If you're experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) distress, eating foods that are easier to digest may offer some short-term relief.
While fiber is an essential nutrient for digestion, too much can cause gas and bloating. High-fiber foods (like raw fruits and vegetables) also take longer to break down in the stomach, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
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That's why foods low in fiber are typically recommended when you're dealing with GI distress, as they're easier for the stomach to break down, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Symptoms that indicate you may need to eat easy-to-digest foods include, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal pain/cramping
So what foods are easy to digest, exactly?
This will ultimately depend on your underlying GI issue, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Ulcers, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, nausea, vomiting or other digestive conditions can all warrant eating foods that are easier to digest. You may also need to eat a bland diet following illness or surgery, according to the NLM.
Here's a list of common easy-to-digest foods to use as a starting point in relieving your discomfort.
If you're experiencing discomfort or pain when you eat, work with your doctor to discover the root cause and whether easily digestible foods might be the solution for you, per the Mayo Clinic.
11 Foods That Are Easy to Digest
The next time your stomach's upset, try including some of these low-fiber foods into your diet.
1. Canned or Cooked Vegetables
While raw veggies aren't on the easily digested foods list, cooked vegetables fit the bill. Cooked, canned or frozen veggies are much gentler on your digestive system than their fresh counterparts because they contain less fiber, according to the NLM.
These include, per the NLM:
- Yellow squash
Certain vegetables may still cause digestive discomfort even if they're cooked, like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, per the NLM.
2. Canned or Soft Fruits
On a similar note, some lower-fiber fruits are OK to include in your diet. Canned fruits are typically safe to eat (though it's usually best to steer clear of products that include the fruit's skin or seeds), per the NLM.
- Canned peaches
- Canned pineapple
- Melon (cantaloupe or honeydew)
3. Pulp-Free Juice
As mentioned above, you can cook your vegetables and fruits to reduce the amount of fiber in them. Another good option is juicing.
Fruit and vegetable juice maintains nutrients without all the fiber, as long as they're pulp-free, per the NLM. And those nutrients can be powerful.
Some popular juicing ingredients include:
If you have GERD, it's best to steer clear of citrus and tomato juices, which may aggravate your condition, according to the NLM.
4. Low-Fat Dairy Products
Low-fat or fat-free dairy products are also low in fiber and among the easiest foods to digest, according to the NLM. Options include:
That said, if you're lactose intolerant, dairy products may cause you discomfort. There are lactose-free products on the market, like milk, cheese and yogurt, that you can choose from.
5. Refined Grains
While whole grains are nutritious, they're packed with fiber that could upset your GI tract. So if you're following an easy-to-digest diet, it's best to stick to refined grain products that are easier for your body to break down.
Here are some to try, according to the NLM:
- White bread
- White pasta
- White crackers
- White rice
- Refined hot cereals like Cream of Wheat
Try to avoid products high in added sugars. They don't provide much nutritional value and, over time, can contribute to health issues like high triglyceride levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Are Grits Easy to Digest?
Grits are lower in fiber than comparable products, like oatmeal. That said, grits are still made from a whole grain, so check the fiber content or talk to your doctor before trying them to make sure they're among the foods that are easy to digest for your specific health concerns.
6. Lean Meats
Lean, tender meats are low in fiber, possibly making them easier to digest. Some to try, according to the NLM, are:
- Skinless chicken
- Tender or ground pork
Make sure to prepare lean meats without any added fat (like butter), which could irritate your GI tract, per the NLM.
Eating too much protein can also cause constipation and abdominal discomfort, so be sure to watch portion sizes and pay attention to how you feel.
Fish is another easy-to-digest food to include in your diet, according to the NLM. Some options are:
Steam, bake or grill your favorite fish for a protein-packed meal. Like with meat, avoid preparing fish with any added fat, which could lead to GI discomfort.
Eggs are packed with vitamins, protein and beneficial fats. They're also easy on your digestive tract due to a lack of fiber, according to Keck Medicine of USC.
Just avoid frying eggs: Fried, greasy foods can trigger digestive symptoms for some, according to the NLM.
Tofu is another food to eat when you're following a bland or low-fiber diet, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's full of vitamins, protein and is a food high in healthy fat, making it a nutritious yet easily digestible ingredient to eat.
Avoid frying it, though, as fried foods can worsen your digestive distress, per the NLM.
10. Nut Butter
Peanut butter fans, rejoice. Smooth nut butters are a great addition to any bland diet, according to the NLM.
Nut butter is rich in nutritious protein and fat. Just avoid products with added sugar or chunks of nuts in them, both of which can irritate your intestines while you're following a bland diet.
Soup — especially broth — is a great way to get nutrients and flavor while you're sticking to a low-fiber eating plan, according to the NLM.
Some soup options include:
- Chicken noodle soup
- Vegetable soup
- Miso soup
Try making your own stock, or choose store-bought options that are not spicy nor have added sugars, fats or hard-to-digest ingredients like seeds.
If you're limiting fiber in your diet, you may have fewer bowel movements and smaller stools, according to the Mayo Clinic. Drinking extra fluids, especially water, may help prevent or ease this problem.
Foods to Avoid
Just like there are foods to add, there are also foods to avoid when you experience GI distress. These tend to be harder for the stomach to break down, have lots of fiber and cause bloating and gas.
Foods that are difficult to digest include:
- Spicy food
- Fried food
- Red meat
- Artificial sweeteners (xylitol and sorbitol)
- Raw fruits and vegetables
When to See Your Doctor
Your doctor may be able to suggest diet and lifestyle changes to ease your discomfort.
Make sure to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian prior to making changes to your diet. (Low-fiber diets should only be followed for a short period of time.)
Other tips include:
- Keeping a food diary to bring to your doctor
- Recording how you feel when you eat a certain food, the time of day you eat it and what and when your bowel movements are like
- Drinking plenty of fluids (like water or herbal tea) to stay hydrated and regular while on a low-fiber diet
- Getting tested for underlying GI conditions like IBS, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, if symptoms worsen or persist
How Long Should You Be on a Low-Fiber Diet?
Follow this diet as long as your doctor recommends. This could be the next two to three weeks, or until your appetite and bowel movements return to normal, per the Cleveland Clinic.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Bland diet"
- Mayo Clinic: "Abdominal pain"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Fiber"
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: "Effects and Mechanisms of Fruit and Vegetable Juices on Cardiovascular Diseases"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Gas in the Digestive Tract"
- Mayo Clinic: "Added sugars: Don't get sabotaged by sweeteners"
- Keck Medicine of USC: "9 Health Benefits of Eating Eggs for Breakfast"
- Mayo Clinic: "Low-fiber diet do's and don'ts"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Gastrointestinal Soft Diet Overview"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.