What You Should Really Eat For Healthy, Easy Digestion, From RDs
From the moment that food enters your mouth to the moment it exits your body, every ingredient you ingest goes on a winding journey of digestion, absorption, and excretion. But while the process takes between 24 and 72 hours to complete, there are some foods that are naturally easier to digest than others, which can have a major impact on the comfort of your body after eating.
From what makes certain foods easier to digest to what you should actually be eating to smooth out the process, here's everything you need to know about the best ingredients for healthy, easy digestion.
Why certain foods are easier to digest.
The reason that certain ingredients are easier on your digestion than others really boils down to one major thing: fiber. Interestingly, fiber is a compound that the body is unable to digest, so it remains basically intact until it's eliminated. However, the presence of fiber in meals affects the consistency of food in the gut and how much time food spends in the gut, which affects how quickly other foods in the intestines are broken down and absorbed.
"The fiber content1 of a food impacts how quickly it's digested," nutritionist Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, recipe developer at Cheerful Choices previously told mbg. "Foods higher in soluble fiber form a gel-like substance in the stomach, which slows down the digestive process. In contrast, foods high in insoluble fiber speed up the digestive process because they quickly pass unabsorbed into the large intestine, where they add bulk to stool."
While both types of fiber are essential to keep within your daily diet, foods that are slightly lower in fiber may be easier to digest. "You generally want to limit sugary, spicy, fried, and fatty foods, as they can be tougher on digestion," warns registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN. "How much and how often to consume foods that are easier to digest depends on individual factors. For example, when recovering from a stomach bug, you may need to stick to mostly bland foods, or if you have an ongoing GI condition that requires you to limit fiber or fat."
The best foods for digestion:
As mentioned above, fiber can make or break smooth digestion depending on how much and what kind is found in any given food. But there's a reason plain rice is recommended when your stomach is feeling upset: It's quite easy to digest. "Fiber can be tricky to digest if you are having gastrointestinal discomfort. Sticking to carbohydrates that are lower in fiber such as white rice, potatoes, and well-cooked root veggies [can help]," notes functional nutritionist Jessica Coghill, M.S., CNS.
We know that vegetables are great for fueling the body with key nutrients, and their cooked form is going to be much easier to digest than raw veggies like carrots, celery, and broccoli. "Vegetables and fruit that are well cooked are also easier to digest than raw varieties. Cooking produce items helps significantly break down fiber making them easier to digest," explains Coghill. Need some help choosing the perfect recipe? We recommend this sheet pan Provençale recipe that's roasted in the oven to perfection.
Fermented foods are packed with good gut bacteria, which are essential for diversifying the gut microbiome. However, eating these foods can even help with smooth digestion as well. In fact, a 2018 systematic review2 concluded that fermented yogurt was beneficial for overall gastrointestinal health. That being said, if you know your body is sensitive to dairy products, use this information wisely and instead opt for a fermented food such as kimchi or sauerkraut.
The form in which you're consuming certain foods can also affect the ease with which they're digested. "Foods that are blended and pureed are easy to digest. Examples would be protein shakes, smoothies, and pureed soups," notes Coghill. Since apples are a wonderful prebiotic food, applesauce is particularly good for the gut. Additionally, apples are cooked when turned into applesauce, naturally breaking down the fiber and making it easier to digest.
Other easy-to-digest foods include:
- Winter squash
- Lean poultry
- Egg whites
How to improve your digestion.
Thankfully, there are a few ways you can improve your digestion naturally, but it all comes down to listening to your body and the ingredients that do and don't feel good after eating. "Chewing food thoroughly makes food easier to digest," suggests Coghill. "If you are having digestive discomfort, it may be helpful to lower fiber temporarily to give your GI tract a bit of a break and incorporate foods like rice, potatoes, pureed soups, bone broth, protein shakes, and smoothies."
If you're struggling with digesting dairy products, it may indicate an intolerance, and eliminating or reducing these types of foods within your diet may also help with digestion. "Some people lack the enzyme lactase, which is necessary to break down lactose from dairy," Coghill adds. Another solution? Digestive enzymes. Find some of our favorites here.
Smooth and easy digestion is essential to feeling great in your body, so if you're having GI struggles, it may be worth turning to some easier-to-digest foods in the short term as you work to get things sorted out. Remember, fiber (both soluble and insoluble) is key to a healthy body, but uncooked soluble fiber is naturally going to be more difficult to break down, so keep this in mind as you build meals for your gut.
As always, if you're having a particularly difficult time with digestion, check in with a health care professional to create a meal plan specialized to your own body and unique dietary needs.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.