. Greek olives which have undergone traditional curing are also an excellent source of probiotic food.
iv) Fermented soybeans as is the case with miso and tempeh.
v) Fermented beans and grains.
vi) Kombucha – this is a type of fermented beverage whose health benefits for the gut make it a popular choice for proper digestion. This product is typically made from sugar fermentation in tea following the addition of bacteria yeasts. A number of years back, Kombucha was withdrawn from several markets allegedly because of its alcoholic content (which by the way is naturally occurring). It has since been established that this probiotic-laden beverage is one of the best ways to keep a healthy gut.
vii) Probiotic supplements are also recommended in addition to dietary sources of these rich foods.
2. Eat Foods that are Rich in Fiber:
Fiber is a crucial element for proper digestion as it is best known to prevent constipation. Constipation, which is marked by infrequent bowel movement, is simple to prevent by simply adding fiber to your diet. Since this fiber is indigestible, it is not broken down during digestion.
This helps to ‘get things moving’ in the gut. Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber daily. As a general guide, it helps to introduce fiber slowly if your system has not been accustomed to a rich-fiber diet. This not only helps you to adjust with incredible ease, it is also one of the simplest ways to reduce flatulence and bloating that is linked to rapid fiber intake.
In line with this, it is important to take lots of water for proper nutrient absorption and prevention of stool hardening. Water also helps remove toxins from the gut, and this is a key function for a healthy functional digestive system. Among the best fiber-rich foods are two distinct categories: fruits and green leafy vegetables.
Excellent examples of these fruits include oranges, melons, tangerines, lemons as well as pineapples. In the list of vegetables, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and carrots are ideal foods to consume for a healthy gut. It also helps to add whole grains to your diet to boost your daily fiber intake – think whole-wheat cereals, brown rice and brown pasta among others.
3. Make Sure to Eat Foods that Soothe the Digestive System:
Foods that soothe the digestive system and help with the process of digestion are known as ‘carminatives’. These foods are excellent at providing relief from gas, which is why they are an excellent way to enhance digestion. Perfect examples under this category include cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, ginger, cumin and caraway among others. Listed below are the benefits of some of these soothing foods and how they aid digestion.
i) Ginger is perhaps the most common remedy for a host of digestive problems. The presence of gingerols in this natural herb is the reason why it is effective in improving digestion. Research also indicates that ginger is helpful for faster emptying of the stomach. Other benefits include preventing nausea and managing motion sickness. Ginger may be added to food, but the best way to enjoy its benefits is by preparing ginger tea where chopped pieces of the herb are steeped in tea and then sieved with the option of adding honey.
ii) Peppermint oil improves digestive health by relaxing the muscles within the tract. This allows ingested food to pass through the gut faster while encouraging nutrient absorption and waste removal. Note however, that for those who get heartburn often, taking lots of peppermint will only cause further aggravation of the heartburn by allowing acidic contents in the stomach to travel up the oesophagus.
iii) Oatmeal’s soothing properties are attributed to its mucus-like properties. This is a word used to describe foods that get slippery when mixed with water. These slippery traits allow oats to line and soothe the stomach walls. It is particularly efficient for those who suffer ulcers as it creates a layer that prevents corrosion of the stomach lining. Your best bet when it comes to oats, is to use cooked oatmeal as opposed to oat pancakes, cookies or biscuits where it is not mixed with water.
iv) Cumin and caraway are often included during meal preparation to reduce gas production on ingestion. This explains why they are a great addition to many recipes.
4. Bone Broth:
Bone broth is a simple yet effective way to improve your digestive health. Bone broth refers to a stock that is prepared from the marrow and bones of either beef or chicken. It is meant to be slow cooked for a period between 24 and 72 hours.
This lengthy period of time is required to ensure that maximum minerals and protein are transferred from the bones and into the broth. The result is one of the most nutrient-packed foods on the face of the earth. One of the most notable amino acids found in broth is L-glutamine which is essential for the healing of the digestion tract lining.
This is key particularly for those who suffer from Irritable Bowel syndrome (abbreviated IBS) and a leaky gut. In addition to this, the gelatin present in the broth seals the gut lining to improve digestion. Other important elements found in bone broth include minerals that are easily absorbed by the gut such as glucosamine, calcium, chondroitin as well as phosphorous.
Tip: On preparing bone broth: you will need bones, the amount of which depends on the quantity of broth to be made. It is preferable to choose grass fed animals or organically-raised chicken. Additional ingredients include veggies such as carrots, onion and celery as well as garlic, ginger and a dash of salt. Cover the ingredients with lots of water and allow simmering over low heat for between 24 and 72 hours. Pass through a strainer and serve to your heart’s delight.
Zucchini is a small but powerful vegetable with immense health benefits for the digestive system. With its high amount of fiber, zucchini is able to cleanse the gut. It does this by acting like a mild laxative which in turn gets rid of build-up on the intestinal walls.
This is important because not only does it prevent re-absorption of toxins in the body, it also prevents constipation. Additional benefits of eating zucchini include its ability to enhance satiety, low caloric value as well as ease of preparation. This vegetable is typically added to baked meals, or prepared through roasting and grilling.
Tip: When preparing zucchini, avoid discarding the skin as this is where most of the nutrients are located. If you can, eat raw zucchini to enjoy its maximum health benefits.
6. Chia Seeds:
Chia seeds are a potent source of nutrients and antioxidants that are essential to a healthy gut. The seeds, which are native to Mexico, are great for your health. An excellent source of fiber, the seeds are your go-to option for the prevention of constipation.
In addition to this, the high concentration of antioxidants makes the seeds a powerhouse for fighting free radicals in the body. Other nutrients available in the seeds include omega-3 fatty acids and minerals.
Picture this: 2 tablespoons of chia seeds provide 10 grams of fiber that represents a third of the daily recommended amount. Note that chia seeds are tasteless and odorless, so they can be added to just about any meal without altering the taste.
Tip: Place 2 tablespoons of chia seeds in a cup and add some warm water. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes and then take it. Note that the resulting water will have a gel-like consistency and this is perfectly normal. It happens because the outer layers of the seeds swell to form the gel-like appearance when the seeds are mixed in a liquid.
Enjoy the great health benefits of ghee by stimulating the digestive system and enhancing the process of digestion, Ghee, which is actually clarified butter, is preferred because it lacks the sugar, lactose and heavy fats present in milk.
In contrast with other fats which weigh down the digestive system, ghee actually encourages digestion by improving the production of stomach acids. Increased acid production helps break down food more effectively and this ensures that digestion is done optimally.
Ghee is also preferred because, unlike butter, it does not go rancid when stores at room temperature. In fact, ghee maintains its freshness for up to 12 months after manufacture. Best of all, you can prepare your own ghee at home using organic unsalted butter.
8. Coconut Oil:
Coconut oil is a versatile kitchen ingredient that has a myriad of uses. Solid at room temperature and liquid when melted, the oil is a perfect substitute for butter and cooking fat. Unlike these conventional cooking oils, coconut oil is rich in antimicrobial properties that ensure the health of the digestive tract.
The oil is also rich in fatty acids that improve metabolic processes and improve the body’s immunity. Aim for organic unrefined coconut oil when cooking.
Other foods that you can eat to promote a healthy digestive tract include olive oil, cucumbers and cantaloupe. Papaya is also an excellent addition as it is rich in papain that is known to improve protein digestion in the stomach.
Do not forget the benefits of lemon water, preferably hot in order to stimulate digestion first thing in the morning. Hot water alone is also known to soothe the digestive tract.