We all wish to have a healthy digestive tract and make the best use of the foods we eat. For many people specifically those struggling with compromised digestive function, heavier foods such as animal meats, legumes, whole grains, and some vegetables can be hard to digest and bothersome.
Choosing healthier and smarter cooking methods is a habit anyone can build which will save and support you in the long run. What I mean by that is, that before eliminating troublesome foods, it is important to consider using some specific preparation methods to increase digestibility.
When it comes to recommendations for digestive issues, there are certainly several foods that are smoother on the digestive tract than others. In this article, I will discuss how certain preparation methods can make that “to avoid” list of foods, much easier to digest.
Marinate your meats
Proteins (especially animal-based proteins), require more stomach acid to help the digestive process. Stomach acid also activates the inactive pepsinogen into the active pepsin, an enzyme that starts the breakdown process of proteins in the stomach.
The usage of acids such as lemon juice and vinegar during marination makes the tissue break down by denaturing the long proteins found in muscle meat. When the meat absorbs the moisture you will end up with a juicier final product. It is like you almost start the “digestive” process before the food even reaches your plate.
Using marinades can help you reduce the risk of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds as well. These compounds are produced from high heat while grilling or broiling the meat and are also called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Simply add a tablespoon of vinegar to a marinate or let the meat sit in some fresh herbs and lemon juice will support digestion and make your food taste better.
When a fruit or vegetable is fermented, good bacteria break down the plant food’s defensive and damaging antinutrients. That’s part of the reason the world’s healthiest cultures eat so many fermented foods.
To practice that, try to stay clear of regular soy products (tofu, soy milk, edamame) and go for things like tempeh and miso which are fermented versions of soy.
By fermenting vegetables, you create affordable, great-tasting probiotic foods.
Don’t give up refined grains
This may sound counter-intuitive now that we have all been persuaded that white rice is an unhealthy food. Even though lots of people think brown rice is considered a gut health food and is better for you than white rice, cultures that consume rice have always stripped the hull off of brown rice before they eat it for thousands of years. Whole grains, recommended for their many health benefits, can sometimes cause bloating and gas problems due to their high fiber and lectin content.
Soak legumes and whole grains
Soaking legumes and whole grains can make them easier to digest. As mentioned above, these foods have anti-nutrient compounds (a protective mechanism on the plant) including lectins and phytic acid. When consumed in their active form, lectins and phytic acid can impact digestion, and nutrient absorption, and deplete the body of important minerals.
Soaking whole grains and beans will also decrease their oligosaccharide content, a fermentable fiber that can contribute to gas production during the digestive process.
What I have recently been doing is adding kombu to the beans while I’m soaking them for around 8 hours. If you soak longer than 8 hours, try to change the soaking water once or twice.
Kombu is a gut health food and a sea vegetable which contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase. This enzyme breaks down the oligosaccharides in beans.
In my opinion, adding the kombu does not affect the flavor or texture of the beans at all, except for making them easier to digest.
However, the kombu does add vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals to any dish if you cook with them. The kombu can be used in either the soaking or cooking stage or both.
It’s recommended to soak your beans, grains, and legumes for at least 8 hours, or as long as 24 before cooking. All those anti-nutrients are pulled into the soaking water, so make sure you drain the soaking water, rinse well, and use fresh water for cooking
Sprout the beans
One of my favorite gut health foods is sprouts and microgreens. Sprouting beans, grains and legumes can also help to break down anti-nutrients like phytic acid and lectins, which can impact digestion and nutrient absorption. Here is an article to learn more about the powerful benefits of sprouting and a guide to start sprouting at home.
The sprouting process increases nutrient density, making sprouts richer in protein, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and vitamins C and K than un-sprouted plants.
Vitamins, minerals, and protein can all be bound by lectins and phytates therefore if you struggle with digesting beans properly, sprouting them make these nutrients more accessible and digestible.
