You are what you eat, but more importantly, your digestion reflects what you eat. Try out our superstar list of good foods for digestion.
Following a well-rounded diet of foods such as lean meats, fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat dairy or nondairy products is key to keeping your digestive system working efficiently.
From the moment you put food in your mouth, your digestive system is hard at work. Think of it as a choreographed ballet in which your body performs the many steps needed to break down the foods you eat and unlock the vitamins, minerals, calories, fats, carbs, and proteins you need. It then efficiently clean sweeps what’s left and sends it out of the body.
You likely don’t think about such complex mechanisms until something goes wrong. Fortunately, you can take steps to avoid issues like cramping, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. One of the easiest digestive health tips is to fuel up with foods that are good for digestion.
“The best way to do that is to have a well-rounded diet, having adequate fiber from a diverse source of fruits and vegetables of different colors that feed different bacteria in the microbiome,” says Suzie Finkel, RD, a dietitian at New York Gastroenterology Associates in New York City. The gut microbiome is where trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi live in the digestive tract.
The body uses the nutrients from food for energy, growth, and cellular repair. But when your digestive process goes awry, whether from overeating or eating foods that disagree with you, it likely means you need to clean up your diet and review the rules of good nutrition again.
The 2020–2025 U.S. federal guidelines on diet (PDF) suggest that all Americans eat a variety of healthy foods, balancing how much food you eat with how much energy you expend so you don’t gain an unhealthy amount of weight.
Suggested foods include:
Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
Fruits, vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, and whole grains
Lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, soy products, and eggs
But what if foods such as dairy cause digestion issues? If you can’t tolerate the lactose in dairy, try lactose-free products, such as soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and coconut milk.
Lactose is simply the sugar in dairy products that causes GI issues in some people. According to Mayo Clinic, this condition, called lactose malabsorption, is generally harmless, but may lead to:
Nausea or vomiting
Fiber is the indigestible part of plant food that helps us stay regular. It passes through the intestines, feeding the gut bacteria responsible for healthy digestion. It also adds bulk to our stool and eases bowel movements.
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends women eat 25 grams (g) of daily fiber a day, and men eat 38 g. If you’re not getting enough fiber, consider swapping foods high in fat and sugar for fiber-rich foods like beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole-grains like brown rice.
“Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables provides a lot of nutritional density in a small amount of calories,” says Finkel.
High-fiber foods include:
Apple with skin
Pear with skin
Whole wheat spaghetti
“When thinking of digestion, it’s good to look at avoiding foods that cause inflammation,” says Finkel. She suggests following an anti-inflammatory diet, which is beneficial to overall health, as well as digestion.
And there are more delicious foods good for digestion. Put the following superfoods on your plate and discover how with a little ingenuity, staying “regular” can be delicious.
Speed Digestion With Sauerkraut
You may think of sauerkraut as just something to pile on a hot dog, but chomping on the popular condiment actually helps digestion. That’s because sauerkraut and other fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that make them easier to digest, and their prebiotic fibers feed the helpful gut bugs living in your colon. Other fermented fare you may want to try are kefir (made from fermented milk), kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), and miso (a Japanese paste made of fermented soybeans).
“Fermented foods eaten as an appetizer are a staple of different traditional cultures because of how they prepare the GI tract for digestion,” says Finkel.
Word to the wise though: Go easy on fermented foods at first. Too much too fast can lead to a bout of cramping and diarrhea.
7 Superfoods That Help Digestion
Get Loads of Fiber From Beans
Fiber — it’s essential for digestion. Beans, such as navy, kidney, and black beans, are an easy way to hit that daily target. Navy beans have a whopping 19 g of fiber per cup, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Good news for those worried about having too much gas from high-fiber foods: Research published in Nutrition Journal showed that people had less gas than they thought they would when upping black-eyed peas consumption. Only half of participants reported any increase in gas at first and, by the end of the first week, that number had dropped to just 19 percent, making eating black-eyed peas a digestive tip you can live with. The study also looked at tolerance for baked beans and pinto beans and found that tolerance for all of these increased over time.
2 Kiwi a Day Keeps Constipation Away
The fuzzy fruit packed with vitamin C is making waves in the gastrointestinal community since a study published in June 2021 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that people who ate two kiwis a day were relieved of their constipation better than patients who consumed prunes or psyllium. The group assigned kiwis also had fewer negative side-effects and enjoyed their high-fiber food most.
