Eating a bland diet of easy-to-digest foods might mean avoiding some of your favorite meals — either temporarily or permanently. However, if you are experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) distress, it might also provide the digestive relief you need.
Easy-to-digest foods break down more readily, giving your GI tract a break. There can be many different reasons to eat easily digestible meals, including ulcers, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, nausea, vomiting or other digestive conditions.
You may also need to eat a bland diet following illness or surgery, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine. If you're experiencing discomfort or pain when you eat, work with your doctor to discover the root cause — and whether easily digestible meals might be the solution for you.
A Word About Fiber
Fruits, vegetables and grains all have fiber, which is the portion of a plant-derived food that cannot be digested by your body. Fiber serves an important purpose in terms of easing bowel movements and moving toxic waste through the colon. It can also help to reduce cholesterol, control blood sugar and help with weight management, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
However, because it is not broken down, fiber may cause GI issues like gas and bloating as it passes through the large intestine. By eating low-fiber foods as part of your easily digestible meals, you can reduce the amount of undigested matter moving through your system and the associated symptoms.
You can cook your vegetables or fruits to reduce the amount of fiber in them. You can also juice them so you're able to take in their nutrients without having to pass fiber through your system.
Those nutrients can be powerful. A March 2017 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences examined the effects of fruit and vegetable juices on cardiovascular health. The study found that certain juices provide cardiovascular protection and anti-inflammatory effects, especially a mixture of fruits and vegetables.
Read more: List of Foods High in Soluble Fiber
Easily Digested Foods List
Certain foods can either trigger or tame digestive issues. A bland diet works to reduce diet-induced digestive problems. It should include easily digestible foods that are not only low in fiber, but also cooked rather than raw, soft in consistency and not spicy.
Eating foods off the easily digested foods list below may be key to avoiding possible dietary causes of GI distress. However, the foods you eat on a bland diet will be dictated by the type of digestive issue causing your symptoms, explains the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
For example, if you have celiac disease, you'll need to avoid gluten. If you have IBS, your doctor may recommend a low FODMAP diet, where you avoid carbohydrates that are hard to digest.
You may need to use the process of trial and error to determine which foods are OK and which foods cause symptoms. Depending on your particular situation, it may be safe to eat:
- Low-fat or fat-free milk and other dairy products; if lactose triggers symptoms, try lactose-free products or dairy alternatives like oat milk or coconut milk
- Cooked, canned or frozen vegetables
- Skinless, seedless cooked fruits, such as apples, or applesauce with no sugar added
- Pulp-free fruit juices and vegetable juices (those with GERD may wish to avoid citrus and tomato)
- White breads, crackers, pasta and other foods made with refined grains
- Refined, hot cereals, such as cream of wheat (farina)
- Lean, tender cuts of meat, such as skinless poultry, beef, pork, ground meats and whitefish
- Creamy peanut butter
- Pudding and custard
- Soup, especially broth
- Weak tea
Cook your easy-to-digest foods by baking, boiling, broiling, roasting, stewing, microwaving or creaming. Avoid frying, which can cause digestive problems.
Read more: Foods for Gastric Pain
Foods to Avoid
When eating a bland diet, you may wish to avoid not only high-fiber foods, but also certain other foods and drinks that can trigger symptoms, including:
- Carbonated, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
- Any meats with casings, like hot dogs and sausages
- Cured or heavily seasoned meats, such as lunch meats
- Whole spices
- Beans and lentils
- Chunky nut butters and whole nuts
- Raisins, seeds and dried fruits
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- Highly acidic fruits like berries, grapes, oranges, lemons and limes
- Vegetables that can cause flatulence like cabbage, cauliflower, onion and peppers
- Brown or wild rice
- Spicy and fried foods
- Full-fat dairy
- Fried pastries
Note that some people on a bland diet may need to avoid fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles. However, for others, the gut-friendly probiotics and enzymes in fermented foods can be helpful. These are considered "beneficial" bacteria that help to break down foods and aid with nutrient absorption.
Be aware, too, of added salt and sugar in any products. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars and no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
As you're eating easily digestible meals, chew slowly and eat small quantities. Stop eating two hours before bedtime.
Eat Processed Foods in Moderation
Although the Dietary Guidelines recommend eating whole grains, a bland diet may need to incorporate more refined grains. White or refined breads, plain bagels, toast and crackers are more easily digested.
These foods are not as nutritious as whole grains and should be limited. With a high glycemic index, they can leave you feeling hungry, spike blood sugar and, over time, increase the risk of diabetes.
In contrast, whole grains can provide important health benefits. February 2017 research published in the journal Nutrients indicates that increasing whole grain consumption may significantly lower cholesterol, for example.
Consume processed foods in moderation to avoid additional health problems. In addition, you may need to take in extra fluids, especially water, to avoid constipation. If you're limiting fiber in your diet, you may have fewer bowel movements and smaller stools, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In time, depending on your doctor's orders, you may be able to add foods back into your diet that digest more slowly and provide key health benefits.
Read more: 10 Myths About Grains — Totally Busted
Is This an Emergency?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Bland Diet"
- Mayo Clinic: "Low-Fiber Diet Do's and Don'ts"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Gas in the Digestive Tract"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: "Effects and Mechanisms of Fruit and Vegetable Juices on Cardiovascular Diseases"
- Nutrients: "The Effects of Moderate Whole Grain Consumption on Fasting Glucose and Lipids, Gastrointestinal Symptoms, and Microbiota"