Based on how easy or tough it is for your body to digest foods, you can classify the foods you regularly eat. There are foods which are easy to digest and foods that are difficult to digest. Digestion is essential to convert large and insoluble foods into molecules. These molecules find it easy to get into the plasma of your blood. Digestion involves mechanical and chemical processing of the foods you eat. An understanding of easy to digest foods and foods that are difficult to digest is important to maintain a well-balanced diet.

Digestion is essential for meeting the energy needs of your body. It is often erroneously thought that stomach alone plays an important role in digesting foods you eat. Apart from your stomach, a lot of other organs play equally critical roles in the process of digestion. The human digestive system includes your mouth, food pipe (also called as esophagus), stomach, intestines (small as well as large intestines) and your liver.

The process of digestion

Preparation to digest the foods you eat starts well-ahead of your starting to put food inside the mouth. Your nose plays a major role in this. Nose helps you sense the smell of food and makes your mouth to water i.e., secrete saliva. Saliva has enzymes and chemicals that can start disintegrating food particles as soon as you start eating. Your teeth and tongue help you chew food; this grinding activity converts foods into smaller molecules. Saliva finds it easy to break chewed food particles; it is difficult for saliva to process large food items. Once food is swallowed, it gets into your food pipe. This pipe transports finely chewed food into your stomach for further processing. The process of sending chewed food down the food pipe is done through a series of contraction of muscles. Your stomach serves as a pouch to hold food and also as a food processing unit. Foods are churned deep inside the stomach to make them into a liquid. Your stomach’s food processing enzymes help convert foods into fats, proteins and other essential substances.

Soon after getting processed, your small intestine takes over. Here, processed foods enter three distinctive sections of your small intestine, namely – duodenum, jejunum and ileum. At your duodenum, pancreatic and bile juices help further process the foods. All through the journey inside the small intestine, nutrients from foods are collected and transported to the liver. At the liver, bile is secreted to absorb needful fats. Pancreas makes juices which can help digest fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

Once all essential nutrients are absorbed, the digestive tract ends with your large intestine. Like the small intestine, this is made of three unique parts, namely – cecum, colon and rectum. Over this journey, food is compacted as a tight substance which is then defecated as waste.

Easy to digest foods

It is recommended to consume foods which are easy to digest in multiple occasions. These are when (1) you are experiencing a stomach upset, (2) you are heading to a workout session, (3) you have gas-formation inside your stomach or while you are experiencing acid reflux or heartburn. It is during these times you may need to eat easy to digest foods. Foods that are easy to digest are-

Banana

This fruit is actually used as a remedy to cure digestion-related problems, such as difficulties to pass stools (constipation), diarrhea, etc. It has fiber, carbohydrates and other essential minerals such as

potassium, calcium and magnesium. The water content in bananas also helps many of us digest it with relative ease. However, people living with diabetes may need to be more careful. Care is especially needed as the sugars and carbohydrates in a banana may alter your daily need for sugars from other food sources. Also, if you have chosen to eat a ripened banana, you may have consumed more sugars from it. Hence, in your daily diet plan, sugar intake may need to be recomputed accordingly.

Also, if you have conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you need to exert needful caution. As bananas are categorized as a high FODMAP food, it may lead to abdominal cramps, gas formation or flatulence and bloating. On the other hand, fruits such as grapes and a few types of berries belong to a low FODMAP category. People with irritable bowel syndrome may not much problems while digesting foods of low FODMAP imprint.

On the nutrition scale, a mid-sized banana of about 115 grams of weight has nearly 28 grams of carbohydrates (of which, almost half of it – ~ 14 grams is sugars), more than 100 calories and nearly 99 grams of water in it. Apart from these, a similar-sized banana has upto 3 grams of fiber, 1.2 grams of protein and other essential minerals; as high as 420 milligrams of potassium, ~ 30 milligrams of magnesium, almost 6 milligrams of calcium amid other nutrients.

Chicken

It is one of the most widely consumed meats across the world. This popular meat is easy on your stomach. It has very minimal or nil level of fiber in it. Hence, if you have disorders in your digestive tract such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), this lean meat is a fitting diet for such conditions.

