Did you know that if you cannot digest your food within 48 hours after eating, it may be time to investigate some other options? (1)
Typically, digestion takes between 24 to 72 hours, but that all depends on what type of food you choose (2). Meat and fish can take up to two days to digest, as an example (1). Figuring out what foods work well for your body is essential to your overall health.
Digestion starts in the mouth as you begin to chew your food, then digestive juices move food through the esophagus, then your stomach. Stomach acid, bile, and digestive enzymes are all necessary digestive juices to digest food well (3).
Improper digestion can affect many areas of your health. Common symptoms of digestion issues include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation (4). Food is not the only culprit for digestive issues, as low stomach acid (also known as hypochlorhydria) (6) and a lack of digestive enzymes can cause problems, too (5).
Tip: Chewing food thoroughly and consuming easy-to-digest foods can help with gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
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Many foods are easier on the digestive system, and they can help promote better digestion overall.
Check out the list of easy-to-digest foods below and see if it is time to start adding them to your routine more often. Most diets can benefit from adding any of these healthy foods at least some of the time.
Avocados are a healthy fruit that can help to ease digestion (7), (8). They are full of potassium and healthy fats, and essential nutrients like fiber. Potassium can get lost during periods of digestive upset, so eating more can be necessary for many (9).
All of these can help to promote healthy digestive function. Avocado is also a low-fructose fruit, so there is much less of a chance that it will cause gas (10).
Avocados are a great way to stay full longer, too. The healthy fat content helps to keep you satiated longer, leaving room to improve weight control as well. Add some avocado to your breakfast, smoothie, or have it as a mid-day snack.
Tip: Add avocados to your smoothies for a creamy texture, or mash them up with garlic powder, salt, and pepper for a quick veggie snack dip.
2. Saltine Crackers
Saltine crackers are the go-to food for when you are sick, especially when you are feeling nauseous. That is because they are extremely easy on the digestive system (11).
These crackers are the best to grab if you are having especially challenging digestive issues or if you are feeling ill.
You can enjoy these crackers when you are feeling good, too. Add them to soups or dress them up with some almond butter and jelly for a healthy, digestive-friendly snack.
Summary: If you have digestive issues, snack on crackers with cheese and fruit, or add them as a side to soups instead of hearty bread.
Toast is another easy-to-digest food that is great for when you feel sick, and it is especially helpful if you cannot get any other food down well.
This does not include bread. The reason toast is easier to digest is that the toasting process breaks down some of the carbohydrates before consuming (12).
Try some whole grain, white, or rye toast when you are not feeling well to get something in your stomach without aggravating your digestive tract.
Tip: For an easy-to-digest breakfast, toast your bread and top it with mashed avocado, another digestive-friendly food.
4. White Rice
If you experience nausea, heartburn, or indigestion often, white rice is one of those foods that can digest much easier than other rice like brown rice. The reason it is so easy to digest is that it has an extremely small amount of fiber (13), (14).
White rice is ok to have every so often, but it is not always helpful as a part of your daily routine. Why? Too much white rice can lead to an increase in chronic diseases like heart disease or diabetes (15), (16).
There are many blends of different kinds of rice available to help protect your heart and continue to digest well. For example, you can choose a wild rice blend with white rice and other types to get more nutrients.
Tip: Eat white rice in moderation. If you experience digestive distress, mix white rice with brown or wild rice to get some fiber and B vitamins necessary for good health.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein for those who have a hard time digesting many foods. The egg white contains no nutrition except the protein, but even those who suffer from digestive distress can tolerate the yolk as well (17).
Try to eat the whole egg to get all the nutrition, including vitamin D, vitamin A, lutein, protein, and more (17), (18).
Eggs are an easy and tasty way to get more nutrition into your diet without aggravating your digestive system any further. Many people who experience nausea often can tolerate eggs well (19).
Although, if you experience a great deal of digestive distress often, make sure to visit a healthcare professional to get to the root cause of the issue.
Tip: Eggs are an easy-to-digest high protein option. Make scrambled eggs with salt and pepper, toast, and some avocado for a complete digestive-friendly meal.
Although animal protein can be hard to digest, chicken is an exception to that rule. That is because a chicken has no fiber content (20), (21).
