At The Chef's Garden, we are passionate about growing the best, most phytonutrient-rich and nutrient-dense fresh vegetables possible! Our goal is for the farmer to become part of your health and wellness team. With this in mind, we know that gastrointestinal health (“gut health”) is key to improving wellness for the estimated 60-70 million people who suffer from gastrointestinal issues. That’s why we have decided to create a Digestive Health Box (coming soon!).
The “gut” or gastrointestinal tract is absolutely amazing. In functional medicine, we say everything starts in the gut because an estimated 90% of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut, 70% of the body's immune cells line the digestive tract and, of course, it’s home to the trillions of cells that make up your microbiome … and that’s just the start.
When it comes to the best vegetables for gut health, it is difficult to narrow down my favorites because there are so many.
Top Five Fresh Vegetables for Digestive Health
Bitter flavors have been used to aid digestion for over 2,000 years although they have largely been bred out of our food supply in favor of sweeter flavors. However, when bitter flavors are sensed by the tongue, it stimulates the release of digestive juices (including digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile). Bitter spring greens are my absolute favorites: chicory, dandelion, arugula, mizuna, and kale. Having a simple salad with a vinegar-based dressing is a great way to naturally stimulate digestion.
Onions and other sulfur-rich alliums (like garlic, chives, etc.) are a great source of antioxidants like flavanols, which may help protect against gastric cancer. Alliums provide prebiotic fiber (inulin and fermentable oligosaccharides) to support a healthy microbiome.
Also known as sunchokes, this member of the sunflower family is a great source of inulin (a prebiotic fiber) and other insoluble fibers that support digestive health when bacteria ferment and break them down into short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids help to reduce harmful bacteria by lowering the pH in the intestines and play a role in supporting metabolic and immune health.
Inulin has also been found to increase mineral absorption and stabilize blood sugar. This may benefit inflammatory bowel disease and improve the overall balance of the microbiome. Additionally, the insoluble fiber contains absorbed water, which increases stool volume, increasing the contractions along your GI tract that moves food along and leads to bowel movements.
Another rich source of fiber (about 2 grams per cup), asparagus also includes inulin. Asparagus is also nutrient-rich (Vitamins A, Folate, C, and K) and contains a number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, including rutin.
Brassica family microgreens:
Our signature antioxidant blend of brassica microgreens is a great source of vitamins (A, Folate, C, E, K), minerals (iron, potassium, calcium), phytonutrients (carotenoids, glucosinolates (I3C and sulforaphane), polyphenols), and fiber, all of which help to support a healthy digestive tract. Eating brassica vegetables regularly may help prevent cancers (including colon and pancreatic), support healthy hormone balance, support immune balance, and aid in healthy detoxification. Brassica vegetables contain a compound that helps to bind bile, preventing it from being reabsorbed. When bile is eliminated in the stool, it is removing cholesterol as well as potential toxins. The spicy flavor of brassica microgreens helps to stimulate the taste buds and increase digestive juices.
How to Get Started Eating More Fresh Vegetables for Digestive Health
If you have underlying conditions that make eating vegetables difficult (ie., you experience excessive gas, bloating, indigestion, etc.) it is important to work with an IFM trained functional medicine practitioner to identify and heal the root cause. When ready, start with small amounts and increase slowly. Cooked vegetables are often easier to digest. I also recommend looking toward traditional methods of preparation including fermentation, cooking with digestive herbs and spices, soaking, and so forth to help improve digestibility.
Spring is the perfect time to focus on getting your digestion back on track! Consider incorporating a small bitter greens salad before or after dinner, trying Jerusalem artichokes in place of potatoes, or enjoying asparagus shaved raw on a salad, steamed, or sautéed. I love slicing onions thinly and pickling them in a little apple cider vinegar, and I typically find ways to put them on just about everything. The antioxidant blend of microgreens can be used in any number of ways to add a little spicy kick to salads, wraps, tacos, and more. Microgreens are best eaten raw to preserve their many benefits.
We would love to hear what your favorite vegetables and recipes are to help support digestive health! Connect with us on Facebook or Instagram @farmerjonesfarm.