Okay, so you'd probably rather not talk about the status of your bowel movements. But we're a health and fitness publication, and we're all about letting you know what foods can help and hurt your overall health. So, let's talk digestion.
"Fiber plays a number of key roles in optimizing health, preventing chronic disease, and promoting bowel regularity," says Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN founder of B Nutritious. Also known as roughage, fiber is the indigestible portion of healthy, unprocessed foods; and it comes in two forms: insoluble and soluble. "Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and thus alleviates constipation, while soluble fiber forms a gel in your digestive system to increase feelings of fullness and help reduce cholesterol levels," Alpert adds.
Fiber's not the only dietary godsend for your bathroom habits. "Probiotics are just as important because they help balance your digestive system and also reduce occasional diarrhea, as well as gas and bloating," Alpert says. "Eating and drinking fermented foods regularly is a great way to make sure you have enough healthy bacteria in your gut to keep things balanced," she adds. While these aren't always the most palatable options (looking at you, kefir and kimchi), you can also keep your gut healthy by taking a daily probiotic like Culturelle, Alpert suggests. It's made with 100% Lactobacillus GG—the most clinically studied bacteria strain—so it'll help you maintain a healthy digestive system.
To increase your daily fiber and probiotic intake, gradually allow your body to adjust and drink plenty of water (this will also alleviate constipation), she recommends.
The following 12 foods either contain fiber or serve as a probiotic. They also all happen to be healthy, so fill up on 'em all.
"Raspberries and blackberries are particularly rich in fiber, with one cup packing about 8 grams," Alpert says. Add them to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, or snack on them alone for a healthy, sweet treat.
With most fruits, the skin contains the majority of the insoluble fiber that helps to move things along in your body, digestively speaking. Apples and pears are both fiber-dense fruits. Specifically, though, pears contain a complex carb called pectin that detoxifies your body and stimulates your immune system, while apples have a good amount of soluble and insoluble fiber, which can regulate blood sugar levels and keep you full longer.
"While most vegetables contain some fiber, artichokes top the list," Alpert says. "One medium artichoke provides 10 grams of fiber." Eat them cooked, from the leaves to the heart, or add marinated hearts atop salad.
These vegetables are known for being nutrient powerhouses (and low in calories), but they also happen to help aid digestion, containing about 5 grams of fiber per cup. "Try dipping them in hummus or throw 'em in a stir-fry to easily increase your daily fiber intake. If eating them raw hurts your stomach, try blanching them (boiling quickly for 30-60 seconds)," Alpert suggests.
"Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens have a high antioxidant content and provide a fair amount of fiber, with one cup providing 4-5 grams," Alpert says. If you're feeling a little backed up, up your intake by eating them raw in a salad or sautéed in olive oil with your favorite protein source, she adds.
"Lentils and beans provide anywhere from 12-19 grams of fiber per cup, with lentils and black, white, and navy beans on the upper end of the spectrum—that's over half of your daily requirement right there!" Alpert says.
"Chia seeds are particularly rich in soluble fiber, which is why they form a gel-like substance when mixed with water or other hydrating ingredients," Alpert says. Make oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, and smoothies more nutrient-dense by sprinkling in some seeds. You can think outside the box, too, and add a tablespoon to your avocado toast!
"Like chia seeds, flaxseeds pack a fiber punch in addition to providing healthy fats," Alpert says. Be picky, though. Opt for ground flaxseeds or grind the seeds. When in tact, your digestive system can't access the nutrients in the little guys.
"Most nuts contain some fiber, but almonds in particular are rich sources with 4 grams per ounce (23 almonds), in addition to providing healthy fats and calcium," Alpert says. To reap the greatest benefit, make sure to eat the almonds whole (unsalted) with their skin or as a natural nut butter.
The healthy bacteria natural to Greek yogurt makes it an excellent food choice for promoting gut health. What's more, plain, nonfat yogurt can be added to sweet and savory dishes, used as a condiment, or eaten alone with fresh fruit and granola.
The vegetable dish native to Korea is made by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria. It can be eaten as a condiment or as a side over noddles. Add it to soups, stir fry, and sandwiches; the veggies are typically spiced with garlic, chili peppers, and vinegar.
Kombucha, a Chinese beverage that dates back 2,000 years, is made by fermenting sweetened black tea. The process gives it a fizzy, sweet yet tart tang. Loaded with good gut bacteria, the probiotic is said to have detoxifying effects.