Chicken is a great option for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) because it is so easy to digest (21). Other meats are not always the case. Heavier meats like red meat and processed meat can be a struggle for some to digest because they often have added fat and sugar (22), (23).
Stick with lean meats low in fat like chicken if you suffer from digestive distress of any kind.
Tip: Make chicken flavorful with herbs and spices, BBQ sauce, or honey and garlic flavors.
The fruit is an important and healthy part of a balanced diet, but it is also high in fiber, which can sometimes be problematic for those with digestive issues (11).
But applesauce is another exception. Applesauce is easier to process than an uncooked apple because the fiber is broken down more in the cooking process (24).
You will still get the nutrients and benefits from the apple, without any digestive trouble.
Tip: Consume applesauce without any added sugar. Add a touch of cinnamon to applesauce for a boost in flavor.
Salmon is a healthy protein that is an excellent option for those who need extra support with digestion. It is high in omega 3 fatty acids, essential B vitamins, and many vital minerals.
Baked salmon without any oil is especially easy on the digestive system because it breaks down in the body better (25).
You can also add in some canned salmon to your diet to help ease digestion. Adding salmon will help you get many essential nutrients, without causing any digestive flareups.
Tip: Sauté salmon in a teaspoon of olive oil with balsamic vinegar and vegetables for a quick, easy, digestible dinner idea.
Sauerkraut it normally a food that many associates with adding it on a hotdog in the summertime, but it is a powerful underrated healthy food all by itself.
This probiotic-rich food is easy on the digestive system, because of the fermentation process. When food goes through fermentation, the digestive process starts as even before it hits your mouth, making it much easier to pass. It even contains enzymes to help the process run smoother (26).
Skip the hotdog and add sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) to your favorite chicken dish for a healthy change.
Tip: Add sauerkraut as a topping for pizza, flatbread, soups, and stews to improve digestion.
Like sauerkraut, yogurt is another probiotic food that is rich in nutrients and easy to digest. Probiotic foods like yogurt contain healthy bacteria that help to break down the lactose sugar in the gut microbiome (27), (28).
Some people who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy can even tolerate yogurt or kefir, because of the powerful probiotic content they both have (27).
If you are unsure if you can tolerate dairy, try goat milk kefir first. Goat milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk because it contains a different form of casein that breaks down better in the gastrointestinal tract (29).
Tip: Top yogurt with berries or make a savory Greek yogurt veggie dip to reap the gut health benefits of yogurt.
11. Sweet Potatoes
Although sweet potatoes have fiber, they have more soluble fiber, which can be easier to process. Soluble fiber adds good bacteria in the intestines, making digestion simpler (30).
Sweet potatoes also have a high amount of potassium, which is an important electrolyte that is largely lost when you have a digestive flareup. Adding sweet potatoes can help to balance out your electrolyte levels, allowing you to avoid digestive concerns (31).
Both fibers are helpful for your overall health, but if you are having a hard time with digestion, it may be in your favor to skip foods high in insoluble fiber like wheat, beans, and sesame.
Tip: Slice sweet potatoes into “fries” and coat with a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in a 425 degree oven for 25-30 minutes for a crispy, healthy side dish.
Oatmeal is also high in soluble fiber, instead of insoluble fiber. Other grains like whole wheat are high in insoluble fiber, so they are often harder on the digestive system (32), (33).
This popular breakfast staple can be an easy way to ease digestive issues, and you can add a lot to it to get even more nutrition (34).
Add in some cinnamon and cacao powder to your oatmeal for a hearty, protein-rich, easy-to-digest meal.
Tip: Make oats a staple in your diet if you struggle with digesting food. Top oats with berries, bananas, cinnamon, and a touch of honey.
Many foods can help to improve digestion but remember that food is not the only culprit. Low stomach acid and low digestive enzymes can occur with age and a poor diet (35).
Always remember to eat a balanced full of nutrient-dense foods to keep your digestive system as healthy as possible.
Try to add some of these foods to your diet, and see if you notice a difference in your digestion.
If you have digestive issues that are not going away, speak to a healthcare professional about your options. You may need some digestive support like digestive enzymes or stomach acid support.