Jul. 27. 2018
Nutrition Articles
McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

Digestion is one of the most common topics I discuss with clients, and your diet plays a major role in the function of it.

Whether it’s bloat, gas, frequent bathroom breaks, or constipation, having healthy digestion is one of the most popular topics with my clients and our community. While I already discussed the fiber-rich fruits that help to keep your system flowing, now it’s time to talk about a handful of vegetables that can help improve digestion. Both fruits and vegetables are known for their fiber content, but there are some key veggies that have a “special” effect on digestion.

Depending on your unique digestive system, gut microbiota, and tolerance to fiber, eating too much fiber can either leave you feeling very full and possibly constipated or with frequent bathroom breaks. The key when boosting fiber in your diet is to take it slow and steady, give your body enough time and space to get used to the increase in fiber.

The Top 5 Vegetables for Digestion

1. Artichokes For Digestion

In just one medium artichoke has nearly seven grams of fiber! That’s as easy as slicing one artichoke up and adding it to a salad, adding it to a stir-fry, to soup, or making a variation of a classic cashew cheese dip with artichokes to give it a fiber boost!

We know how important fiber is to our digestive system, but did you know there are different types of fiber? Eating both soluble and insoluble fiber are necessary to help move foods through your digestive system. In general, fiber is found mostly and most abundantly in fruits, vegetables, and legumes — if you’re eating a whole food diet you’re most likely getting plenty of fiber.

Depending on what your body needs, fiber can help put your bathroom breaks on a more regular schedule by either relieving constipation or helping to soak up extra water that could lead to diarrhea.

Artichokes have a special trait to them, these leafy bundles also provide prebiotics, which allows the good bacteria in your gut to flourish. You need prebiotics (and probiotics) to help your gut stay healthy, which we’re continuing to unravel the link between healthy gut and so many health issues from anxiety to reducing inflammation, and not to mention improving your overall well-being.

Studies show that artichokes can actually help control symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including stomaches, bloating, and frequent bathroom visits (1). Artichokes have also been shown to protect the liver, which is important for nutrient absorption and fat digestion (2).

2. Greens For Digestion

All of those leafy vegetables you add in your salads not only provide heaps of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants but a lot of fiber, too. A cup of collard greens, for example, has seven grams of fiber, while a cup of cooked kale has about five grams.

Greens contain a type of fiber known as insoluble fiber, and though that sounds like it would be difficult for your body to digest, it actually helps get your intestines working to push waste through your GI tract and out of the body. Pretty cool huh? Think of insoluble fiber being the more solid fiber sources to help create the bulk of your stool because it doesn’t dissolve in water and soluble fiber is more of like a gentle broom sweeping out your intestines — it’s more gel-like, like chia seed pudding.

Remember, greens also go well in a salad, but you can also try adding a couple handfuls to your morning smoothie, to a stir-fry, stew, soup, or stuffed in a sandwich.

3. Squash For Digestion

No matter which type of squash you choose—acorn, butternut, yellow, or green—you’ll find a decent amount of fiber. Acord squash actually dishes up about nine grams of fiber, while zucchini provides about one gram in a cup.

While this veggie provides both insoluble and soluble fiber, it’s mostly the soluble fiber that shines through. This type of fiber dissolves in water, which means if you’re having loose stools or diarrhea, it can help keep it in control.

So, the next time you have squash at home, try roasting it, using it as a “bowl” for stuffed squash, pureeing it for a mash (like mashed potatoes), adding it to a Nourish Bowl, to smoothies (yes, seriously!), or a soup. There are so many ways to enjoy squash and this fiber-rich vegetable.

4. Broccoli For Digestion

In addition to containing five grams of fiber in one cup of cooked broccoli, this veggie may also help your digestion by protecting your gut microbiome (or the mix of healthy bacteria in the gut). In an experiment done on mice, researchers found that broccoli activated a receptor in the gut that helped reduce inflammation (3). This is especially beneficial for people with digestive conditions, like colitis.

Most of my clients who come to me with digestive issues often can’t tolerate eating cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, raw. It causes a lot of bloating, gas, and sometimes makes their stomachs very bloated and distended. In order to combat that and still get the nutrition punch and fiber boost broccoli has to offer, simple flash steam or cook it!

Try broccoli steamed, roasted with a splash of balsamic vinegar, gluten-free soy sauce and olive oil (my personal favorite), steamed and used in smoothies as your green, or pulses into a fine “rice” to cook with like a stir-fry.

5. Celery For Digestion

Celery is mostly water, right, so why is it great for digestion? Filled with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, soluble and insoluble fiber, you get an array of health benefits celery. Speaking of fiber, in just one stalk you’ll get around one gram of fiber.

A type of polysaccharide (or sugar) in celery can also improve the lining of your stomach and reduce stomach ulcers. To top it off, celery is made up of about 95 percent water so it’ll improve your hydration. The more water you have, the better everything moves through your system. Hydration is key friends!

Cooking Vegetables for Better Digestion

Some people actually have a difficult time digesting raw vegetables. This is because of a fiber called cellulose, which can be difficult for your body to break down. However, if you cook vegetables, it actually makes it easier to digest veggies.

So if you have any issues eating raw vegetables, give them a quick cook! Saute, roast, blanch, steam — whichever method you choose to use to cook your vegetables will work to help them move more fluidly through your system. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the nutrients being “killed” off while cooking, check this article out.

For a few ideas on how to cook summer vegetables, check out this story. For more ideas on digestion-friendly meals that feature cooked veggies, check out these delicious recipes:

Black Eyed Peas and Kale Soup
Simple Grilled Vegetable Skewers
Hearty Vegetable Bowl
Ultimate Vegetable Pot

Let’s Chat!

What’s your favorite vegetable and what do you like to make with it? Share your go-tos in the comments below, or on social media using #nutritionstripped.

  1. Ben Salem M, Affes H, Ksouda K, Dhouibi R, Sahnoun Z, Hammami S, Zeghal KM. (2015, December.) Pharmacological Studies of Artichoke Leaf Extract and Their Health Benefits.
  2. Troy D.Hubbard, Iain A.Murray, Robert G.Nichols, Kaitlyn Cassel. Michael Podolsky, Guray Kuzu, Yuan Tian, PhillipSmith, Mary J. Kennett. Andrew D.Patterson. Gary H. Perdew. (2017, October.) Dietary broccoli impacts microbial community structure and attenuates chemically induced colitis in mice in an Ah receptor dependent manner.