“We really want people to use whole foods to help their digestion and kiwis are a great way to help yourself out,” says Finkel. “They’re tasty, enjoyable, and easy to eat.”
Reap the Gut-Friendly Benefits of Yogurt
Our digestive tract is full of bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. The collection of these microorganisms live in delicate balance in the gut microbiome, which is why what you feed your microbiome can make a difference. Eating foods like yogurt that contain probiotics — certain microorganisms that reportedly play a role in digestion, support immune system, and manage inflammation. A study published in August 2021 in Nutrients found that yogurt with a specific probiotic strain helped protect the gut microbiome from changes due to taking antibiotics that lead to diarrhea.
“We encourage probiotics,” says the gastroenterologist Peter L. Moses, MD, a professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington.
If you’re not a yogurt fan, don’t fret: Dr. Moses says that some supplements contain better strains of probiotics, but he adds a disclaimer. “The evidence for a therapeutic effect of probiotics alone is lacking. Like any nonscientific therapeutic, probiotics are encouraged when they are part of a program that patients find clearly helpful for symptoms. Such a program may include prebiotic fiber and other proven recommendations.”
A review published in June 2021 in Microrganisms found evidence lacking that probiotic supplementation improved digestive health in the elderly, though some small studies did find that probiotic supplementation improved chronic constipation.
Fight Inflammation With Fish Oil
Fish oil can benefit not only your heart, but your digestive tract as well because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil tamp down inflammation. To start, you can try to move toward a Mediterranean diet and add fatty fish like salmon, halibut, and mackerel to your diet.
What doctors and researchers know now is that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), one of the most common reasons for visiting a gastroenterologist, may not be consuming enough of the omega-3 fatty acids from fish. In a small study published in 2017 the journal Medicine, researchers looked at the level of fatty acids in 30 Asian women with IBS versus 39 Asian women without the disorder. They found that women with IBS not only had higher levels of depression, but they also had higher levels of unhealthy saturated fats in their blood, and lower levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
While a study published in December 2020 in Gut Microbes found that six weeks of taking omega-3 supplements induced small changes in the composition of the gut microbiome, supporting the theory that omega-3 fatty acids could have a prebiotic effect on the gut, but more research is needed to understand its role and mechanism in the gut.
Soothe Your Tummy With Tumeric
Tumeric, a spice loaded with curcumin, has anti-inflammatory properties shown to help in a range of conditions triggered by inflammation, including heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and even depression, according to a paper published in November 2021 in Drug Design, Development and Therapy. The research also noted that curcumin helps regulate the gut microbiota, bring relief to people with IBD, and reduce inflammation that could likely lead to colon cancer.
“Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory that can help soothe the digestive tract when you are suffering from an inflammation-related issue,” says Finkel.
Eat Some Ginger to Improve Digestion
A traditional Asian remedy for tummy aches and nausea and a favorite condiment used in Japanese cuisine, ginger is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, making it another good food for digestion and a natural digestive aid.
And there’s research to back up ginger’s benefits: Ginger is a food that helps digestion by speeding up the process that moves food from the stomach into the upper small intestine. A January 2020 review published in the journal Nutrients noted that several studies found ginger was associated with improved digestive functioning. It also pointed to studies that found ginger reduced nausea, motion sickness, and the risk of colon cancer.
Ease Indigestion With Stomach-Soothing Peppermint
Soothing, aromatic peppermint may help ease indigestion as well as some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, making it a go-to natural treatment for gastroenterologists.
“It’s inexpensive, nonaddictive with little to no side-effects, and it’s highly effective,” says Brian Lacy, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
Peppermint oil can be included in many recipes or even tea, but more often is taken as a coated supplement, which allows it to pass into the digestive tract without causing heartburn, according to the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health. Digestion tip: Taking peppermint oil (in small intestinal release form) for at least four weeks has been shown to significantly reduce IBS symptoms. It appears to work as an antispasmodic, smoothing out and relaxing the bowels, according to a study published in 2020 in Gastroenterology.
Stay Hydrated to Keep Things Moving
Fluids play an essential role in partnership with fiber to get solids through your system since water helps your body break down and digest food, according to Mayo Clinic. “Hydration and water are friends,” says Finkel. In fact, one of the easiest digestive tips to follow is to stay hydrated throughout the day. Water is a great choice to speed digestion, but almost any non-alcoholic fluid will do. Be careful with caffeinated beverages and sodas if you have reflux — they can be triggers for heartburn, and caffeine acts as a mild diuretic.