The Crunchy, Salty Probiotic You Can Eat with Your Fingers
For a dairy-free digestive aid, try pickles, suggests Beth McDonald, MS, RDN, CSSD, an integrative and sports nutritionist at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing, an integrative health program affiliated with Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Like yogurt, they're loaded with the kinds of probiotics that displace bad bacteria in the gut, so they, too, can help ease bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and other digestive issues. They're an especially good choice for vegetarians and vegans (who may also want to try other fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as miso soup and tempeh).
A Regulating Root That Can Be Taken Sweet
Ginger already has a strong reputation for being able to reduce nausea and vomiting
, and it also appears to relax the digestive tract, says McDonald, allowing food to pass through comfortably without getting caught up. For full potency, McDonald suggests a tea made from an inch of raw ginger root boiled in 10 ounces of water for 30 minutes (try it with honey). You could also try ginger candies—opt for the soft, chewable kinds, as sucking in extra air around hard candy can cause gas.
The Hot Beverage That Will Soothe Your Insides
Chamomile has been used for centuries in Europe to relieve gastrointestinal complaints. This herb is believed to aid in sleep, and, McDonald says, it may also have a sedating effect on the digestive tract
, leading to reduced symptoms of reflux, abdominal pain and cramping as well as nausea and vomiting. It's best consumed as a tea, she says. (Keep in mind that chamomile is part of the ragweed family
, so those with allergies should talk to a doctor before brewing a pot.)
The Yogurt Cousin You Can Drink Straight Out of the Bottle
Okay, we're fudging a bit here, because while kefir
isn't technically yogurt, it's awfully close—which means it has the same optimal mix of probiotics (live "good" bacteria that maintain balance in the gut) and prebiotics (nondigestible carbs that act as food for the probiotics). The technical difference: While yogurt is created from milk by adding certain lactic acid bacteria, kefir is made by combining milk with a complex mixture of yeasts as well as lactobacillus bacteria. The difference that will matter to you: Kefir is usually found in liquid form
, so it's like a ready-made smoothie that you can drink on the go (no utensils necessary).
The Stomach-Taming Seeds That Don't Require Shell Disposal
In India, fennel seeds are often served as a post-meal digestif and breath freshener. When you crush them between your teeth, these anise-flavored seeds release a compound called terpenoid anethole that may increase gut motility and inhibit GI spasms, says Cynthia Yoshida, MD, a gastroenterologist and the author of No More Digestive Problems
. The theory is that the seeds act as anti-sposmodics, relieving gas, cramps, bloating and stomach upset (but the scientific research is still inconclusive). Because they contain a fair amount of insoluble fiber, Yoshida says the seeds may also help with constipation.
The Gut-Balancer You Can Eat as a Chip
Sunchokes, those homely little tubers that taste like artichoke-flavored potatoes, are a surprisingly good source of prebiotics. "They aid digestion by supporting a healthy bacterial balance in the gut," McDonald explains. Note that while eating them usually gets things moving, some people find that the inulin fiber in sunchokes works a little too
well, and that's earned the tubers a less-than-flattering nickname among the British
. If you're already sensitive to fruit like apples, McDonald suggests eating sunchokes sliced and baked as chips (not raw).
The Prebiotic That Should be Served in Drive-Throughs
Jicama is another excellent prebiotic, McDonald says, and these tubers have a slightly sweeter taste than most other root vegetables. Try sprinkling chunks of raw jicama with lime juice and chili powder for a low-fat, low-calorie, gut-healthy substitute for French fries.
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