According to John Hopkins University, 70 million Americans have digestion problems of some sort. Common digestive disorders include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ulcerative colitis, but other (more serious) conditions can also occur including colorectal cancer or a perforated ulcer – both of which can be life-threatening.
Digestive Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Going plant-based comes with so many benefits, one of the best being digestion. A plant-based diet has been found to improve IBS (especially for those with a lactose intolerance), along with GERD, which is aggravated by a diet heavy in fats, or an overly acidic diet. Colon cancer has also been linked to a diet that includes animal foods. Animal foods aren’t only acidic to the body, but also very hard to break down. Anytime an abundance of work is put on the digestive system to break down a food, the longer it takes to digest that meal. This creates digestive problems, along with a sluggish system. Since plant-based whole foods are mainly fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, or water-based fats (i.e. avocado) or complex sugars (i.e. an apple), your body can break them down easier to process into nutrients. This naturally simplifies digestion and also minimizes the amount of acidic wastes that end up in the body.
Even for those that find a plant-based diet challenging for digestion due to the high amount of naturally occurring fiber, there are many foods you can eat to improve digestion while still eating plant-based. First, be sure you’re basing your diet off of whole, unprocessed plant-based foods, which automatically makes things easier on your system. Think about it – the more it takes to create a food (via processing), the more your body has to go through to break it down. So give your body a break (and a chance) to experience the physical benefits of a plant-based diet.
Add these 5 foods to your plate for some improved digestion:
Greens are incredibly wonderful for digestion. Either raw or cooked, their fibers are easily assimilated and more tolerable than some veggies like broccoli, which are bit fibrous (though healthy). Greens like kale, arugula, collards, chard, kale, romaine, or any other type of greens are all full of phytonutrients, and easy-to-assimilate nutrients that also feed your cells nourishment on a deep level. Greens are important to include on any diet, whether you’re plant-based, facing digestive disorders, or just trying to eat healthier. You don’t need a lot of them to get the benefits either. Even just adding a few cups to your day will make all the difference in providing your body with high quality nutrients such as iron, Vitamins A, C, and K, and even a little protein too! Try a filling green smoothie, a large hearty salad, steamed greens, soups, or use greens in any dinner entrée of your choice.
Sweet potatoes have several GI benefits going for them – they’re packed with water, soluble fiber, and potassium. Water helps ensure fiber makes its way through your system the way it was meant to, sweeping out any wastes along with it. Soluble fibers can be better for sensitive tummies than others, especially in fiber-rich foods. Soluble fiber slowly absorbs water and wastes to regulate digestion, remove cholesterol, and ensure regularity without any harsh effects. They’re the “smoother” fiber, if you will compared to insoluble fibers that are a bit stronger on the stomach (i.e. wheat, broccoli, beans). Sweet potatoes are some of the best sources of soluble fiber you can eat, with 4 grams per potato. They’re also hydrating and packed with potassium. Both of these features are helpful for digestion, helping ensure regularity and preventing dehydration caused by electrolyte loss, a common side effect of digestive difficulties. We love Raw Sweet Potato Salad, Three Bean and Sweet Potato Soup, Chipotle Maple Sweet Potato Burgers, and Sweet Potato Pumpkin Soup.
Green beans are more like a vegetable versus a bean, in terms of their nutritional make-up, which makes them a bit more tummy-friendly. Very low in carbs and free of starchy sugars, they’re very simple to digest unlike their beaney relatives (pintos, kidneys, black beans). Green beans are also packed with nutrition such as fiber (3 grams), protein (4 grams), and Vitamin C (20 percent) in just one cup. Try Zucchini Pasta with Garlic Green Beans and Stuffing or Green Beans with Toasted Mustard Seeds and Garlic.
Like sweet potatoes, pumpkin is full of soluble fiber. Pumpkin is both simple to digest and highly versatile in a plant-based kitchen. Pumpkin contains high amounts of Vitamin A and C, is low in hard-to-digest starch, and also full of water and potassium to further aid digestion and prevent dehydration. Use pumpkin as the base for burgers, to bake with, hummus, in smoothies, or use it as a natural egg replacer. Not feeling mashed potatoes? Make creamed pumpkin instead with plain almond milk, some black pepper, a touch of salt, and some pureed pumpkin. Easy, healthy, tummy-friendly, and…done!
Avocados provide essential fatty acids, plant-based protein, plentiful amounts of potassium, and Vitamin E. They’re also packed with soluble fiber and water, which naturally ensures smooth digestion. The best part about avocados is that their healthy fats help boost absorption of nutrients in other foods, which is beneficial for those looking to get the most out of their foods as possible. Try using avocados in other ways besides guacamole such as: Grilled Avocados with Roasted Tomatoes, Avocado Kale Chilli Kale Salad, or Raw Vegam Nori Wraps with Spicy Dipping Sauce.
Other foods easy on digestion that are full of nutrients include: bananas, oats, chickpeas, wild rice, mushrooms, adzuki beans, oranges, berries, hemp seeds, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Experiment with all plant-based foods since some people are more sensitive than others. Introduce healthy foods like most grains, beans, and legumes slowly. This will help your body adjust to them without overwhelming your system. Whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to processed foods like saltines and chips (void of nutrition), which will only weaken your digestive (and overall) health over time.
For more digestive-friendly tips on a plant-based diet, see How to Deal With Digestive Difficulties on a Plant-Based Diet.
What healthy foods do you eat that are helpful for digestion?
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Lead image source: Quinoa Kale Veggie Burger