The Best Foods to Soothe a Taxed Digestive System
FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS: You enjoyed indulging over a party-packed weekend, on vacation or for a whole season. Now, the uncomfortable news: You brought your gut to the parties – and while you took home the fun memories, it took home gift bags full of digestive "presents" you wish you could swiftly return.
"Dramatic shifts away from a normally healthy diet … toward a diet pattern loaded with fat and sugar have been shown to cause shifts in the composition of our gut's microbial ecosystem," says Tamara Duker Freuman, a registered dietitian in New York City who specializes in digestive disorders. "This relative reordering of the resident species can play out in unexpected ways, from changes in bowel patterns to gassiness to ease of weight gain."
It can also play out as acid reflux, which can cause heartburn and interrupt sleep, adds Dr. Linda Shiue, an internal medicine physician and director of culinary medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center.
Plus, foods high in sugar, salt and fat can lead to bloating. This same unhealthy fare also tends to replace more fibrous foods, and not getting enough fiber in your diet can lead to constipation. Plus, loads of sweets can trigger even more sugar cravings, and consistently overdoing it with fat and sugar can alter your hormones such that, in a way, you forget what it really feels like to be hungry and full.
"Overeating less healthy foods for a few weeks straight can lead to lasting changes in how your body senses hunger and satiety," Shiue says.
But before filling up on regret, too, take heart: These issues are normal reactions to periods of less-than-healthy eating and can resolve themselves, Duker Freuman says. Read: Extensive supplement regimens, extreme dietary restriction or punishing cleanses aren't necessary or advised.
"Once your diet returns to normal, your digestive well-being should rebound to normal, too," Duker Freuman says. Help it along with these healthy foods:
Squash – just like broccoli, carrots, celery and plenty of other veggies – is a great source of fiber, which is key in preventing or easing constipation, Shiue says. Fruit such as raisins, prunes, peaches and apples, as well as whole grains in cereals and breads, can work wonders moving things through too, she says. Just opt for cooked vegetables over raw ones when possible since the former are easier for your taxed belly to digest, says Robin Foroutan, an integrative medicine dietitian in New York City and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
There's nothing like a vacation (especially if it includes travel) to throw off your bathroom regularity. And there's nothing like a high-quality yogurt or the cultured, fermented beverage kefir (try those without much or any added sugar, sweeteners or gums) to help get you back on track, Duker-Frueman says. "Products that have probiotic bacterial strains, such as B. lactis, B. rhamnosus and L. casei may be particularly helpful and regulating," she says.