Digestive diseases affect an estimated 60 to 70 million people. Here are 7 foods proven to help ease digestion and heal your gut.
1. Ginger has been used for centuries to prevent nausea and vomiting, and many modern studies support these benefits. Reviews of studies using ginger for motion sickness and/or nausea associated with pregnancy, seasickness and 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.
Related: Lemon Ginger Tea
2. Pineapple contains bromelain, a naturally occurring digestive enzyme that’s especially powerful in protein digestion. Studies show that pineapple bromelain helps treat indigestion and digestive disorders, including pancreatic insufficiency. Research shows that bromelain can help counteract the effects of intestinal pathogens such as E. coli that cause diarrhea, and it may also reduce gastrointestinal tract inflammation.
Try this: Peel, core and slice pineapples, toss with chile powder then grill until lightly browned; make a tropical slaw with diced pineapple, shredded red cabbage, scallions and a honey, lime and olive oil dressing; purée pineapple cubes with hibiscus tea then mix with sparkling water for a fresh, fruity mocktail.
3. Onions contain inulin, a prebiotic that encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria and protects the gut from pathogens. Some studies suggest that the inulin found in onions and other sources, such as sunchokes, 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 pickles; 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.
Related: Eating to Improve Gut Health
4. Sunchokes, the root of a type of sunflower, are also rich in inulin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. Because prebiotics aren’t digested in the small intestines, they serve as sources of energy for beneficial bacteria, improving the composition and increasing activity of probiotics in the gut and protecting against flatulence and bloating. Be sure to cook them well; eaten raw or lightly cooked, they can have the opposite effect and cause gas and bloating.
Try this: Thinly slice sunchokes, sauté in coconut oil until 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. Fennel has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine to improve digestion and treat a wide range of gut ailments. Fennel essential oil has been found to help relieve gas, improve intestinal function, aid digestion and 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 then roast until tender.
6. Sauerkraut, made from fermented cabbage, is rich in probiotics to improve digestive health and relieve digestive symptoms like diarrhea, bloating and flatulence. Some studies show that certain strains of probiotics are especially helpful in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Always eat it raw; heat will kill the bacteria and destroy the benefits.
Try this: Toss prepared sauerkraut with baby spinach, grated carrots and chopped scallions for an easy, healing salad; use it as a topping for burgers, sandwiches or scrambled eggs; make a hearty white bean soup then top with sauerkraut after removing from heat.
Try our digestion-helping Superfood Kimchi.
7. Papaya contains a naturally occurring digestive enzyme called papain that treats and improves various types of digestive and abdominal disorders, including indigestion, heartburn and constipation, and is especially useful in digesting protein. In a study published in Neuroendocrinology Letters, people who took a papain-rich papaya preparation reported significant improvement in constipation and bloating.
Try this: Purée 1 cup 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, scallions, cilantro and lime juice for a tropical salsa.