You need to make it a point to not fry chicken; addition of oil and spices can only make digestion of fried chicken a more complicated process. The best way to take chicken is to grill, boil or bake it. Chicken is popularly eaten for weight loss benefits as well as for your general health. Also, chicken cooked skinless is the best method to consume it; this form of chicken has the least amount of fats in it. Always remember to cook chicken properly. This is because chicken not cooked well can expose you to risks of food poisoning.

Nutritional benefits of 100 grams of chicken – cooked after removal of its skin: Almost 250 grams of potassium, more than 145 calories, nearly 30 grams of proteins and ~ 3.50 grams of fats. Chicken remains one of the best known sources of lean protein. Proteins in chicken are known to offer self-healing and repairing capabilities to your body.

Crackers

This is a super-snack which is also an easy food to digest. It is known to help manage stomach upset and other mild discomforts in your digestive tract. Pregnant women can eat it when they experience nausea or digestive problems. On top of these benefits, this snack has minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium in it. It is also a simple variant of carbs.

If you are advised to take a low FODMAP diet or if you have conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you are advised to take a gluten-free variant of crackers. Each piece of cracker contains nearly 12 calories, more than 25 milligrams of sodium, ~ 4.50 milligrams of potassium, etc. Each cracker can yield upto 0.275 gram of protein and about 0.60 milligram of calcium. But, if you have any cardiac ailments or have a medical history of hypertension (increased level of blood pressure), keep a watch over the number of crackers eaten per day. Though the sodium level in each piece is well below the average intake of sodium per day for adults, needful precautions are necessary. You need to remember that American Heart Association (AHA) has pegged intake of sodium at 1,500 milligrams per day as a maximum.

Eggs

Eggs are widely consumed in the morning time as part of breakfast. Around the globe, it is a commonly eaten staple food. Your body can digest eggs with unthinkable speed and thus can provide you with instant energy for activities performed in the morning. As an added benefit, eggs are endowed with a fair share of proteins.

Eggs will need to be cooked properly. This is because consumption of raw eggs can result in risks associated with the adverse effects of salmonella. The most common ways to cook eggs are to scramble, poach or boil them. Regardless of the way eggs are cooked, it is easy to digest them. Among the two parts of the egg, its white is the easiest to digest. However, most people – even those with digestion-related difficulties – can digest egg-yolks with ease. Eggs are also given to people who are attempting to recover a recent bout of viral attack in their digestive tract or other abdominal conditions such as nausea. Needful caution though is required if you are making an egg-scramble; it is advised to use low-fat oils or milk than butter or a richer cream. This is because rich fats from animal sources can make it hard for you to digest it.

On the nutritional front, a poached or boiled egg has nearly 70 calories, ~ 6.2 grams of protein and more than 4.5 grams of fats. On the mineral count, an egg has nearly 100 milligrams of phosphorous, as high as 210 milligrams of sodium and more than 25 milligrams of calcium.

Salmon

Fish such as salmon has plenty of omega-3 fatty acids as well as B-class vitamins in it. Salmon is also a rich source of proteins and other essential minerals. This fish is one of the easiest to digest. The caveat though is: cook it without oil or fats to retain its easy to digest property. You may need to note that oily fishes (and also those larger in size) may have excessive mercury content in them. Salmon scores high on this front with very minimal levels of such toxins. It is hence recommended to eat fish sourced only from credible sources.

A single serving of salmon – weighing nearly 100 grams, cooked without the addition of fats – can provide nearly 5.5 grams of fats, more than 155 calories and almost 25 grams of protein. Salmon is also richly endowed with potassium – 100 grams of cooked salmon can contain ~ 460 milligrams of potassium. Over and above these health benefits, a standard serving can provide upto 8 or 9 milligrams of calcium.

Above all, you will need to cook it fully well; partially cooked fish may pose a few health hazards. In any case, raw fish is way too difficult to digest. Presence of tiny germs or parasites in fish can cause a few infections. Women who are planning to get pregnant or already pregnant need to be extremely careful; they are not advised to take uncooked or inadequately cooked salmon. If you develop signs such as pain in your abdominal region, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea or nausea, you may need to take needful medical help without delay.

