Beat the Bloat – Foods that Support Healthy Digestive Function
Well, we made it through the holidays and if you’re like us, you may be feeling a bit…irregular. Holiday foods are wonderful and festive, but they can really wreak havoc on our digestive systems. All that sugar, butter, salt, white flour, meat, gluten, etc. can leave you feeling bloated and queasy.
To help us all recover from the holiday festivities, we’ve prepared a list of foods that can help restore balance to your gut and leave you feeling fresh and more energetic.
- Whole Grains
Holiday cookies and cakes just aren’t the same if you try making them with whole grain flours. Unfortunately for your gut however, all that flour with no fiber to break it up is a recipe for constipation, inflammation, and a bloated tummy.
In the post-holiday season, we recommend you work on incorporating more whole grains into your diet, which contain a host of vitamins and minerals to give you energy as well as providing a dose of gut-healthy fiber with every bite. In fact, the bran, or fiber component in whole grains, is an excellent source of trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and iron, which are important in immunity, muscle relaxation, and tissue oxygenation.1
To get more whole grains into your diet, try making whole grain rice, choosing whole wheat bread, or using whole grain flours to make your favorite waffles and pancakes. Just be certain to stay hydrated if you want to reap the benefits of all that fiber; dry fiber will back you up as opposed to get things moving.
- Beans, Peas, Lentils
We’re staying on the fiber train and riding it all the way to…wherever it is you go when you need to go…if you catch my drift. Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are loaded both with soluble and insoluble fiber to help your digestive system work at its best. These foods are also packed with vitamins and minerals such potassium and magnesium which promote heart health. In fact, legumes are one of the healthiest sources of protein in the world, with studies showing they are good for reducing the risk of developing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.2 Wow!
Now, we know that these highly nutritious foods can be gas-inducing, but that’s only because they’re loaded with healthy fibers. If flatulence scares you away from high-fiber foods, try taking an alpha-galactosidase enzyme (Beano is the brand name); this will help your body to break down some of those gas-causing fibers. Some of us here at Wholesome Story love both our fiber and our families, and this pill can play an important role in keeping our homes happy and fresh-smelling.
- Yogurt and Other Fermented Foods
Yogurt is full of good bacteria to help your gut recover from the holidays! It doesn’t matter whether the yogurt is milk-based, or plant based as long as it’s full of living bacteria. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be yogurt. Kimchi, sauerkraut, miso paste, kombucha, and other fermented foods are all full of gut-friendly microbes to help your tummy feel better after the holidays.
You see, fermented foods do some of the heavy lifting when it comes do digestion and break down the food we eat in to smaller, more easily absorbed particles. They also help the body by producing B vitamins, which are essential to our health.3
The key to getting your hands on all that good bacteria is to look for the phrase, “live and active cultures” on the label. This means that the food is filled with living bacteria that will help bolster the number of helpful bacteria in your intestines. Dead bacteria won’t help at all, they have to be living life, ready to move into your body and take up residence. This means that if you turn your fermented food into muffins, soup, or any other cooked food, you’ll kill the bacteria, and it won’t be able to help your gut. You can warm up fermented foods, but don’t cook them completely.
On a side note, in case you’re a novice at eating bacteria, here is an interesting fact: The average human body has between 2-6 pounds of bacteria living in/on it, and most of these microbes live in your gut. You’re never truly alone.4
This spice is one of our favorites! Ginger is an amazing digestive aid that has garnered a well-earned reputation for being able to soothe upset tummies the world over. This humble-looking spice is helpful in supporting faster, more efficient digestion.
Ginger also contains an aptly named compound called gingerol, which has proven to be helpful in maintaining healthy blood glucose levels and boosting weight loss efforts; two benefits that many of us could use throughout the holidays and long after. 5
To get more of this amazing spice into your diet, try adding ginger to your next soup, stir fry, or salad dressing and reap the benefits. You can also use fresh ginger to make teas, or even buy ginger teas from the store already made and ready to pop into some boiling water. And here’s a tip, don’t be stingy, the more ginger the merrier!
- Plant Foods High in Mucilage
Huh? What we mean when we say this, is any plant food that creates a sticky gel when it gets wet. These gels are incredibly soothing to your digestive tract because they coat and protect the delicate lining of your gut.6 Holiday foods can leave your digestive tract inflamed and struggling, so mucilage can really help. All the gooey, sticky stuff that these plants produce when they’re wet acts as a salve that can sooth an irritated gut.
Foods high in mucilage include oatmeal, chia, and flax among others. If you prefer to get your mucilage in supplement form you can try slippery elm capsules or an aloe vera supplement drink.
To get more mucilage in your diet, enjoy a bowl of oats at breakfast, indulge in chia pudding, or even just top your salads with a healthy dose of chia and flax. Your gut will thank you.
- Digestive Teas
Herbal teas that aid in digestion can be an important key to a happy tummy. Some ingredients to look for in a tea that will sooth your stomach and aid in digestion include: ginger, mint (any variety), fennel, anise, and dandelion.
If that last one sounds a bit odd to you, just trust us that it’s a miracle worker. Roasted dandelion root tea brews dark and tastes a lot like coffee, but milder. It will help your body to shed excess water while simultaneously stimulating your digestive system to work more quickly and efficiently.7
Really though, all of these herbs and spices can work wonders. Try swapping a few glasses of plain water for herbal teas throughout your day and add some plant power to your hydration routine.
I know we talked about a lot of foods and supplements, but this list is hardly comprehensive. We didn’t even cover fruits and vegetables, but we know that you know to eat plenty of those. We hope that these tips and tricks can help to guide your body back into balance following the hectic joy of the holidays.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopath, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
- Harvard T.H. Chan. Whole grains. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/. Published November 4, 2019. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- Polak R, Phillips EM, Campbell A. Legumes: Health benefits and culinary approaches to increase intake. Clinical diabetes : a publication of the American Diabetes Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4608274/. Published October 2015. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- Cleveland Clinic. 5 reasons you should add more fermented foods to your diet. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-reasons-you-should-add-more-fermented-foods-to-your-diet-infographic/. Published December 29, 2021. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- NIH human microbiome project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body#:~:text=Because%20of%20their%20small%20size,vital%20role%20in%20human%20health. Published August 31, 2015. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- Cleveland Clinic. 3 ginger health benefits. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/ginger-health-benefits/. Published October 14, 2021. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- Bone K, Mills S. Principles of Herbal Pharmacology . Mucilage - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/mucilage. Published 2013. Accessed December 31, 2021.
- Wirngo FE, Lambert MN, Jeppesen PB. The physiological effects of dandelion (taraxacum officinale) in type 2 diabetes. The review of diabetic studies : RDS. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553762/. Published 2016. Accessed December 31, 2021.