Break It Down
Eat smaller amounts more slowly. Chew your food thoroughly to make your digestive system’s job a little easier. A little water and other fluids such as soup, broth, and vegetable juice can ease things through your system.
I sometimes drink my salads (pureed in a highspeed blender such as Vitamix) or go with blended soups if don’t have enough time to sit down properly and enjoy the vegetables in a relaxed state to chew my food enough times.
Fats tend to stay in your system the longest, keeping you full for a longer time. This makes them harder to digest. You may have even noticed a feeling of fullness or burning in the esophagus after a high-fat meal.
Avoiding unhealthy fatty foods such as chips, burgers, pizzas and greasy foods is the first favor anyone can do themselves.
Eat healthier fats such as avocados, coconut oils, and nut butter in moderation, since they are still fats! Your digestive tract has to process these fats. I highly recommend to give your body a break from all fats once in a while. You can also try to grill your meals more often than you fry them and even make oil-free stir-fries flavored with herbs and spices.
Use a pressure cooker
Pressure cooking is a great way to help reduce the fermentable sugars in beans, legumes, and grains, as well as anti-nutrients (a protective mechanism on the plant) including lectins and phytic acid, that can make these foods easier to digest and process.
Pressure-cooking arguably increases the digestibility of protein, as shown in this study that found that pressure-cooking soaked peas brought their protein digestibility up to 84%, compared to 81% for those peas that were just soaked and boiled normally. (Interestingly, it drops down to just 74% when you don’t soak the peas before boiling). Another reason to always soak beans and grains!)
In this study, pressure cooking was shown to be the best method for preserving the ascorbic acid and beta-carotene in spinach and amaranth.
There is also research published in The Journal of Food Science indicating that pressure cooking broccoli preserved 90% of its vitamin C compared to steaming (78%) and boiling (66%).
I know you may now ask: But doesn’t the higher temperature destroy the nutrients?
and I’m here to tell you, it does not!
It’s not the temperature that matters, but the cooking time!
Pressure cooking preserves the nutrients in your food by reducing the cooking time, despite cooking at higher temperatures.
Eat more cooked, peeled, seeded
Even though raw plant foods are wonderful to incorporate into your daily nutrition (as they contain live enzymes, vitamins, and minerals), one simple way to make food easier on the digestive tract is to avoid anything raw. Most cooking methods such as roasting, steaming, blanching, sautéing, broiling, simmering, or pressure cooking, braising, and slow cooking meats can help to break down the long proteins, or generally make foods easier on the digestive tract.
Also whenever you cook with high-lectin plant foods, such as cucumbers, eggplant, and squash, according to Doctor Gundry you must peel and deseed them. The most harmful part of any plant is its hull which is filled with lectins, peel, or rind.
You can use a serrated peeler to effortlessly remove skins. A simple way to remove peels from tomatoes is to boil them for a minute or so.
Once peeled, simply cut the fruit in half, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
This section is helpful for you if you don’t have a strong digestive system. For example, if eating a large salad full of raw leafy greens, veggies, and fruits or drinking a smoothie is hard on your digestion, you might do better with more cooked food. Start with filling less than 1/3 of your plate with raw vegetables until you improve your gut health.
Lastly, make sure to pay attention to foods that seem to trigger digestive discomfort for you. You won’t know how foods affect you unless you keep track of everything you eat. Create a food and symptom journal for yourself and write down what you eat for at least 5 days in a row while watching how you feel.
Some people find that they can only have bowel movements if they drink 1-3 cups of coffee in the morning. Foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes trigger heartburn for some. For others, wheat, onion, or dairy products such as milk or cheese cause problems. Spicy food is a common cause of heartburn, stomach pain, or diarrhea, so you may want to stay away from anything that heats your mouth.
By food journaling and elimination for a while, you can observe the patterns and remember to modify your eating habits the next time you are going to consume a specific food.
What to do next…
Any questions? Leave me a comment below. Let’s keep in touch!
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