Oatmeal

Oats which are raw (not the instant variety) are naturally available whole grains. These are very easy to digest. Always ensure not to buy packaged oatmeal; these may contain a lot of added sugars or preservatives. The best way to eat natural or raw oats is to add a few drops of honey to it. This combination is found to offer plenty of nutritional benefits; of course, its chief benefit remains the ease with which it can be digested.

Oatmeal promotes digestive health by stimulating healthy bacteria in your gastric tract. It is also known to reduce risks associated with constipation; thanks to the fiber present in oatmeal. Its fiber is soluble in nature and it belongs to the beta-glucan genre of fiber. This fiber is known to decrease your blood sugar levels by enhancing your body’s response to insulin. While the meal fares low on the calorific count, it is high on important minerals such as B vitamins (essentially B-1 and B-5), magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and copper.

Oatmeal can be prepared very easily. Boil three cups of water or milk and add a cup of oats to the boiled liquid. Now, make it simmer for 20 minutes (for steel-cut oats) or for 50 minutes (for oat groat). Add sweetening agents or spices – as needed. However, instant versions of oatmeal can be cooked much faster. Caveat: instant meal may have preservatives to extend their shelf life as well as artificial sweeteners or sugars to enhance their taste. A standard cup of oatmeal may have nearly 6 grams of protein and ~ 4 grams of fiber (i.e., soluble genre). This cup may have upto 165 calories as well as 3.50 grams of fats in it.

Rice

It is another easy to digest staple food consumed in many parts of the world. It is available in several popular variants – white, red, brown or black rice. Of these, white rice is the easiest to digest. White rice ranks high above all other categories of rice solely because of its easy to digest benefits. However, brown rice does have an enviable list of nutrient-benefits. But, brown rice – owing to its high fiber content – may pose difficulties in digesting. For some people, brown rice can cause flatulence, diarrhea etc. It is hence recommended to choose between the two variants based on your nutritional requirements.

In general, rice has sizeable amounts of energy stored in it. A serving of a half cup of brown rice contains ~ 65 grams of carbohydrates, 290 to 295 calories and more than 5 grams of protein. Fiber content is as low of 1 to 2 grams while it has iron content of more than 2.85 milligrams.

A same-sized serving of white rice can give you upto ~ 75 grams of carbohydrates, more than 335 calories and nearly 6.5 grams of proteins. Fibre content is at a minimal level of ~ 1.1 grams and iron content is almost 3 to 4 milligrams. As a special variant, white rice in its enriched form is also available in some grocery stores or through online vendors. In its enriched form, white rice has an additional quantum of minerals and vitamins.

The best way to serve white rice is with different types of accompaniments or toppings. You can choose a topping that suits you taste buds to have a more delightful culinary experience. You may – of course – need to remember that cooking rice with fats or oils can make it hard to digest.

Yogurt

This dairy product is endowed with a lot of good-bacteria, and is also easier to digest. While consuming it, stay away from blending it with sugars and other coloring or flavoring agents. The sugars added can only complicate the digestion process. However, it is a safer practice to add fruits to yoghurt. Active bacteria present in yoghurt – also known as probiotics – help boost your digestion in a significant manner. However, the process of pasteurization terminates almost all such good bacteria living in yoghurt. Hence, when you buy yoghurt, always insist on a category that has active and live probiotics.

Of the various types of probiotics, categories such as Lactobaccillus, Bifidobacteria, etc. are known for their capabilities to lessen the signs of irritable bowel syndrome – IBS. IBS is a very common colon dysfunction, characterised by gas formation, bloating or irregular bowel movements.

This dairy product may not be suitable to all people. Some may have allergies to milk products; such people may experience swelling, hives or inability to breath (this sign can at times become a near-fatal condition). Also, a few people may have lactose intolerance. This is a condition wherein your body is unable to make an enzyme called lactase. This enzyme is essential to digest the sugars (called as lactose) in milk. Despite having lactose intolerance some people may be able to take yoghurt; this is because the probiotic-presence can help them digest yoghurt. So, it is required of you to eat a sample and check if the food causes any allergies. The most common signs of lactose intolerance are pain in abdomen, indigestion, diarrhea, etc.

