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Some people have health conditions that make many foods challenging for them to digest. What healthful dietary choices can a person make if they have trouble with digestion?
Symptoms of digestive problems include acid reflux, bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. These can result from many causes, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, pregnancy, eating too fast, medications, and gastrointestinal surgery.
The body needs a range of nutrients, including fiber, protein, and fat. In some forms, however, these nutrients can be hard to digest.
What should people with digestive issues eat to maintain a healthy diet while avoiding digestive problems? This article looks at 11 easy-to-digest foods that may help.
Toast is easier to digest than bread as the toasting process breaks down some of the carbohydrates.
Toast can help decrease nausea and reduce heartburn, but not all toast is the same.
Whole wheat bread is more healthful than white bread but is high in fiber and can be difficult for some people to eat.
If a person has trouble digesting whole wheat toast, the first step is to try it plain without butter. For additional flavor, choose fruit jellies over creamy spreads, such as nut butter.
Enriched white bread is an option if someone cannot tolerate whole grains. Depending on the type, two slices of enriched white bread may provide:
- 140 calories
- 29 grams (g) of carbohydrate
- 4 g of protein
- 1 g of fiber
- 60.2 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 1.44 mg of iron
- 60.2 micrograms (mcg) of folate
Thin slices of plain, white toast without spreads may be the best option for some people.
Those with an intolerance to wheat or gluten can choose a wheat free or gluten free bread option.
Many grocery stores stock wheat free bread, gluten free bread, and enriched white bread. These products are also available for purchase online.
Rice is a good source of energy and protein, but not all grains are easy to digest. High fiber rice, such as brown rice, can contribute to digestive issues, including diarrhea, bloating, and gas.
When looking for grains that are easy on the digestive system, white rather than brown, black, or red rice may be a better option. Enriched white rice will have added vitamins and minerals, which enhance its nutritional value.
Half a cup of long grain, dry, brown rice provides:
- 300 calories
- 64 (g) of carbohydrate
- 6 g of protein
- 2 g of fiber
- 2.88 (mg) of iron
Half a cup of enriched, dry, medium, white rice contains:
- 337 calories
- 74 g of carbohydrate
- 6.6 g of protein
- 1.2 g of fiber
- 4 mg of iron
Adding oils and other fat sources to rice may also make it hard to digest. It is best to opt for plain rice and add toppings with caution until you find out which ones are most suitable.
Learn more here about the health benefits of rice and the different types available.
Look out for enriched, white rice in the grocery store, or purchase it online.
They also provide fluid, which is important for people with diarrhea or constipation.
A medium banana weighing 118 g contains:
- 88.4 g of water
- 105 calories
- 1.29 g of protein
- 3.07 g of fiber
- 27 g of carbohydrate, including 14.4 g of sugar
- 5.9 mg of calcium
- 31.9 mg of magnesium
- 422 mg of potassium
The riper the banana, the more carbohydrate turns to sugar. People on a diabetes meal plan may need to consider the carbohydrates and sugar that come from bananas when doing their daily calculations.
Bananas are a high FODMAP fruit. The FODMAP diet categorizes food according to how it affects people with IBS. High FODMAP fruits can be hard for a person with IBS to tolerate than low FODMAP fruits, such as strawberries and grapes. Bananas may trigger bloating, cramping, and other symptoms in people with IBS.
Learn more here about the health benefits of bananas.
Fruit is part of a healthy diet and is rich in nutrients and antioxidants. However, the fiber in fruit can lead to digestive problems.
Cooking helps break down the fiber, making it easier to digest. For this reason, applesauce can be easier to digest than an uncooked apple.
Depending on the type of apple, a 244-g cup of unsweetened applesauce can provide:
- 215 g of water
- 102 calories
- 27.5 g of carbohydrate
- 22.9 g of sugar
- 2.68 g of fiber
- 181 mg of potassium
- 7.32 mcg of folate
- 4.88 mg of sodium
People on a low sugar diet will need to account for the sugar in applesauce.
Apples and applesauce contain fermentable carbohydrates that feed gut bacteria, but these may aggravate symptoms of IBS.
To make applesauce
This guide tells you how to make applesauce at home:
1. Peel, core, and slice apples.
2. Put in a pan with a tablespoonful of water, just enough to stop the apples from sticking.
3. Cover and cook on a low heat for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Mash or sieve to remove unwanted lumps.
5. Serve hot or cold.
The advantage of making applesauce at home is that people can be sure it is fresh and has no additives.
Premade applesauce is available for purchase online.
Boiled, poached, or scrambled eggs are easy to prepare, eat, and digest. They are often suitable for people who are recovering from a stomach virus or nausea.
The white contains less fat and is easier to digest, but many people with digestive problems can also tolerate the yolk.
A large boiled or poached egg provides a wide range of nutrients, including:
- 71 calories
- 4.72 g of fat
- 214 mg of sodium
- 6.24 g of protein
- 28 mg of calcium
- 98.5 mg of phosphorus
- 117 mg of choline
When scrambling eggs, add low fat milk rather than cream or butter, as animal fats can be hard to tolerate for some people.
