Healthy digestion is important for your overall well-being. Unfortunately, many people have digestive problems like constipation, gas, diarrhea or bloating.
Some people experience these issues because of a food intolerance, or as a result of food poisoning. Others have chronic diseases that affect the digestive system, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's disease.
People with these conditions often turn to foods that are easy to digest. In addition, many people use easy-to-digest foods for other reasons, such as snacks before a long run.
Your health and lifestyle needs can all influence the food choices you make, and sometimes it is best to go with foods you can digest easily.
This article provides a summary of eight foods that are easy to digest.
Digestion starts in your mouth when you chew your food. The food travels through the digestive system, which consists of organs like the stomach, small intestine and colon.
Along the digestive tract, the body secretes enzymes and acids that help break down the food. Nutrients then enter the bloodstream and distribute throughout the body.
When people say a food is hard to digest, it doesn’t mean you can’t digest it. The digestive system is extremely efficient at processing and absorbing food.
When a food is hard to digest, it only means that the digestive system takes more time to digest it, and the food can have potential side effects, such as bloating, gas and heartburn.
Food rich in fiber and fat takes a long time to digest.
Food that’s high in fat can also cause digestive problems, since it slows down digestion and the food stays for a longer period in the stomach.
On the other hand, food that is easy to digest is absorbed quickly and without causing side effects like bloating and gas. In general, easily digested food contains simple carbs with no fiber, or is protein-rich with no carbs.
Let’s take a closer look at some foods that are easy to digest.
Rice contains mainly carbs and is very easy to digest.
Although brown rice is a healthier choice than white, your body will digest the white variety faster. Brown rice contains all parts of the grain, including the bran and germ, which are the most nutritious and fibrous parts (2, 3).
In contrast, white rice has had these parts of the grain removed. It is not as nutritious, and is converted to sugar faster, since there is almost no fiber to slow down its digestion (4).
However, cooling your rice after boiling it might make it less digestible. As it cools, the starch in rice turns into something called resistant starch, which means it is not digested — it is resistant to digestion (5).
Therefore, if you are looking for easy-to-digest food, don't wait until your rice has cooled down. Eat it while it’s still warm.
Summary: Rice is easy to digest. White rice can be digested faster than brown rice, even though the brown variety is more nutritious. Cooling your rice after cooking it makes it harder to digest.
Lean meats like chicken and turkey are easy on your stomach. They also contain high-quality protein, which is one of the most filling macronutrients.
Avoid meat that has been pan-fried or deep-fried, since the added fat can upset your stomach. Also be sure to cook your meat properly to minimize the risk of foodborne bacteria that can cause diarrhea or vomiting.
Summary: Lean meats including chicken and turkey are high-protein foods that are easy to digest.
Bananas aren’t just popular, they’re also very nutritious. They mostly contain carbs in the form of either starch or sugar, depending on their ripeness (11).
Green, unripe bananas have a high content of resistant starch, which escapes digestion. As the banana ripens, its starches break down into simple sugars that your body can digest easily.
Interestingly, the starch content of unripe bananas is about 70–80%, but decreases to less than 1% once they have ripened (12).
Overall, when a banana has ripened, the amount of starch and fiber it contains is negligible compared to the amount you would get from an unripe banana (15).
Summary: Ripe bananas are easy to digest. They contain less resistant starch and fiber than green, unripe bananas.
Potatoes are rich in carbs and contain several important nutrients (16).
The carbs in potatoes are mostly starch, which makes up about 15–20% of their fresh weight. Raw potatoes contain a lot of resistant starch, which is not digested. However, potatoes are not usually eaten raw (17).
Cooking potatoes makes the starches easily digestible. Boiled potatoes contain less resistant starch than baked potatoes, so are the better option for easy digestion (18).
Therefore, to make your potatoes as easy to digest as possible, boil them and eat them while they are still warm.
Interestingly, the variety of potato — russet, red, yellow and so on — does not seem to affect how easy it is to digest (18).
Summary: The starch in cooked potatoes is easy to digest. Eating boiled potatoes that are still warm is the best option.
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods around.
They are loaded with several vitamins and contain high-quality protein. Most of the nutrients are in the yolk, which consists mostly of fat. Meanwhile, the white contains mostly protein. One large boiled egg contains 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein (21).