Toast

Bread toast has the simplest form of carbohydrates in it. Toast made of bread – with or without butter – is an easy to digest food. However, if you are looking for gluten-free bread, brown bread can suit you well. But, breads made from whole wheat may have higher fiber content than white bread.

If you have experienced difficulties in digesting toast of brown bread made from whole grains, you can have it without applying butter onto it. Some people may have allergies when they take whole grains. Such people can try enriched variants of white bread. A pair of white bread contains nearly 135 calories, as low as ~ 30 grams of carbohydrates and only 1 gram of fiber. It also has 4 to 5 grams of proteins and nearly 60 milligrams of calcium and more than 1 milligram of iron. In sum, toasted white bread – without butter or any other spreads on top – is one of the easiest to digest foods that you can make at your home. But, why is toast easier to digest than plain bread? It is because by toasting you already have broken down the complex carbs present in bread.

Sweet potato

The main reason why sweet potato is easily digested is the presence of fiber which is soluble in nature. On the other hand, foods containing insoluble fiber are quite difficult to digest. The sweet potato also richly supplies essential electrolytes – i.e., potassium. You may recall that during a spell of diarrhea or indigestion, your body tends to lose potassium in abundance. Intake of sweet potato can make up for the loss of these electrolytes.

Another key benefit of eating sweet potato is its ability to increase the count of good bacteria. The higher the count of such bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, the better is your digestive health. The only demerit here is sweet potato is categorized with a FODMAP rating of medium. So, if you have medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or if your medical history has intestinal disorders, you need to exert portion-control while taking sweet potato.

The best way to east sweet potato is to boil and mash it. A standard serving of nearly 250 grams can yield 215 calories, upto 37 grams of carbohydrates and nearly 200 grams of water. On the count of minerals and nutrients, a standard serving has ~ 5 grams of protein, more than 13 grams of sugars, nearly 515 milligrams of potassium, about 100 milligrams of calcium and 1.50 milligrams of iron.

Applesauce

Though the fruit is highly fibrous and may hence pose difficulties to digest, cooking it breaks almost all of its difficult-to-digest fiber. This breakdown makes applesauce easy to digest than a raw apple fruit. The sauce of course has fiber, but in a soluble form. However, some carbohydrates (especially, those with high scope of being fermented) can consume bacteria in your intestines. This may result in signs of irritable bowel syndrome. Also, if you are diabetic or if your blood sugar levels are to be monitored closely, presence of sugars in applesauce will need to be included to your daily count of sugar intake.

It is fairly easy to make applesauce at your home. Slice apples after peeling them. Add a few tea-spoonsful of water; ample enough to keep the sliced apples from coming close to each other. Cook at low-heat for nearly 12 to 14 minutes with the lid closed. You may need to stir it once in a while though. After the apples slices are cooked, mash them well. This mashed mix is sieved to eliminate uncooked parts, if any. It is now ready to be served – either as a cold dish or a hot food item.

A standard serving of a cup measuring ~ 250 grams of applesauce (without adding any sweeteners) can yield nearly 2.50 grams of fiber, 23 grams of sugars, ~ 28 grams of carbohydrates, almost 100 calories and nearly 210 grams of water. On a nutritional scale, this standard cup has about 180 milligrams of potassium and almost 5 milligrams of sodium.

Medical conditions for which easy to digest foods are considered good

Foods which are easier to digest can assist in the case management of multiple medical conditions. The most common conditions such foods can help manage include diarrhea, nausea, esophageal reflux disease, gastroenteritis, bowel related disorders, diverticulitis, etc.

Diarrhea –

You experience diarrhea when your stools turn watery or loose, and you may also experience frequent bowel movements. A few foods can help you control this condition; these are crackers, cereal-based foods, apple juice or applesauce. You are advised to take a lot of water to stay hydrated. You can also have coconut water or electrolytes-enriched fluids that do not have larger share of sugars, chicken broth (after ensuring all greasy substances are removed; because – clearer the broth, the better it is for your health), etc. Once your condition improves, you can also have tea (without caffeine) as well as eggs (preferably, scrambled).

