Healthy digestion is the foundation of good health. Not only is the digestive tract responsible for processing and absorbing nutrients, but it also eliminates waste and plays a major role in immunity. Vegetables play a major role in that.
Unfortunately, many people struggle with digestive problems caused by diet, stress, or other underlying health conditions. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or constipation.
Eating more vegetables is a great way to support healthy digestion, but which ones are best?
Why Are Vegetables Good for Digestion?
Vegetables are hands down the healthiest foods on the planet. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help nourish the digestive tract, reduce disease risk, and keep the body healthy.
Vegetables are also a great source of fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found only in plants. Our digestive tract cannot break it down, so it passes through undigested. This provides bulk to stool and helps maintain normal stool consistency. It has also been found to help reduce the potential risk of infections and supports a healthy inflammatory response in the gut.
Although humans cannot digest fiber, the bacteria that live inside our gut can. Eating a high-fiber diet provides food for the friendly bacteria that play a role in keeping us healthy. A diet high in vegetables is the best way to nourish the body and feed the gut’s healthy microbes.
Best Vegetables for Digestive Health
While adding pretty much any vegetable to the diet can help support health, certain ones stand out for their digestive health benefits:
Green leafy vegetables
Dark green vegetables are rich in nutrients and an incredible source of insoluble fiber, the type of fiber that helps feed gut bacteria and can also help with constipation. Green vegetables are rich in magnesium, which has muscle-relaxing properties to help with normal bowel relaxation and healthy digestion. We discussed insoluble vs. soluble fiber in an article here.
When choosing green leafy vegetables, the darker, the better. Think kale, collard greens, or mustard greens; these taste great in soups, casseroles, or pasta dishes.
While fennel may never win any popularity contests due to its quite odd and pungent flavor, it is a rich source of fiber and certain compounds that help relax the smooth muscle in the digestive tract. This may help with some common digestive complaints, like bloating, constipation, and gas. Fennel can be added to soups or salads or roasted to bring out its licorice-like flavor.
One artichoke is loaded with 7 grams of fiber. The type of fiber found in artichokes, known as prebiotics, is the gut bacteria’s preferred food. Artichokes may also help with occasional symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study found that artichoke leaf extract was able to reduce IBS symptoms by 26%. Artichokes can be enjoyed steamed or roasted. Canned artichokes can easily be added to salads or other dishes for extra fiber and nutrition.
This deep red root veggie is packed with fiber and other nutrients critical for good digestive health. The fiber in beets helps with constipation and feeds healthy bacteria in the gut. A compound called betalain in beets helps support a healthy inflammatory response in the gut and beyond, which benefits digestion and overall health. Supplementing with betaine and betalain aid in digestion.
Beets can be added to salads or soups. They taste delicious sliced and roasted, which help bring out their sweetness.
Although ginger is more of a root than a vegetable, it is still worth mentioning digestive health. Ginger has been used for centuries to support digestion and is particularly known for occasional nausea and vomiting. It helps speed up how quickly food exits the stomach, which aids periodic heartburn and indigestion. Ginger can be added to soup, stir-fry, and smoothies and can be used to make tea.
Tips for Adding More Vegetables to the Diet
One of the main benefits of vegetables is their fiber content. Although fiber is incredibly beneficial, adding in too much at once can make digestive issues worse. One to two servings of vegetables can be added until the body can properly adjust to the increase in fiber. Fiber also needs water to move through the digestive tract, so when fiber intake is increased, so should water consumption.
Cooked vegetables are generally better tolerated than raw, although lightly steaming or roasting your vegetables is fine. Although ideally, a combination of raw and cooked veggies should be consumed, it is more important to eat some vegetables rather than avoiding them because of digestive discomfort. Finally, being adventurous is key. Most people tend to eat the same four to five vegetables repeatedly, but consuming a wide variety of vegetables will make it easier to take in a much greater array of health-supportive nutrients and compounds.