Theoretically, you should be able to digest just about any type of food you put in your mouth. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. More than 70 million Americans experience digestive issues, likely due to our cultural reliance on fatty meats, processed carbohydrates and dairy products.
Ready to get that digestive reset? Here’s your guide to what’s good and what’s bad when it comes to keeping your digestive system running smoothly and efficiently.
How does the digestive process work?
Here’s the big picture: The human digestive system breaks down the food you consume and extracts nutrients from it to give your body fuel for daily life. After this energy is extracted through digestion and metabolism, the rest is excreted.
This entire process is aided by the enzymes in your saliva, peristalsis (the physical squeezing of your esophagus that guides food into your stomach), and gastric juice, a mix of the pepsin enzyme and hydrochloric acid which processes food into more refined carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
This digested food from the stomach is then pushed into the small intestine where it gets flooded with fluid, bile from the liver, and amylase, trypsin and lipase from the pancreas. These chemicals help turn carbohydrates into glucose, proteins into amino acids, and fats into fatty acids and glycerol before they pass through the walls of the small intestine and are absorbed into the bloodstream.
Anything that isn’t a usable nutrient continues on to the large intestine where fecal matter is created before continuing on to the colon, and water is returned to the body to prevent dehydration.
What makes a food easy or hard to digest?
What you eat has a big impact on how smoothly this process works, how you feel day to day, and whether or not you’ll develop digestion problems over time. Bad food choices can cause everything from casual digestive stress to an ulcer, whereas good food choices will improve your digestive health and overall wellbeing.
Hard-to-digest foods like dairy, hot peppers and corn tend to irritate the stomach lining, overstimulate digestion or cause excess acid production. On the other side, easy-to-digest foods are made from fibers that are easily broken down and assimilated in the body. They also often feature high water content and potassium — two characteristics that help ensure regularity, prevent dehydration and electrolyte loss, and help the body remove waste.
Which foods are the easiest to digest?
Here’s a quick rundown of the food categories that are easiest to digest:
Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are miracle workers when it comes to digestion. Not only are they already softened through the fermenting process, they also contribute good bacteria to the body, aiding in easier digestion of other foods later on!
Bananas have been a staple in the human diet for tens of thousands of years. Though a fruit, bananas do not cause digestive stress like berries and figs. In fact, they’re known for their ability to soothe it instead! Remember: the more you cook the banana or combine it with other foods, the bigger the chance it’ll be hard to digest.
Brown rice is not only a satisfying carbohydrate, but also a digestive powerhouse. Packed with fiber, this whole grain is much easier to digest than its white counterpart, which has been known to cause constipation, gas or diarrhea.
Thanks to their soft texture and the presence of healthy fats, avocados are super easy on the stomach. Plus, it’s easy to add avocado to everything from soup to smoothies! Keep a few on hand if you need a nutrient boost.
Another big hit from the whole grains list, the fiber content of oatmeal is the reason behind its easy digestibility. It also has the ability to lower bad cholesterol, which is why it is so highly recommended by heart health experts. To get all the benefits, avoid processed instant oatmeal and make it the traditional way.