A few foods however do not go well with diarrhea. These include greasy, spicy or fried foods, excessively processed food products, citrus fruits, alcohol, drinks with caffeine content, dairy or any milk-based products. A few fruits, such as grapes, figs, berries and pineapples are not considered good to eat while having diarrhea.

Nausea –

This is a medical condition wherein you may have an urge to vomit due to a discomforting feeling in your stomach. It may occur due to motion sickness or if you are allergic to a few types of foods or drugs. Foods cooked with excessive amounts of spices and those cooked with high levels of fats may lead to nausea. If you have any known food allergies, stay away from such food items. Intake of such allergic foods is generally known to cause discomforts in your stomach.

Some types of foods can help manage nausea. These include fluids such as juices, iced drinks, water, etc. You can also try toasts, crackers and pretzels. A most commonly administered remedy (at homes) is clear soup of chicken. Chicken broth is known for its hydrating benefits as well as for its ability to provide electrolytes your body needs. Some people eat bananas – an easy to digest food – which also contain a lot of energy. It is a good practice to stay away from foods with very strong aroma, excessively sweetened drinks or food products, greasy foods and alcohol.

Esophageal reflux disease –

When food items in your stomach rise up and get into your food pipe (esophagus), it is known as an esophageal reflux. This may turn into a chronic condition if you are experiencing it more than two times in a week. This condition may create a burning sensation in and around your chest. You may be vulnerable to this condition if you frequently eat spicy or fried foods. Regular intake of alcohol or soda is also known to cause it.

Foods which are good sources of protein but with low-cholesterol such as lentils, salmon, etc. go well with esophageal reflux disease. Also, fruits such as avacados, bananas, etc. are good to eat. Though eggs contain high levels of cholesterol, they can also be taken. However, you may need to avoid taking foods with high cholesterol like meat, foods with high fat content, foods with high levels of sodium as well as foods rich in calcium (such as dairy products).

Gastroenteritis –

This medical condition is caused by viral attacks. It is also called as stomach flu. You may need to be more careful because this condition can be extremely contagious; it can spread from you to another person near you either by water or foods. It is known to spread widely in settings where people come in close touch with each other; for example – places like schools, cruise liners, healthcare settings, etc. It may also get triggered due to intake of a few foods – mainly those with added sugars or dairy products taken along with sweeteners.

Foods that are without strong flavors or strong taste go well with this condition. Easy to digest foods such as applesauce, toast, potatoes, rice and bananas can help you handle this medical condition. Why? Easily digestible foods are unlikely to cause further stress to your stomach and intestines. At the same time, you may need to avoid foods which are high in fats, foods with added sweeteners, milk-based food items and caffeine-based drinks.

In general, you are advised to exercise portion control and eat your meal in smaller quantities. Never forget to drink a lot of fluids or suck ice chips, if need be. Intake of juices or fruit extracts is not considered good as such fluids can enhance the risks associated with diarrhea.

Inflammatory bowel disorders –

A major symptom of this medical condition is the inflammation of a part of your digestive system. An inflammation may form in any part of the tract – say, from your mouth to the intestines (either small or large intestine). It is widely believed to be an autoimmune condition – wherein your body is under attack by your own immunity. The best types of foods to treat this condition are those with higher pH values, easy to digest as well as those with low level of fiber. Among fruits with low levels of fiber, you may consider eating melons, bananas or avocados. You can also eat toast made from white bread, crackers, low-sugar cereals, oatmeal, etc.

You may need to say no to foods that have high levels of fats – such as dairy products, vegetables with strong aroma (such as garlic, onion, peppers, etc.) and fruits known for their acidity including almost all citrus fruits (lemons, oranges, etc.).

Diverticulitis –

This is a common condition which affects the digestive system. Its incidence is noted when pouches (called as diverticula) are observed in the large intestine – especially, in your colon. Though no direct cause has been established, doctors tend to think this condition as an outcome of several environment-related factors as well as your genetic disposition.

