It’s easy to take our digestive systems for granted until something goes wrong. Whether it’s a minor stomach bug, some occasional indigestion or a chronic condition such as Crohn’s disease, dealing with gut issues on a regular basis is never fun.
While you can’t magically cure chronic conditions such as Crohn’s with your diet, the foods you eat can improve your digestive issues considerably. A healthy diet is the key to maintaining a well-functioning gastrointestinal tract, but which diets are best for digestive health?
No specific diet will be perfect for everyone. However, the following diets have shown promise in their support for a healthy digestive system:1) Low FODMAP Diet
FODMAP (short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) refers to a group of molecules found in carbohydrates that are believed to cause digestive issues in some people. It’s become a commonly-prescribed diet for those with irritable bowel syndrome due to its potential to alleviate symptoms such as pain, diarrhea, bloating and gas.
Although a Low FODMAP diet has become trendy lately, it’s different than other fad diets due to its potential to ease symptoms for IBS sufferers. However, avoiding FODMAPs can be difficult for some.
High FODMAP foods include the following:
Although gluten isn’t the boogeyman that some people make it out to be, there are some who can stand to benefit from going gluten-free. While a gluten-free diet is necessary for those who have celiac disease (an immune reaction to eating gluten), people who have a gluten sensitivity or allergy can certainly benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, is often found in simple carbs (think pasta and white bread). Those who follow a gluten-free diet may benefit simply by avoiding some processed foods, but this isn’t a guarantee.
To play it safe, check with your doctor first to test whether you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity or allergy.3) HOPE Diet
HOPE is an acronym that stands for High fiber, Omega oils, Probiotics, and Enzymes—all of which are important for maintaining a healthy digestive system and immune system. Often known as the “Fantastic Four,” eating foods high in these four groups can help your body digest food, support regular bowel movements and maintain intestinal flora.
Here is a quick breakdown of how each group boosts digestive health:
While the Paleolithic diet seems more of a fad diet, it does have some digestive health benefits that are worth noting. This diet involves eating only foods that our Paleolithic ancestors were known to eat such as meat, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Dairy, refined sugar, legumes and potatoes were not on the menu for our Paleolithic ancestors and should, therefore, be avoided on this diet. The avoidance of these foods may be why many people with digestive troubles do well on the paleo diet.
Avoiding refined sugars and processed foods is never a bad thing, regardless of which diet you choose to follow. Similarly, dairy has also been linked to gastrointestinal upset in people who are lactose-intolerant.5) Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Inflammation in the gut can lead to a host of problems, including obvious symptoms such as gas, bloating and abdominal pain. An inflamed gut can also be a sign of inflammation throughout the body, leading to chronic inflammatory problems such as acne or feeling tired.
Many times, this inflammation can be traced back to the foods we eat. An anti-inflammatory diet promotes eating foods that reduce inflammation, rather than contribute to it.
Foods that have been proven to reduce inflammation include fatty fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, low-sugar fruits, and olive oil. Avoid processed foods and refined carbs, which contain food additives such as titanium oxide—a substance that is tied to chronic intestinal inflammation.6) Mediterranean Diet
One of the most praised diets in the West is the Mediterranean diet, which promotes a healthy balance of fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrates, vegetables, and moderate animal protein. It’s also rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and polyphenols.
Although the Mediterranean diet is often prescribed for cardiovascular health, it can also benefit the digestive system as well. In addition to decreasing inflammation in the gut, studies also show that the Mediterranean diet can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.7) Specific Carbohydrate Diet
If you have celiac disease, Crohn’s, IBS or another gastrointestinal disorder, it may be worth trying the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD). Although it’s incredibly restrictive, this unique diet plan can potentially give you a relief by eliminating carbs that cause inflammation and gastrointestinal upset.
The SCD diet was first made popular through the book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet by Elaine Gottschall. The diet restricts complex carbohydrates and eliminates refined sugars altogether, based on the premise that these two groups contribute to the growth of bacteria which contribute to intestinal inflammation.
Although it may sound hokey, there is some evidence to support the diet. In a 2014 study published in Gastroenterology, patients following SCD were carefully monitored for 12 and 52 weeks. Both groups saw improvements in the mucous membrane of the intestinal wall.
Supporting a Healthy Digestive System
Finding the right diet plan for you is essential to your digestive health, as well as your overall health and well-being. However, don’t expect to experience results the first week you start a new diet.
Before going on any diet, it doesn’t hurt to speak with your doctor. They know your unique health history and can help tailor these plans to meet your specific digestive health needs.