What to Eat to Treat Indigestion
Indigestion affects the nervous, glandular, and digestive/detoxification immune centers.
“I stand in awe of my body,” said Thoreau. You should, too—especially your gut. More than 60 percent of the body’s antibodies are produced there.
The gastrointestinal tract, all twenty feet or so of it, is the seat of the greater immune system and the heart of the digestive immune center. An awesome lot can go wrong there—and does. As many as 40 percent of all Americans experience heartburn or some related symptom once a month and some 10 percent do so daily, according to the American Society of Gastroenterology. Other troubles like flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, diverticulitis, peptic ulcer, malabsorption syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which may afflict up to 30 percent of the population, aren’t far behind. Although we reach for antacids (six million of us take them to mask the gut distress caused by arthritis meds alone), over-the-counter and prescription drugs that can irritate and often damage the stomach lining aren’t the answer. Eating the right foods in the right combinations and in the right amounts, as well as avoiding the troublemakers, could be.
Is it any wonder that your stomach needs a little roadside assistance now and then? hTe normal digestive tract is home to some ten quarts of digestive juices produced daily by the stomach, pancreas, liver, and intestinal wall. The not-so-normal gastrointestinal tract may come up short (especially if it is deficient in vitamin B6 or zinc). Gradually increasing your intake of enzyme-rich raw foods such as apples, bananas, grapes, pineapple, carrots, and celery will help normalize gut function. So will the use of digestive enzymes with each meal (especially if you are over forty, which is when digestive juice production slows). Combining foods properly is another restorative strategy, particularly avoiding the combination of starches and proteins (especially animal proteins) in the same meal.
Of course, your digestive dysfunction may go beyond the garden-variety gastrointestinal complaints. What seems like IBS may actually be LGS (leaky gut syndrome), the culprit behind a range of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, says Dr. Leo Galland of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine. Look for a holistic physician who can administer the lactulose/mannitol challenge to find out. Long-term use of NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Advil, steroids like cortisone and prednisone, and antibiotics contribute by killing off friendly bacteria in the gut and creating a breeding ground for parasites, yeast, and, in turn, LGS.
When Indigestion Is Something More
Also consider the possibility that the problem may be grains, not the gut. A small percentage of sufferers with IBS-like symptoms are actually suffering from celiac disease (CD), which is an allergy to gluten. Gluten is the protein in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and triticale, and even small exposures can cause bloating, diarrhea, and fatigue. Untreated, it can lead to malnutrition and osteoporosis.
Fructose intolerance and fructose malabsorption (which affects 30 to 50 percent of the population) are conditions in which the small intestine cannot absorb the sugar in fruit, processed foods, and juices. These conditions can cause bloating, cramping, and flatulence syndrome, as well as trigger mood swings and sugar cravings. Avoid soft drinks and processed juices, and eating fruit only in moderation is remedial.
Too Little Acid, Not Too Much?
Last but not at all least, your stomach could be secreting too little acid rather than too much—known as hypochlorhydria, or insufficient hydrochloric acid (HCl). By age forty, 40 percent of us are affected, and by age fifty, it’s 50 percent. If your symptoms improve after taking betaine HCl available as a supplement, you have your solution.
If you have no stomach complaints and want to keep it that way eat small meals, not big; eat in stress-free surroundings; and avoid foods that you’re allergic to or intolerant of (the short list includes wheat, dairy, eggs, citrus, and soy).
What to Eat
Consider the following twelve ways to keep that 20-foot tract intact.
- Learn the lesson of less. Consider what you might subtract from your three square meals. For starters, eliminate refined sugar, refined grains, highly processed foods, carbonated drinks, all foods that become acid in the system—including meat and shellfish, dairy foods, as well as artificial sweeteners, coffee, and alcoholic drinks.
- Avoid the GERD triggers, and up the fiber. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may be turned on by white bread, chocolate, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and citrus. Eat around those, and instead get 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day from fruits, vegetables, and grains, which can reduce your risk of heartburn by as much as 20 percent. IBS sufferers need 25 to 40 grams of soluble fiber with plenty of water.
The following chart shows what hikes gut immunity best.
Ten Top Sources of Fiber
FOOD SERVING GRAMS
Barley, cooked % cup 13
Raspberries 1 cup 8
Wheat bran % cup 8.4
Flaxseed meal 1/4 cup 8
Kidney beans % cup 8
Carrot, raw 2 large 8
Almonds % cup 8
Spinach 2 cups cooked 8
Winter squash 1 cup cooked 6
Figs 3 dried 5–6
Note: It’s important to get a combination of both soluble and insoluble fibers in the daily diet. Fruits, vegetables, and oats provide soluble fiber, while whole grains, bran, and legumes (as well as some fruits and vegetables) are sources of insoluble fiber.
- Cut salt intake and stop smoking. Both habits encourage acid reflux.
- Up your garlic and onion (if you tolerate them). All members of the Allium cepa family promote digestion and encourage the release of toxins from the gastrointestinal tract. (Note they are a source of flatulence for some.)
- The other O. Shift the balance from omega-6 oils such as corn, sunflower, and safflower so prevalent in the standard American diet to inflammation-fighting oils such as flax, hemp, grape seed, olive, and canola. Look for an organic blend of at least two to benefit more.
- Hydrate with dandelion root tea. Three cups a day can ease IBS symptoms (as well as allergy symptoms). Dandelion stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Try ginger soup or peppermint tea as a better response to GERD and other garden-variety digestive complaints than any commercial antacid.
- Consider herbal bitters for relieving heartburn, indigestion, and even low stomach acid. Bitters are liquid herbal combinations that include botanicals such as dandelion, gentian, yarrow, devil’s claw, and bitter orange.
- Peppermint oil. The German Commission E, a government regulatory agency composed of scientists, physicians, pharmacists, and toxicologists who evaluate the usefulness and safety of herbs, recommends enteric-coated tablets of peppermint oil (one capsule three times daily) for diarrhea and constipation, as well as bloating and cramps. After you get over your symptoms, take a good whiff of peppermint to run faster. Studies from the Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia indicate that as an aromatherapy scent, peppermint increases activity in the wake-up center of the brain.
- Go green. Asian studies indicate that gastritis and stomach cancer rates are only half as high among dedicated green tea sippers. Look for an organic brand containing a standardized extract.
- Avoid antacids. These can drop stomach acid levels too low, causing excessive acid levels with extended use or leading to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. In any case, the aluminum that acid-blockers may contain is unhealthy. Use artichoke leaf extract to ease that sense of fullness and bloating. Artichoke leaf extract even helps lower cholesterol, advises the Herbal Research Foundation. Try 1 teaspoon three times daily. Or reach for the teapot and brew chamomile tea, which is widely used throughout Europe for digestive ills, including inflammation of the intestinal tract. Ditto ginger tea, which is used as an inflammatory and is also good for travel sickness and nausea.
- Avoid processed foods containing trans fats, which are linked not only to heart disease but also to GERD and heartburn.
- Taste your way to better digestive health. According to the Ayurvedic concept of the six tastes, including one of each of the following tastes—pungent, astringent, sweet, sour, salty, and bitter—in each meal leads to a balanced diet through the sense of taste, which translates into improved digestion. If you are susceptible to heartburn, watch out for foods that can trigger it—especially chocolate, tea, coffee, fatty foods, spices, citrus, sugar, and tomatoes.