A healthy, functioning digestive system can break down and metabolize a wide variety of choices from all the food groups. However, gastrointestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, gastric reflux disease, lack of stomach acidity, poor intestinal motility, gall bladder inflammation and pancreatic disease, can make it more difficult to digest foods high in fat or fiber; that often leads to abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and other problems. Switching your diet to easily digested foods may significantly reduce such symptoms. Consult a nutritionist about foods that require the least time and effort to digest, but which still contain essential nutrients.
Fiber, especially insoluble fiber, such as cellulose, is practically indigestible. Dietary fiber is beneficial for controlling blood cholesterol levels and promoting regular bowel movements. However, it can also lead to constipation and other digestive complaints if you don’t drink enough water or have certain gastrointestinal conditions, notes the “Textbook of Nutritional Medicine.” Relatively nutritious low-fiber carbohydrates include bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, tomatoes, white rice, fortified white bread and pasta made from white flour. Starchy, low-fiber examples include baked or mashed potatoes and yams. Low-fiber foods are often recommended for gastroenteritis or inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
Fat, especially saturated types from animal sources, is fairly dense and requires lots of stomach acid and bile from your gallbladder for proper digestion. If you don’t produce enough stomach acid or have liver or gallbladder problems, focus on low-fat foods to avoid digestive issues. Nutritious, low-fat foods include skinless chicken breast, water-packed albacore tuna, lean baked fish, scrambled egg whites, low-fat cheese and yogurt. Avoid adding butter to bread and baked potatoes. Switching to low-fat milk is another good idea; however, choose almond or rice milk if you are lactose intolerant. The vast majority of fruits and vegetables are low in fat but high in fiber.
Although most vegetables are high in fiber, steaming them until soft reduces the amount of indigestible fiber while preserving most of the vitamin and mineral content. Boiling vegetables on low heat works well, too, although more vitamins and minerals usually leach out of the vegetables and into the cooking water. Thoroughly cooked broccoli, carrots, green peas, squash, zucchini and bell peppers are all easily digested options. Blending cooked vegetables and broth to make a soup is an even better approach.
Processing fruits and vegetables through a juicing machine extracts most of the fiber while allowing you to enjoy all the nutrients in an easily digestible liquid. Blended smoothies can help make fruits and vegetables more digestible, too, although they contain more fiber. Berries, pineapples, apples, beets, celery and carrots can all be juiced to yield a delicious cocktail. Citrus fruits are also a good option, but their high acidity can lead to gastrointestinal upset. Pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that break down protein, which is especially helpful if you have pancreatic disorders.
- Textbook of Nutritional Medicine; Melvyn Werbach and Jeffery Moss
- Contemporary Nutrition: A Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw, Anne M. Smith
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.