Food is good for you and many doctors advise that you eat regularly. Unfortunately, eating can sometimes cause distress and disruptions to people with more sensitive digestive systems. Perhaps you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, or are simply the type who is prone to bloating or other digestive maladies.
Fortunately, there are many easy to digest foods out there, as well as foods that can promote a healthy digestive system overall. When trying to go easy on your gut or encourage a healthy digestive system, the following easy to digest foods list should be given due consideration.
Dietary fiber is not digestible by the body. It travels straight through and carries other waste out with it, hence why fiber is known to help bowel movements. This same property also makes fiber easy to digest, as long as it is accompanied by enough water.
Without proper water intake, fiber can bog you down and sometimes cause constipation, and it becomes harder to digest in general. Consequently, low-fiber foods like dry cereals, peaches, or cucumbers can be good if you aren’t able to have a drink with your meal.
Vegetables are rich in fiber and vitamins, but eating them raw can be harder on the digestive system. This has to do with something called bioavailability: the amount of a nutrient in a food that your body can actually digest.
In their raw form, vegetables cannot be digested in the most effective fashion, which can place unneeded stress on your digestive system. Heating vegetables, or steaming them in particular, will help free up these nutrients to make them more available to your body. The steaming will also soften the veggies and make them easier to eat.
For the record, boiling will also make the vegetables softer, but can cause vitamins and minerals to leech out into the water.
Generally speaking, the less solid something is, the easier it is on your digestive system. That is why soft foods like applesauce are encouraged when you have an upset stomach or are recovering from food poisoning.
Fruit or vegetable smoothies and purees are easier to digest than the unmodified food itself and still retain most of the nutrients. Juicing accomplishes the same goal, but also removes much of the fiber content.
Interestingly, although milk can be less than friendly to sensitive digestions, yogurt is an easy to digest food, although it is technically a more “solid” dairy product.
Fats, particularly saturated fats, are dense and require more effort from the body to break down and digest. This is why “heavy” meals are often those with a high fat content. Certain digestive disorders also react poorly to high-fat or high-carb meals since they can’t handle the extra load very well.
If you have gastric reflux, the extra stomach acid needed to digest the fat can also make your symptoms worse. Opting for low-fat foods is a good way to promote digestive health.
Certain meats tend to be easily digested. Chicken, turkey, and fish are generally easy to digest foods, and other forms like pork or beef can be, too. One of the keys to digesting meat is making sure it’s chewed thoroughly before swallowing.
How you cook meat can also impact its digestibility. Shredded meat, like pulled pork or chicken, is very easy to digest. For meals where shredding is not an option, pressure cooking, baking, or poaching the meat could make it easier to digest than frying or grilling.
There is a bit of confusion when it comes to grains. Whole grains are usually touted as being much healthier than refined ones; however, they are not as easy to digest.
Whole-grain products have natural defense mechanisms in place that can cause difficulties when it comes to digestion. Whole-grain rice, for example, is far more difficult for humans to digest than white rice.
And even though some argue that the glycemic index of white rice poses a health concern, the reality is that it’s only about 10% to 20% higher than brown.
Some examples of easy to digest grains include:
- White rice
- Plain bagels
- White toast
Dairy products may be difficult to digest for most people due to a high prevalence of lactose intolerance. Lactose-free options may be helpful in some cases, but not always.
Dairy, for the most part, is still rather difficult to digest, but certain items like Swiss cheese, goat cheese, and egg whites may be easier than others. That said, even egg whites can become an allergen in people and create digestive issues.
Easy to Digest Foods for a Healthy Digestive System
The following is far from an exhaustive list, but these are some of the more common foods you can eat when trying to make your meals easy to digest.
Bananas are soft, have a relatively mild taste, and are a decent source of fiber, which makes them simple to break down and process (or, in the case of fiber, not process). The extra boost of potassium doesn’t hurt either.
A word to diabetics: bananas have a surprisingly high glycemic load compared to other fruits, so they may not be advisable depending on your blood sugar levels.
Among fish, salmon is one of the easiest on the digestive system. They have minimal fat and cholesterol, plus a good collection of omega-3s and protein. To get the most ideal results, bake the salmon to make it even gentler on your system.
Strictly speaking, any lean meat will be easy to digest, but chicken breast has one of the higher protein levels compared to, say, lean turkey or lean beef. When preparing the meat, frying is discouraged since the oil can add unnecessary burdens to digestion. Boiling, baking, or grilling should be preferred.
