Some foods are easy-to-digest foods, and some foods are not. When do you need to think about the difference? If you aren’t feeling well, whether you have the flu or a condition of the digestive tract like IBS or Crohn’s disease, sometimes you need your food to be gentle as it moves through your gut. This article will provide a list of foods that go down easy, and some foods to avoid until you’re feeling better.
When You Need Easy-to-Digest Foods
There are certain conditions, whether chronic or temporary, that require taking it easy when it comes to what you’re eating. Most of us will be able to recognize at least one of these common digestive problems.
- Temporary nausea
- Stomach flu (gastroenteritis)
- Intestinal surgery
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s disease
Whatever digestive issue or digestive disease you’re suffering from, choosing the rights foods to eat that will allow you to recover as comfortably as possible can make a world of difference.
Foods to Avoid When Unwell
Though your body needs various nutrients, including fiber, to maintain ideal functioning, sometimes a low-fiber or fiber-restricted diet is necessary to let your digestive system rest. Likewise complex carbs or tough proteins tend to be harder to digest, and therefore not something you’ll want to eat on a sensitive stomach.
It’s counterintuitive but true: the whole wheat and veggies that are healthy for you on normal days take extra work to digest when you’re ill. This is the occasion when you’ll want simpler carbohydrates and cooked instead of raw foods. Here are some foods you may want to take a break from when you’re unwell.
Fresh fruits tend to contain a lot of fiber. While some, like bananas and avocados, are gentle enough to eat when your digestive system is stressed, there’s fiber in pulp, and citrus fruits like pineapple contain citric acid that can cause issues for those with GERD (acid reflux) or heartburn. Fruits you’ll want to avoid include:
- Frozen or thawed berries
- Dried fruits
- Canned fruit cocktail
You’ll want to avoid raw vegetables for a short time. Instead stick to cooked or canned veggies, which have a lower fiber content. Vegetables to avoid include:
- Dried beans
- Stir-fry vegetables
- Potato skins
- Stewed tomatoes
Fermented foods are good in some circumstances precisely because they have a dramatic influence on your gut environment. However, if you’re not in perfect gut health, you may want to avoid fermented and probiotic foods until you’re back to feeling better. Fermented foods include:
- Greek yogurt
Tough Meats and Protein
Red meats are fibrous and will be tough to digest if you’re ill and your body doesn’t have the strength or resources to break down complex proteins. The meats and protein foods you may want to avoid for the moment include:
- Lunch meats
- Meats with casings (hot dogs, sausage, kielbasa)
- Meats with whole spices
- Chunky peanut butter
- Whole Nuts
Refined grains will be more easily digestible, so you may want to avoid the following whole-grain items, especially those containing whole nuts, seeds, or dried fruits like raisins. Some of the grains to avoid include:
- Whole-grain breads
- Whole-grain pastas
- Multigrain crackers
- Bran cereals
- Brown or wild rice
Other foods you may want to avoid include the following categories:
- Spicy foods: As delicious as they may be, spicy foods may worsen heartburn and irritate your stomach lining.
- Fatty foods: Fatty foods like ice cream or butter can make diarrhea worse and cause bloating.
- Carbonated and caffeinated drinks: Sodas and coffee could bring irritation and acidity to your digestive tract.
- Fried foods: Fried food favorites like french fries or onion rings can cause cramps, diarrhea, and bloating due to their fat and grease content.
- Acidic foods: Tomatoes, oranges, grapefruits, and their juices, can worsen digestive symptoms due to their acidity.
- Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols: Sugary juices and alcohol can cause diarrhea, nausea, and digestive upset, and should be avoided if you’re not feeling well.
- Jams and jellies: Certain jams and jellies with seeds or whole spices could worsen your condition.
The above categories include some common culprits when it comes to indigestion, and it should be noted that even those without gluten or lactose sensitivity may still find dense breads and dairy products harder to digest in certain moments of sickness and intestinal tenderness. You may want to guess less when you’re feeling unwell and stick to foods that are known to be easy to digest. Read on to find out!
10 Easy-to-Digest Foods
Here are some foods that are simple to digest, some of which you may recognize as your go-to flu foods when you were a kid.
Plain white bread toast is so well-known for being gentle, it’s made it into the English lexicon: as bland as dry toast. Whole wheat bread is not advised, as it is higher in fiber than white bread is, but toast is such an easy-to-digest food it’s included in the BRAT diet recommended for easing upset stomach or diarrhea: bananas, rice, apples, and toast.
Easy for the stomach to break down and digest, plain toast can help reduce heartburn and decrease nausea. For those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, a wheat- or gluten-free bread option should be selected instead.
