Foods that are easy to digest can help with several symptoms and conditions. This may include:
- temporary nausea
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- inflammatory bowel disease
Whatever the case, choosing the right foods may be the key to avoiding potential triggers and feeling better.
Foods that are easy to digest tend to be low in fiber. This is because fiber — while a healthy part of the diet — is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that isn’t digested by your body. As a result, the fiber passes through your large intestine and may cause a number of issues, from gas to bloating to difficult-to-pass stool.
Eating foods that are low in fiber lessens the amount of undigested material and may ease your symptoms.
Canned or cooked fruits
Whole fruits contain high amounts of fiber, but cooking them lowers the amount significantly. As an example, a 148-gram serving of raw pear with its skin contains 4.6 grams of fiber or 18 percent of your daily recommended fiber intake. A 148-gram serving of canned pears contains about half the amount of fiber at 2.4 grams.
Good choices in this food category include:
- very ripe banana
- honeydew melon
- canned or cooked fruits without the skin or seeds
Canned or cooked vegetables
Just like fruit, whole vegetables have a lot of fiber. Once they’re cooked, they have less fiber. For example, a 128-gram serving of raw carrots contains 4 grams of fiber or 14 percent of your daily recommended fiber intake. A 128-gram serving of canned carrots contains less than 2 grams of fiber.
You can cook your vegetables at home or find canned varieties on the shelves at your local grocery store. Potatoes without skin and tomatoes sauces are other options for low-fiber vegetables.
Both fruit and vegetable juices that don’t contain pulp are also low in fiber.
Good choices of canned or cooked varieties of vegetables include:
- yellow squash without seeds
- green beans
Meat products and protein
Main courses of chicken, turkey, and fish tend to digest well. Tender cuts of beef or pork and ground meats are other good options. You may also find that skinless hot dogs or skinless sausage patties (without whole spices) are easy to digest. Vegetarians might try incorporating eggs, creamy nut butters, or tofu for added protein.
How you prepare meat can also affect how easy it is to digest. Instead of frying it, try grilling, broiling, baking, or poaching.
You may have heard that hearty whole grains are healthiest to consume in your diet. If you’re looking for easy-to-digest grains, you’ll need to stick to:
- white or refined breads or rolls
- plain bagels
You can also find low-fiber dry or cooked cereals at the grocery store. Look for varieties that contain less than 2 grams of fiber per serving.
Processed cookies that don’t contain dried fruits or nuts may be gentle on your system. Chips and pretzels made with refined flours also fall in this category.
Refined flours (grains) have been modified to remove the bran and germ, making them easier to digest. This is in contrast to unrefined flours which go through less processing and contain higher fiber. Typically, refined flours are not recommended in large quantities as part of a healthy diet.
If you’re lactose intolerant, dairy may upset your digestion or cause diarrhea. Look for products that are lactose-free or low in lactose. Otherwise, dairy is low in fiber and may be easy to digest for many people. Try drinking plain milk or snacking on cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
Easily digestible dairy-based desserts include:
- ice cream
Cooking with herbs and spices should be used with caution. Whole spices may not digest well. Varieties that are ground should be OK.
The following foods are also safe on a low-fiber or soft foods diet:
- sugar, honey, jelly
- soy sauce
- oil, butter, margarine
Cutting any food you eat into small pieces and chewing each bite well before swallowing can also help with digestion. Make some time for your meals so you aren’t eating in a hurry.
When eating a diet that’s low in fiber, you may notice that your stools are smaller and your bowel movements are less frequent. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids — such as water and herbal tea — throughout the day to avoid constipation.
High-fiber foods fall on the other side of the spectrum. In addition to fiber, certain cooking methods, like frying, may upset your stomach. Carbonation and caffeine may cause issues as well.
Here are some foods to avoid because they may not be easy to digest.
Most fresh fruits contain a hefty amount of fiber, especially if they have the skins or seeds. Examples of fruits that are easier to digest include bananas and avocados. Fruits to avoid include:
- dried fruits
- canned fruit cocktail
- frozen or thawed berries
Stay away from any fruit or vegetable juices that contain pulp. Tomatoes and citrus fruits may cause issues specifically for people with GERD.
Raw vegetables should be avoided as they contain much more fiber than cooked or canned. In addition, you may want to avoid:
- stir-fry vegetables
- stewed tomatoes
- potato skins
- dried beans
Some people may want to skip sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles as well. If these fermented foods don’t bother you, they do have the potential to help digestion. This is because some brands or homemade versions of these foods contain “friendly” bacteria like probiotics and helpful enzymes. These beneficial bacteria predigest food and help you better absorb the nutrients.
Check labels carefully on commercial products to ensure the food does indeed contain probiotics and other beneficial bacteria and does not contain too much added salt or sugar.
Meat products and protein
Any meats that are tough or fibrous may be hard to digest. These include:
- meats with casings, such as hot dogs, sausage, and kielbasa
- lunch meats
- meats with whole spices
Beans, chunky peanut butter, and whole nuts are other protein sources that may give you some trouble going through your digestive system.
Most refined grains are easily digestible. That means that whole-grain breads, rolls, and bagels are not necessarily good choices.
Look out for grain products that contain raisins, nuts, and seeds, such as multigrain crackers. Also avoid cereals that contain nuts, dried fruits, and bran.
Granola, brown or wild rice, and whole-grain pasta may not digest easily either.
While people who are lactose intolerant may want to avoid most dairy products, they may tolerate yogurt or kefir. The healthy bacteria in these foods help to break down the lactose sugar, making them easier to digest.
You can make your own yogurt or look for varieties that specifically contain probiotics.
Also, avoid any dairy products that are mixed with fresh fruit, seeds, nuts, or artificial sweeteners.
Other foods you may want to avoid include:
- jams and jellies that contain seeds, popcorn, and whole spices
- carbonated drinks (like soda)
- caffeinated drinks (like coffee)
- spicy or fried foods (may give you heartburn or indigestion)
It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor or dietitian if you plan on making significant changes to your diet. Before you cut out all potentially hard-to-digest foods, you may find it helpful to keep a food diary.
Record what you’ve eaten, what time of day you’ve eaten it, and how the food makes you feel. That way, you can identify and avoid foods that cause gas, bloating, stomach pain, or other discomfort.
You can also provide this information to your doctor to help diagnose and treat any medical issues you may have.