Eggs are soft and simple to digest, but are also good sources of proteins and minerals. The preferred method for digestion-friendly preparation is to eat them soft or hardboiled, or to take them scrambled. Like with meat, the oil from frying can add extra stress to your system.
Peanut butter is soft, a good source of protein, and is delicious, three points that make it good for anyone with a sensitive constitution. Depending on your individual sensitivities, it may require some experimentation to find the exact type of peanut butter (chunky, creamy, smooth) that works, but one definitely exists!
Oatmeal is high in fiber, soft, and can help lower your cholesterol levels, making it a good candidate for any digestion-friendly breakfast. When making your oatmeal, it’s okay to mix in your own flavoring preferences so long as nothing you add would be hard to digest.
A bit of maple syrup, a dollop of peanut butter, some nuts, some fruit; use whatever works for you and enjoy!
Sweet and white potatoes are both good options if you’re looking for a nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest side dish. Removing the skin can enhance digestibility, while they also offer good servings of potassium, which can be helpful in treating diarrhea. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of vitamin A.
Known for easy digestibility and benefits for gut health, bone broth can help stimulate stomach acid production. It’s also a great source of gelatin and collagen, which help fight gut inflammation, encourage healthy bowel movements, and promote improved absorption and transit time.
Stews and Soups
Cooked vegetables and lean meat, particularly with the soft consistency found in stew, are great easy to digest foods. If your gut issues are making it difficult to digest raw veggies, stews can be a great way to increase vegetable presence in the diet.
Including foods rich in probiotics—like sauerkraut—is a good way to improve digestion over the long term. Sauerkraut is pickled (fermented) cabbage that is probiotic-heavy, helping to improve your population of gut bacteria and encourage better digestion and absorption.
That said, there are people who have a hard time digesting fermented foods, so you’ll have to experiment with this one.
Because it’s a dairy product, I’d exercise some caution with yogurt, although it can be easy to digest and have long-term digestive system benefits. Selecting a plain, probiotic-rich variety can be relatively easy on the stomach and promote a healthy gut.
Again, white rice is much easier to digest than whole-grain options, and this type generally recommended if you eat a lot of rice. Brown rice can lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea, making white rice a superior source of carbohydrates for digestion.
If you have trouble digesting fruit, applesauce may be a food to consider. Although it has less fiber than a whole apple, it is easier on the stomach and features pectin, a type of soluble fiber than may help treat diarrhea. If any form of apple gives you trouble, you may want to try blueberries or grapes.
List of Foods That Are Difficult to Digest
The digestibility of food can be heavily influenced by individual factors, so not all of the foods listed above, for instance, will have the same effect on everybody. Some of them may even be hard to digest for certain people.
Not only does it depend on the person, but also the type of food and how it is consumed. Here is a list of foods—and specific types of food—that may cause digestive difficulties:
Fruits can be difficult to digest due to fiber content, skin, seeds, certain compounds, and even sugar content. Here are some fruits to avoid:
- Dried fruits
- Canned fruit cocktail
- Berries (fresh or frozen)
- Citrus fruits
Almost any raw veggie can lead to trouble for people with digestive issues. Some specific ones to avoid include:
- Stewed tomatoes
- Potato skin
- Dried beans
Meats that are tough or highly fibrous may be difficult to digest. Some include:
- Hot dogs, sausage
- Lunch meats
Dairy products can be difficult to digest for many, but kefir and yogurt may be okay. You may want to experiment with different products and serving sizes to assess your comfort level.
Grain products can be very difficult to digest, particularly whole grains. Grain products like granolas that are mixed with seeds, nuts, and raisins can cause further digestive troubles and should likely be avoided.
Other Types of Food That May Cause Digestive Troubles:
- Greasy, high-fat foods or fried foods
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated drinks
- Jams and jellies with seeds
- Caffeinated drinks
Easy to Digest Foods: Experiment to Find out What Works for You
If you’re having digestive troubles, you may have to take some time to look at your diet and identify potential culprits. An elimination diet is usually the best way to find out what’s bothering you (which is tracked by logging).
Digestive issues can arise from regular exposure to the same foods, and sometimes switching up your diet can make a difference. So, if you eat egg whites every morning, perhaps switching to whole eggs and some yogurt will do the trick—it really comes down to experimentation. The easy to digest foods list above can help you decide what foods to select or avoid, so you can move forward with fewer of the inconveniences of poor digestion.