Eggs are often recommended for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects the digestive system, with symptoms including bloating, gas, stomach pain, constipation and diarrhea (22, 23).
However, some people may find egg yolks hard to digest, since they're mostly made of fat. For these individuals, it may be best to stick with just the egg whites.
Boil the eggs instead of frying them in fat or oil, or fry them without any, since excess cooking fats may also disturb the stomach.
Summary: Health specialists often advise those with IBS to include eggs in their diet. Egg whites may be the easiest to digest, since the fat in the egg yolk might upset the stomach.
Oatmeal is commonly made from steel-cut, rolled or crushed oats, though it can also be made from whole oats or oat groats.
Instant or quick oats are a little more refined, since they’re rolled and pressed a bit thinner than rolled oats. They are the most processed variety and they cook the fastest.
In addition, they are also the easiest and fastest to digest. Rolling oats into thin flakes breaks down their starch structure, making the starch very accessible during digestion (24).
A study on 10 healthy individuals showed that thin-rolled oats were digested faster than thick-rolled oats (25).
Even though oats do not contain gluten, keep in mind that some oats might be contaminated with gluten. This happens if they’re processed in the same place as grains that contain gluten, like wheat and barley.
If you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, you can buy oats that are labeled gluten-free. Studies have shown that most people with celiac disease can tolerate gluten-free or “pure” oats (26).
Summary: Oatmeal from instant oats is digested faster than oatmeal from other types of oats. People with celiac disease should take care to consume only gluten-free oats.
Eating fish has several health benefits, and it’s easy to digest.
Protein from animal sources is usually easier to digest than plant-based protein, such as from grains and legumes.
Several factors influence the digestibility of protein from plants, including tannins that inhibit digestion. Also, the protein in plants is often difficult to access due to its position inside the plant. There are no such obstacles in fish (30, 31).
Summary: Lean fish is easy to digest. It is high in protein that is more easily digested than plant-based protein.
Some types of yogurt are very rich in probiotics, friendly bacteria that are also known as yogurt cultures.
Eating these probiotics is beneficial for your health, and may help keep your gut bacteria healthy. Research has shown they may benefit digestive health, support immune function and help with weight loss (32, 33, 34).
Consuming milk products usually causes an upset stomach for people with lactose intolerance. However, many people who are lactose intolerant can eat yogurt in moderate amounts.
The lactic acid bacteria in yogurt break the lactose in milk down into lactic acid. Thus, there is much less lactose in yogurt than in milk.
Unfortunately, pasteurization kills all yogurt cultures, though many producers add live, active cultures back into their pasteurized yogurt. Check the label to make sure you’re choosing varieties that contain live and active cultures.
Summary: Yogurt is rich in probiotics, which are friendly bacteria that benefit digestive health. Yogurt may protect against antibiotic-associated diarrhea and improve symptoms of IBS.
Many other factors can also affect digestion, including exercise, stress and drinking liquids.
Here are a few things you can do to improve your digestion:
- Limit stress: Stress influences the digestive system and may cause stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Ways to reduce stress include relaxation techniques, meditation and exercise (38, 39, 40).
- Exercise: In addition to relieving stress, regular exercise can reduce constipation, and may also reduce symptoms of IBS (41, 42, 43).
- Stay hydrated: Drinking liquids is important for digestion because it can reduce constipation and bloating. Drinking water is the best option (44).
- Don't eat too much at a time: Otherwise, you may experience stomach pain and discomfort. Eating slowly may reduce the amount you eat and also increases the production of saliva, which helps break down food (45, 46).
Summary: Research shows that limiting stress, getting regular exercise, drinking plenty of water and eating slowly can all help digestion.
Some types of food are easier to digest than others. They are digested quickly and smoothly, and do not cause any digestive side effects.
If you have an upset stomach, it may be good to eat easy-to-digest foods while you’re recovering. They may also be a good option for those with certain health conditions.
However, if you are healthy with no digestive problems, don’t limit yourself to eating food that is easy to digest, since it is usually low in both fiber and fat.
In general, you should build your diet around a variety of whole foods. That said, it can come in handy to have some easy-to-digest options to choose from.