It is important to cook all eggs fully, as raw egg carries a risk of salmonella poisoning.
Sweet potatoes provide soluble fiber, which can be easier to digest than insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber also increases the good bacteria in the intestines, contributing to a healthy digestive system.
Sweet potatoes also contain potassium, an electrolyte that is often lost during digestive upsets.
A 247-g cup of mashed sweet potato contains:
- 197 g of water
- 215 calories
- 4.05 g of protein
- 37.3 g of carbohydrate
- 4.94 g of fiber
- 13.5 g of sugar
- 101 mg of calcium
- 1.46 mg of iron
- 516 mg of potassium
- 14.8 mcg of folate
People who experience IBS will need to keep their portions small to avoid a flare-up of symptoms since sweet potatoes are a medium source of FODMAPs.
Find out more about sweet potatoes.
Chicken is a source of lean protein, which helps the body repair itself. Chicken also provides a range of minerals and B vitamins.
Chicken tends to be easy to digest. It also contains no fiber, making it a good choice for people with digestive issues, such as IBS.
Baked or grilled, skinless chicken is a healthful option, as it contains the least fat.
A 100-g serving of stewed chicken breast without the skin provides:
- 150 calories
- 28.16 g of protein
- 3.52 g of fat
- 258 g of potassium
- 7 mcg of folate
People should make sure they fully cook chicken to reduce the risk of salmonella poisoning.
Salmon contains protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and a wide range of minerals and B vitamins. Baking salmon without adding fat or oil will help make it easy to digest.
A 100-g serving of baked salmon without added fat provides:
- 160 calories
- 25.82 g of protein
- 5.54 g of fat
- 9 mg of calcium
- 462 mg of potassium
- 5 mcg of folate
During pregnancy, it is essential to cook salmon fully and only to choose salmon that comes from a reputable source. Large, oily fish can contain high levels of mercury, but salmon is typically low in mercury.
Raw salmon will be harder to digest than cooked salmon. In rare cases, it can contain small parasites, which can cause anisakidosis. Symptoms of this infection include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The nutritional value of gelatin dishes varies and depends on their other ingredients, but a 240-g cup serving of a typical gelatin dessert may provide:
- 203 g of water
- 149 calories
- 2.93 g of protein
- 32.4 g of sugar
Gelatin is an animal based ingredient and is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians.
Agar-agar comes from seaweed and creates a similar texture to gelatin. Jellies containing agar-agar can provide energy and fluid, but they contain less protein.
Vegan and nonvegan gelatin desserts are available for purchase online.
Some people find that plain saltine crackers help settle nausea, for example, during pregnancy. They can also be easy to digest.
Saltine crackers will provide energy and some nutrients.
A 3-g cracker offers:
- 12.5 calories
- 0.284 g of protein
- 0.57 mg of calcium
- 4.56 mg of potassium
- 4.02 mg of folate
- 28.2 mg of sodium
The American Heart Association recommend aiming for a maximum intake of 1,500 mg a day of sodium for most adults.
People who consume saltine crackers regularly need to consider the sodium content, especially if they are at risk of high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.
Those with IBS or who are following a low FODMAP diet should look for a gluten free saltine alternative.
Saltine crackers are a highly processed food. For the longer term, people may wish to try oatmeal, as it is less processed but is also a good source of energy.
Making it with water will reduce the fat content. For flavor, a person can add a little honey.
A 234-gram cup of regular, cooked oatmeal, without added fat, contains:
- 143 calories
- 5.0 g of protein
- 2.5 g of fat
- 25.6 g of carbohydrate
- 3.74 g of fiber
Oatmeal also provides:
- minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium
- B vitamins, including folate
- vitamin K
Oatmeal is also gluten free, making it a better choice for those with gluten sensitivity.
People with a variety of conditions may find it hard to digest certain foods.
These conditions and health factors include:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- viruses and infections that affect the digestive tract
- inflammatory conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- surgery for digestive problems
- allergies and sensitivities, for example, lactose intolerance or glucose sensitivity
Get some more tips here on how to improve digestion.
Some foods and ingredients can trigger indigestion in various people.
- spicy foods and hot chili peppers
- fatty foods, including red meats
- fried foods, such as french fries and onion rings
- acidic foods, including oranges, tomatoes, and grapefruit
- artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
Overeating can also lead to indigestion, bloating, and abdominal pain. Get some tips here on how to avoid eating too much.
Digestive problems can arise from:
- chronic health conditions, such as GERD or irritable bowel syndrome
- temporary health problems, such as a gastrointestinal infection
- pregnancy, especially as the growing baby starts to push against the stomach
- sensitivities to certain foods, such as dairy products
- overeating, eating too fast, not chewing enough, or eating under stress
People who frequently experience indigestion without a clear cause should see a doctor who can help them solve the problem. Sometimes, there is an underlying health issue that needs attention.
Do you have any special suggestions for vegans?