Digestive discomfort and gastrointestinal conditions are increasingly common among American adults. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, you may want to stick to easy to digest vegetables and fruits to improve the quality of your life.
Conditions and symptoms that may benefit from easily digestible foods include:
- Upset stomach
- Abdominal pain
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Colon cancer
You may also want to switch to easy to digest foods before and after certain operations. There are a lot of factors that can cause unwanted digestive symptoms, but reducing your intake of hard to digest fruits and vegetables may help you find some relief.
The low-FODMAP diet is a go-to treatment for patients with IBS. It was introduced in 2005 by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In a March 2017 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, some of the original researchers updated their findings. The low-FODMAP diet was originally proposed for patients with irritable bowel diseases (IBD), but the diet has shown better results in IBS symptoms.
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates, and the acronym stands for "Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols." Foods high in FODMAPs are believed to draw water into the gut, which can lead to gas, bloating and other symptoms.
Because FODMAPs tend to be found in carbohydrate-rich foods, many fruits, vegetables and dairy products are considered high-FODMAP. Some low-FODMAP foods include potatoes, carrots, bananas, blueberries, quinoa and more.
The benefits of a low-FODMAP diet are well supported. An April 2016 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that low-FODMAP foods improved the quality of life in patients with IBS. Participants experienced fewer or less severe symptoms of IBS, such as abdominal pain, bloating, distension, constipation, diarrhea and flatulence.
Fruits With High Water Content
In a May 2018 literature review published in Medicine, researchers found that inadequate water intake is a contributing factor of constipation. While increased water intake is recommended for improving digestion, consuming fruits with high water content may also help.
Watermelon has one of the highest water densities among fruits and vegetables. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of watermelon packs 91.5 grams of water content. This is approximately 92 percent. It is also full of nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin C. A fruit salad with plenty of watermelon would make for an easy to digest breakfast or snack.
Other fruits and vegetables with high water content include: celery, cucumber, cantaloupe, strawberries, pineapple and cabbage.
Low Fiber vs. High Fiber
Depending on your digestive symptoms, you may want to increase or decrease the amount of fiber you consume. Fiber helps food move along through the digestive system, but too much fiber can also cause problems.
Fiber is an important nutrient that many Americans are lacking. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average intakes of fiber are lower than the recommended amount. This is considered a public health concern because too little fiber is associated with health problems.
Not getting enough fiber can cause symptoms related to constipation. In this case, consuming high-fiber foods like pears, mangoes, berries and potatoes may alleviate your discomfort.
Fiber overload is not as common as fiber deficiency, but it is still associated with gas, bloating, distention and diarrhea. For people experiencing digestive symptoms related to getting too much fiber, try switching to low-fiber fruits and veggies like carrots, watermelon, plums and beets.
Vegetables That Are Thoroughly Cooked
If you are looking for easy to digest foods for upset stomach, consider cooked vegetables. Raw vegetables are higher in nutrients, but they are also higher in fiber. The higher fiber content in raw veggies can cause digestive comfort and various symptoms.
Cooked vegetables also have a softer texture than raw veggies. The tenderness of cooked vegetables typically suggests that the fibers will be easier to digest. The fibers in raw vegetables are stiff and intact, meaning the digestive tract has more work to do in order to break them down.
Digestion also starts in your mouth. When foods are more difficult to chew, they may travel through the digestive tract without being properly chewed and broken down. Thoroughly cooked vegetables may reduce indigestion because they are easier to chew.
If you are worried about the lost nutrients during the cooking process, opt for steaming instead of boiling. Try adding steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green peas, corn and zucchini into your diet.
Probiotic-Rich Fermented Vegetables
You may have heard that fermented vegetables are among the easy to digest foods for upset stomach. The gut health benefits of fermented foods — sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, miso and kefir — may be attributed to their probiotic content.
In a May 2014 study published in Biotechnology Research International, researchers found that probiotic-rich fermented foods improve gastrointestinal function and lower the risk of colon cancer. Fermented vegetables high in probiotics may also encourage a healthy gut microbiome. Since probiotics are considered "good" bacteria, consuming probiotic-rich foods may increase the diversity of gut flora.
Fermented foods are a staple in many cultures around the world. An August 2018 study published in Frontiers in Microbiology urges public health policies and dietary guidelines to include fermented foods as a recommended source of probiotics. They conclude that fermented foods can improve overall digestion among other health benefits, such as weight management and reduced risk of disease.
Puréed Fruits and Vegetables
Some people can digest foods that are blended or puréed better than the whole version. For people with reflux or difficulty swallowing, smoothies or blended soups may be easier on your digestion.
Blending food is believed to take some of the stress of your digestive system, so it is recommended for people with a weak stomach. Blending food breaks down the fiber of fruits and vegetables even further, so if you are sensitive to high-fiber foods, consider blending them.
If you consume smoothies, soups and other puréed foods often, be sure to chew them. This encourages the food to mix with your saliva for optimal digestion.
Go Easy on Your Gut
Your gut has a hard job — think of all the foods you consume on a daily basis. By consuming more easy to digest vegetables, you may find your symptoms less severe.
In addition to incorporating more easy to digest foods for upset stomach, try avoiding possible food triggers. Many people have food allergies and sensitivities to foods containing dairy, gluten, soy and more.
What you consider easy to digest vegetables may be different to someone else. Always pay attention to how your body responds to certain foods, as you may have an unknown sensitivity or underlying issue. If severe digestive symptoms persist, you may want to try an elimination diet, or talk to a registered dietitian or medical professional to identify food triggers.
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Try a FODMAPs Diet to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome”
- European Journal of Nutrition: “Does a Diet Low in FODMAPs Reduce Symptoms Associated With Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders? A Comprehensive Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
- Mayo Clinic: “Does Drinking Water During or After a Meal Disturb Digestion?”
- Medicine: “Chronic Constipation: A Review of Literature”
- MyFoodData: “Nutrition Facts for Watermelon”
- Health.gov: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 2. A Closer Look at Current Intakes and Recommended Shifts”
- Cleveland Clinic: “The Structure and Function of the Digestive System”
- Biotechnology Research International: “Fermented Fruits and Vegetables of Asia: A Potential Source of Probiotics”
- Frontiers in Microbiology: “Fermented Foods as a Dietary Source of Live Organisms”
- Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "History of the Low FODMAP Diet"