The best way to treat this condition is to rest your digestive system. How? You need to stay away from taking solid and difficult to digest food items. Instead, you need to switch to liquid-based foods for some days. However, if the signs are not severe, your treating doctor may let you eat foods with lesser quantity of fiber content. Food with low footprint of FODMAP is generally considered good for this condition. In general, foods with low fiber such as applesauce, fish, white bread, white rice, etc. are good. If you are allergic to gluten, ensure that these foods – especially cereal-based foods – are gluten-free. In general, liquid diet is taken to ease the initial signs. You can take chicken stock, suck ice-chips, lots of water and fluids rich in electrolytes. Some medical experts believe drinks such as coffee or tea prepared without sweetening agents or strong flavors are good to treat the signs. On the other hand, stay away from foods with high FODMAP footprint like dairy products including milk and ice creams, cabbage, garlic, onions, etc.

Foods that are hard to digest

Foods with higher share of fiber in them can take time to digest. Also, addition of caffeine or carbonated drinks may pose problems with digestion. You may also need to be aware that deep frying and excessively oily or greasy foods can strain your digestive tract.

Vegetables – If you cook vegetables properly, they can be easier to digest than raw or uncooked vegetables. Vegetables such as legumes, mushrooms, peas, beans (especially, dried ones), corn, etc. may be avoided. Among plant-based foods, foods made from whole grains (such as brown rice, bread made from whole-grains, etc.) can also be difficult to digest.

Fruits – Some fruits like pineapples, dried fruits and coconuts can be hard to digest. In general, keep away from those which contain excessive amounts of pulp in them. Fruits rich in citric acid – such as oranges and lemon – can trigger problems to those with acid reflux or other such intestinal dysfunction.

Milk-based foods – Probiotics in a few dairy products – like yoghurt – can help you in digestion. But, if you add excessive sweetening agents, seeds and nuts – you may find them hard to digest. Also, some people mix fruits rich in fiber along with dairy foods; in such instances, high level of fiber can turn digestion into a difficult process. Check if you have conditions like lactose intolerance and choose your dairy products accordingly. You may be surprised that a few dairy foods may suit some people with lactose intolerance. This is because of the healthy and good bacteria present in select dairy-based foods.

Protein sourced from meat – It is generally difficult to digest meat which is rich in fiber or is tough in texture. Hence, you may need to keep away from eating meat served with spices, meat prepared / served within casings – like hot dogs. There are many plant-based foods to meet your needs for protein. But, exert needful caution because foods such as nuts, beans or butter may also be hard to digest.

In general, processed foods such as jellies or jams, popcorn and soda (also, any other form of carbonated fluids) can be difficult to digest. Deep dried vegetables or meats as well as foods cooked with an abundant share of spices are equally tough to digest. It is hence a good practice to consult a dietitian before making a list of foods to avoid. In the process of keeping away from difficult to digest foods, ensure you do not deprive your body of certain essential minerals or electrolytes.

Each food has a different timeline to get digested. Those with problems with digestion can select foods with needful awareness of such timelines. Foods can take anywhere between 24 hours to as high as 70 hours to get transported into your digestive system. Your rate of metabolism, age, gender and several other factors can further influence the time taken to digest. In general, the type of foods you choose to eat matter a lot. For example, foods with excessive fats and protein contents may take a very long time – more than 48 hours – to get fully digested. Problems in your digestive tract can lead to conditions such as difficulties to pass stools, formation of gas, heartburn, vomiting or diarrhea.

If you have disorders relating to digestion of foods, your dietitian or doctor may advise you to maintain a diary to track food habits. Make it a point to track the foods you eat and the effects foods cause in your body. A diary can also help you understand the cause of adverse effects such as diarrhea, gas formation, flatulence and abdominal pains. Your dietitian or doctor may also suggest you to track time – i.e., when you are eating your meals. Such close monitoring of food consumption habits has helped many people to choose foods that suit them, and above all, foods that are easy to digest.

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