Foods that help and hinder digestion

What you eat can have a big impact on your digestive function. Naturopath Kathryn Terrill offers a few tips on what to reach for and what to avoid.

When it comes to digestion, there’s no doubt that our body prefers certain foods over others. We all know the feeling when we eat something that ‘doesn’t agree with us,’ and there is a good reason for that. Different foods impact our digestion in different ways. Here are some examples.

The ‘help’ tribe

Bitter greens are, as the name suggests, bitter tasting green vegetables. Examples are radicchio, chicory, dandelion leaves, rocket and silverbeet. These foods are commonly used in parts of Europe to aid digestion. When our tongue tastes the bitter taste, it causes our digestive juices to increase and this improves our body’s ability to break down food material. Grapefruit also has a bitter taste, so it works in the same way.

Warming spices such as ginger, cardamom, cumin and coriander help to improve sluggish digestion. These spices can be bewed in ordinary black tea to assist with digestion.

Pineapple contains an ingredient called bromelain, which helps to break down proteins and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Kiwi Fruit also has a similar effect.

Yoghurt, if it is good quality and natural, contains good bacteria, or probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that survive in the digestive tract. They aid digestion, stimulate immunity and help to keep potentially harmful bugs at bay. Foods other than yoghurt that can support probiotic activity include miso, tempeh, bananas, garlic and onions.

High fibre foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains soften and add bulk to our stools. As well as being nutrient rich, these foods help to prevent constipation.

The ‘hinder’ clan

High fat foods are well known for contributing to weight gain, but they can also put a big strain on digestion. The liver is responsible for the production of bile which mechanically breaks down fats for absorption. If your liver is feeling a bit under the weather, or inundated with substances to detoxify, it can really strain to keep up.  Why not give your liver a well deserved holiday and lay off the fats for a while?

Processed foods are usually a far cry from what you would find in nature, and may contain ingredients that the body does not find easy to digest. Always remember ‘fresh is best’ and choose foods as close to their natural state as possible.

Low fibre foods can slow down the time it takes for your food to travel through your body, meaning waste products are hanging around for longer than they need to.

Alcohol can cause inflammation of the stomach lining and liver damage. The body recognises alcohol as a toxin so it tries to get rid of it via the liver. If the liver is tied up detoxifying last night’s wine, it is less likely to digest your food efficiently.

Try this digestion-boosting breakfast to kick start your day:

  • ½ cup of rolled oats
  • ½ cup natural yoghurt
  • ¼ cup milk/ soy milk
  • 1 kiwi fruit sliced

Combine in a bowl and enjoy!

Did you know?

Due to its protein-digesting effect, kiwi fruit can be added into calamari marinade to help tenderise it before cooking.

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