‘I’m a Gastroenterologist—These Are My 5 Go-To Spices for Boosting Digestion and Fighting Inflammation in the Gut’

Photo: Stocksy/Melanie DeFazio
It’s all too common to go into defense mode only when we start to feel unwell—not to mention understandable. That being said, there are so many proactive things we can do to support our health goals, day in and day out, before discomfort even arises. The best part? Many of them are *beyond* simple.

For instance, if you’re snoozing on the merits of home-cooked meals, it pays to get back into the kitchen and whip up fresh, nutritious fare—especially if you struggle with digestive issues. If you’re prone to getting bloated or backed up, you can also cook with ingredients that can help move things along and minimize discomfort. One of the most flavorful ways to do exactly that is to stock your pantry with gut-friendly spices (or spices that make you poop!).

Experts In This Article
  • Kenneth Brown, MD, board-certified gastroenterologist and GI doctor in Plano, Texas

Keep reading to see what board-certified gastroenterologist Kenneth Brown, MD, recommends to enrich your fresh-cooked meals and bypass digestive distress. (Bonus: Most of them just so happen to promote longevity, as well.)

5 spices a gastro recommends for digestive health

1. Turmeric

Also known as the golden spice, turmeric is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory spices around—largely thanks to its active ingredient, curcumin. Its benefits are wide-ranging and include everything from brain-boosting potential to helping with anxiety, arthritis, and exercise recovery… but that’s not all. “Some research suggests that it may also have benefits for gut health, including reducing inflammation and improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),” Dr. Brown says. A 2022 review determined that whether taken on their own or in tandem with medications for IBS, curcumin and turmeric can reduce the severity of symptoms such as abdominal pain.

Tip: For peak inflammation-fighting powers, don’t forget to pair turmeric with black pepper. The latter boosts curcumin’s bioavailability by a whopping 2,000 percent.

For peak inflammation-fighting powers, don’t forget to pair turmeric with black pepper. The latter boosts curcumin’s bioavailability by a whopping 2,000 percent.

2. Ginger

It’s not too surprising that ginger earned a spot on this list of gastro-approved spices. After all, ginger tea is one of the most common (and effective) home remedies for an upset stomach. “This spice is known for its digestive properties and may help to reduce bloating and other digestive discomfort,” Dr. Brown says. “It is also a natural anti-inflammatory agent.”

As a 2019 review summarizes, ginger is also powerful enough to help reduce cramping, prevent flatulence, accelerate gastric emptying, and alleviate nausea. Simply put, it’s worth having ginger on hand—stocked as a spice in your pantry and even fresh to chop, grate, or mince for meals or to brew as a tea—especially if you're prone to tummy troubles.

3. Coriander

Unfamiliar with coriander? They’re the dried seeds from the ​​Coriandrum sativum plant (the same source of cilantro). “This spice is rich in antioxidants and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties,” says Dr. Brown. “It may also have digestive benefits, including reducing bloating and improving bowel movements.”

Per a 2022 review, coriander may also improve flatulence, diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea “by stimulating the liver to increase the secretion of bile and other digestive enzymes which escalate the action of the digestive system, hence shortening the time of food passage through the gastrointestinal tract.” This makes it one of the better home remedies for diarrhea to add to your pantry.

4. Fennel

Related to cumin, dill, and anise, “Fennel has a licorice-like flavor and is often used to aid digestion. It may help to reduce bloating and improve overall digestive function,” Dr. Brown says. If you struggle with IBS, you may want to get a dedicated jar of fennel and pair it with turmeric in a salad, soup, chicken dish, or another recipe of your choice: A 2016 randomized control trial found that the duo significantly improved symptoms and quality of life in participants with mild-to-moderate IBS. This can be incredibly handy for mitigating IBS after eating spicy foods.

5. Cinnamon

This warming spice isn’t only tasty; it’s also majorly healthy given its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. “It may also have benefits for gut health, and some research suggests that it may help to reduce bloating and improve digestion,” says Dr. Brown.

While it’s often included in baked goods—some of which won’t be so kind to your gut on account of their high sugar content—you can always add a dash or two to the likes of oats, chia pudding, and sliced apples. Moreover, simmering a cinnamon stick in warm water may also promote digestive health.

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