If you’ve ever dealt with gastrointestinal issues, you already know, it’s a real pain! Whether it be IBS, IBD, Crohn’s disease, or just general tummy woes, life is no fun with tummy woes. Though no cure has been found for any one of these issues, certain changes in both diet and lifestyle can create significant improvements and even possible remission. When it comes to what you put on your plate, it helps to view it as what your digestive system will actually have to do with it. Sure, life is short and we’d like to enjoy chocolate, shakes, and fries every now and then, but ultimately, it’s best to go with some smart food options for long term GI health. And why not? Digestion affects your mood, absorption of nutrients, your immune system, and even your quality of life.
Making certain food swaps can literally change your gastrointestinal health. Some foods your colon and stomach will love, while others it will downright rebel against. Some foods also lessen the work on the pancreas, small intestine, and even the esophagus, which leads to less acid reflux and indigestion.
Give these food swaps a try:
1. Meat for Greens and Vegetables
First and foremost, red meat has to go. It’s a leading cause of colon cancer, takes three times as long to digest as vegetables, and in the meantime, puts a strain on your body. Greens and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, water and fiber. Your body absorbs the vitamins and minerals, uses the fiber to get rid of wastes, and the water helps to hydrate you and move everything along to prevent disease and back-ups. Thank you kale! Craving a burger? Go with a pumpkin veggie burger, much easier to digest than beans, and pumpkin is a real GI superfood! One little note: watch the broccoli and cauliflower or cook it thoroughly if you notice bloating and stick with greens instead. Some cruciferous, especially fibrous veggies like broccoli can be hard on sensitive tummies, while others may enjoy it fine. Good options are greens, celery, asparagus, and most other vegetables. These are all easy to digest, create an alkaline environment, and will prevent acidity that leads to indigestion, acid reflux, and they’re easier on your blood sugar.
2. Dairy for Non-Dairy Options
Dairy is a major contributor to gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and many people who have Crohn’s, IBS, and other chronic digestive disorders all give up dairy for nearly immediate relief. The milk and dairy industry would like to confuse you with telling you that you need the calcium, probiotics, and other “ingredients” these foods have to offer, but don’t believe the myths. You digestive system will thank you when you choose non-dairy options. One caveat though – be sure any product you buy is free from carrageenan, which has been linked to digestive problems. Also choose homemade almond milk, vegan cheese, and even vegan yogurt when you get the chance. Other good options include naturally fermented vegan foods, and plenty of prebiotic foods which will fuel good bacteria growth.
3. Beans for Legumes
Beans are hard to digest, we won’t lie. Even though they’re good for you, many can be hard to digest. Some people do better with legumes, which are not only smaller, but somewhat lower in sugars and starches. Lentils, chickpeas, and green peas are among the safest. If you can’t even tolerate these, work them in slowly, and cook them very well for better absorption. One exception is adzuki beans, which are said to be seamless to digest and recommended for those that don’t tolerate other beans or even legumes. Legumes are packed with iron, protein, B vitamins, and potassium, so try to eat them if possible, but take things slowly if you body calls you to.
4. Processed Grains for Whole Grains
If you don’t tolerate grains, try eliminating all processed options first. Many are packed with fillers, flours, and other ingredients the body doesn’t break down. Also, try going gluten-free and see if that helps further. Good easy to digest options include gluten-free, raw soaked oats, quinoa flakes, amaranth, millet, wild rice, and teff which are all easier on the body to digest.
5. Sugary Snacks for Root Vegetables
Sugary foods can create gas, bloating, false hunger, and are hard on the body in general. Sugar has also been linked to lowering good gut bacteria and increasing harmful bacteria. Swap out all the sugary foods in your diet with naturally sweet root vegetables, which are great for digestive health. These include sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and winter squash. Other sweet vegetables to try are red bell peppers and fruits like apples, berries, oranges, and bananas, which are all easy to digest. If you need a sweet flavor for oats or smoothies, then go with cinnamon, stevia, or just plain old fruit (berries, bananas, and plain applesauce seem to work the best).
Always go for whole foods whenever possible, and skip the stuff that your body doesn’t know what to do with (a.k.a processed foods) and consider food combining tips for more relief. Please also remember that you need to eat enough calories and get enough nutrients from a wide variety of plant-based foods. Complex carbs, fats, and plant-based proteins all play a part in the digestive process.
Also remember that some people tolerate nuts, while some do better with seeds . You may also need to grind nuts and seeds into nut butter or to a milled state to make them easier to digest and try less-likely to bloat, and easy-to-digest options like smoothies, soups, and pureed veggies if you find that other options don’t settle so well. Many people also do better with raw foods, while some do better with cooked foods. Others can eat fruit easily, while some find it causes bloating. Going plant-based is a great way to take care of your digestive health, and everything after that can be tinkered with to get just right!
Don’t forget to see: How to Deal With Digestive Difficulties on a Plant-Based Diet, Simple, Healthy Foods That Are Easy to Digest, Warm Foods and Drinks That Benefit Digestion, and Improve Your Digestive Health in Just a Week for more information.
Lead Image Source: Tiffany Steinke/Flickr