Benjamin Franklin once said that we can only expect two things from life: death and taxes. Well, there’s actually a third thing that the Founding Father neglected to add to the list, and that is digestive issues. (Sorry, Ben, but you know it’s true.) Whether it’s an upset stomach, indigestion, reflux, nausea, diarrhea, or worse, food poisoning, these kinds of things can happen to the best of us, and they’re far from pleasant.
Although there are many things you can do to improve your digestion, such as Ayurvedic breathing exercises, getting an abdominal massage, or even analyzing your poop, sticking to easy-to-digest foods is one of the best things to do when this happens. These types of foods, says Anabelle Harari Clebaner, RD, founder of Wellspring Nutrition, give your GI tract and bowels a break by not needing to work so hard to break down food when it’s already inflamed. It’s like the digestive equivalent of taking a sick day—you need to let your gut rest in order to heal.
As a general rule of thumb, Brittany Modell, RD, founder of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness, says that when dealing with digestive disorders or symptoms, it’s best to opt for creamy textured foods that are lean, contain reduced fat, and are low in fiber.
But things that don’t get better after a few days likely require more help than a temporary diet change. “Gastrointestinal disorders are complex,” Modell says. “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best foods to eat and digest.” This is particularly true of chronic gut conditions like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, digestive tract inflammation, or gastroparesis (where the stomach can’t properly empty itself of digested food). Plus, you’ll notice that lots of easy-to-digest foods aren’t particularly nutrient-rich (ahem, white rice). So eating this way permanently as a way to cope with gut issues doesn’t just put off a bigger problem; it could also create gaps in nutrition.
That’s why Tony Castillo, RDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, adds that as with many conditions, it’s best to talk to your doctor or RD to ensure eating easy-to-digest foods on the reg is the best course of action for you.
However, if you’re getting over a stomach bug or another temporary-yet-unpleasant stomach issue, you may benefit from incorporating some easy-to-digest foods into your recovery plan. Here’s what to add to your plate when you’re feeling crummy.
Fiber is generally a good thing when it comes to gut health and health in general. But, for someone with gastrointestinal issues, high-fiber foods may not be the best idea. “Fiber is hard to digest, which can be problematic for someone with slow motility,” Modell says. “Having a low-fiber diet with easy-to-digest foods could help with symptom management for those who suffer from GI issues.” Examples of low-fiber foods include white rice and white pasta, potatoes, and low-fiber fruits like grapefruit.
Don’t be afraid of reaching for your favorite veggies, either. “Vegetables are loaded with fiber,” Castillo says. “However, once they are cooked, the fiber is broken down by heat, which makes it easy for the body to digest. Vegetables are important to the diet because they contain vitamins and minerals important with fighting inflammation in the body.” Clebaner specifically recommends eating spinach, pumpkin, or carrots.
Speaking of digestion, here’s the 411 on gut health straight from a dietitian:
Bananas are full of nutrients, no matter at what stage you eat them (green, yellow, spotted brown). But if you’re having stomach issues and need something that your gut can effortlessly digest, stick to super ripe bananas. “They provide the body with carbohydrates, potassium, and other important vitamins and minerals,” Modell says. “The riper a banana is, the easier it is to digest.”
Good news for bread lovers. It’s totally cool to eat it when your gut feels off, but make sure it’s white. “White bread is much lower in fiber than whole grains,” Modell says. “Many refined grains have vitamins, and minerals added back to them, so you get the nutrients without the fiber.” White bread, however, is not one Modell would regularly recommend, given that there are healthier bread options out there. But, she says, it could be beneficial temporarily for folks with GI symptoms.
“Tender cuts of steak, poultry, and fish tend to be easy to digest,” Castillo says, due to their low fiber content. (It’s one of the few benefits of the carnivore diet for a reason.)
There is a caveat, though: make sure not to go overboard with the protein either. “When portions are too large in one sitting, it might impact your ability to digest quickly,” Modell says. For folks who have gastroparesis, also known as delayed stomach emptying, Modell says it’s important to stick with soft, low-fat proteins to avoid tummy troubles. So, add things like eggs, fish, shellfish, tofu, and low-fat dairy to your grocery cart. And, if you’re vegan, there are lots of plant-based proteins that are good for digestion, such as mung beans, nut butters, and chickpeas.
Although white rice isn’t necessarily a nutrient powerhouse compared to actual whole grains like brown rice and farro, it’s a good option when you need something easy on the stomach. “There is only 0.5 grams of fiber in one cup cooked rice, which makes it easier to digest,” Modell says. Pair it with a side of cooked veggies and a high-quality protein for a meal that won’t cause your gut distress.
If you’re sticking to easy-to-digest foods, you’re likely consuming a good amount of refined carbs. For that reason, Clebaner suggests adding in foods that are nutrient-rich, such as homemade bone broth. “It contains amino acids, electrolytes, and collagen, and is especially soothing when your stomach is upset,” she says. Gut-friendly vegan broth is excellent, too. Pro tip: make it in an Instant Pot, so it’s one less thing you have to worry about.
Looking for a soothing broth recipe? Check out this delicious one from herbalist Rachelle Robinett:
Modell typically recommends having 2 percent or full-fat Greek yogurt, but for those with digestive issues, non-fat is a better way to go as it’s easier on the stomach. (Fat digestion is a bit more complex than that of other macronutrients.) It also gets bonus points for having probiotics, which help promote digestive health in the long run.
If you can’t get enough oatmeal, but the fiber doesn’t agree with your gut, give instant oatmeal a shot. “Often referred to as ‘quick oats,’ instant oatmeal are the most processed and broken down of the oats, thereby making it a bit easier to digest,” Modell says. You can jazz up your oatmeal bowl with creative toppings to avoid getting bored.
Bloated? You may want to pay attention to the texture of the food you’re consuming. “The texture of your food can often dictate how bloated you will feel after,” Modell says. “This is important for people with gastroparesis.” If bloating or gastroparesis is something you deal with, eating soft foods such as cooked veggies, smoothies, soups, pureed foods (hello, hummus!), or fat-free refried beans may provide some relief.
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