Though the BRAT diet recommends apples, the fiber content of a whole fruit apple is not ideal if you’re trying to ease your digestive tract. Applesauce, however, because it’s been cooked down, is softer and easier to digest (soft enough even for baby food). More than that, applesauce contains pectin, a soluble fiber that may help ease diarrhea. The natural sugars and carbs in applesauce provide an energy boost, so this kid-friendly treat is part of a healthy diet on good days and bad.
3. White Rice
Just as it was true about the type of bread used for toast, white rice is preferable over brown rice if you’re looking for gentle digestion. While brown or wild rice is an excellent source of fiber when your digestive tract is strong, it is not ideal if you’re dealing with inflammation and tenderness. Brown rice on a day like that could lead to gas, bloating, and diarrhea, all of which would worsen your condition. You’ll still be getting the energy boost from the carbs in rice, but without having to work so hard for them.
4. Saltine Crackers
Saltine crackers are often used to treat indigestion, nausea, and the so-called “morning sickness” that some pregnant women get at any time of day. Again, these are bland, gentle carbs just like the ones in white rice and dry toast, making them more friendly for a sensitive digestive system.
While we’re on the topic, other gentler grains include plain bagels or soft bread rolls (perhaps dipped in some chicken soup broth), or low-fiber cereals (check for fewer than 2 grams of fiber per serving). Processed cookies without any nuts or fruits, while maybe not the healthiest choice, are sweet comfort food, without giving you any more tummy trouble than you already have.
Basically any product made with refined white flour falls into this category, as the germ and bran of the wheat is removed during the refining process, meaning there’s less fiber for your body to work around in the end product.
The riper the banana, the easier it is to digest. That’s because the easy carbs in ripe bananas are more accessible, plus you’ll get a boost of potassium, which can be depleted from the body if you’re suffering from a bout of diarrhea.
Other fruits that are gentler than fiber-filled or acidic fruits include honeydew melons, cantaloupes, watermelons, avocados (a stone fruit), and canned or cooked fruits that don’t have any seeds or skins in the final product.
If you don’t want your plain toast to be so dry and bland, some scrambled eggs (including both the whites and yolks) might be just the ticket. You’ll gain protein and minerals from eating eggs, but they’ll be softer and more easily broken down once they’re scrambled. If you’re recovering from nausea or a stomach virus, this might be just the way to come out of it.
Other protein sources that are gentler than tough meats include tofu and creamy nut butters.
If you do eat meat or are a pescatarian, salmon is an easy-to-digest fish, and how you prepare it can make even more of a difference. Baking salmon makes for easier digestion than frying it up in a pan with oil. With lean protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can help you regain your strength as you recover from an illness or flare-up, without placing a great burden on your digestive tract.
Another lean meat, chicken is so easy to digest that chicken soup is a staple food for recovering from a cold or flu. More than the protein content of the chicken itself, the salt and flavoring in chicken soup broth can help rehydrate you and replenish your electrolytes if you’ve had a bad bout of vomiting or diarrhea that’s wiped out your stores. Skinless chicken, baked or grilled or cooked in a soup, will give you strength from protein without fiber to digest alongside of it.
9. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes have fiber, but it’s a soluble fiber that is much easier to digest than insoluble fiber. On top of that, the soluble fiber in sweet potatoes can help feed the good gut bacteria in your intestines, which will help build your defenses back up if you’ve had a virus or stomach bug. In addition, sweet potatoes (like bananas) contain potassium, an important electrolyte often depleted when you’re ill with the stomach flu.
Just as with fruit, cooking vegetables helps make them more digestible, and when it comes to potatoes, removing the skin helps too. Canned or cooked vegetables like carrots, spinach, and green beans can be gentle enough to eat as well.
Gelatin, or Jell-O, is so gentle it’s often the first food allowed after a surgery in the hospital. It’s not only easy on the digestive system, but it can also help treat the dehydration that often comes with diarrhea or vomiting. With no fat, no oil, and a simple texture, gelatin is frequently as easy to eat as it is to digest.
Food You Can Stomach
Each of us is unique in the foods that sit right with us and those that don’t, particularly if you have lactose intolerance or other food sensitivities. This list offers up suggestions for easy-to-digest foods that you can pull from when needed.
Other tips for ease of digestion: cutting up your food into small pieces, taking small bites, and chewing thoroughly as you eat. Your digestion starts right on the tip of your tongue, with the enzymes in your mouth and the chewing done by your teeth, long before your food even hits your stomach acid. Take your time with your meals, enjoy them, and if your digestive tract is currently stressed, choose gentler foods so you can recover in comfort.