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Your bestie is known for her iron stomach (things like last week’s leftovers, three-day-old sushi and chicken vindaloo don’t even phase her). You, on the other hand, have a much more delicate stomach. And while you know that there are some foods that will send you running for the bathroom (hello, spicy curry), you’re still trying to figure out exactly which ingredients your sensitive belly can and cannot handle. That’s why we tapped Serena Poon, a certified nutritionist and celebrity chef, for all the information you need to set your digestive system straight. Read on for a list of easy-to-digest foods that won’t upset sensitive stomachs (and are downright delicious, to boot).
WHAT HELPS DIGESTION IMMEDIATELY?
If you have ever experienced a bout of indigestion, we don’t need to tell you that its symptoms—gas, bloating, cramping, acid reflux—can really put a damper on one’s day. Fortunately, Poon tells us that there are a few remedies that will quickly ease your discomfort should indigestion rear its ugly head. First and foremost, the expert says you can placate an upset stomach with a one-two punch (not literally) of hydrating and fasting.
Let’s start with hydration. Drinking water might not sound that appealing when you’re already feeling distended, but Poon explains that it is actually one of the best things you can do since “water helps move food through your body effectively.” That said, not all beverages will have the same soothing effect on an upset stomach. As such, the pro suggests sticking to still, filtered water and avoiding other liquids until things calm down on the digestive front. (There’s one exception to this rule, but we’ll get to that later.)
Fasting is a little more intuitive, since most of us would agree that binging with a bloated stomach sounds a lot like adding insult to injury. Still, you might feel funny about skipping a meal just because your stomach is upset. Well, don’t. It turns out that irritated stomachs benefit tremendously when you take a break from eating. However, you don’t need to skip meals for days, or even 24 hours: Per Poon, up to eight hours without food should give your system the time it needs to rest, rebalance and heal. If you can’t go that long without at least a little nosh, no judgment—just “stick to a very bland diet consisting of easy-to-digest foods” and you’ll be fine.
One last tip from the nutritionist, and the aforementioned exception to the water-only rule: Drink ginger tea. “Ginger root is known for its digestion-soothing capabilities…[and] a warm mug of ginger tea might help you ease a tummy ache or nausea,” says Poon. (Hint: Ginger ale will not have the same effect—so put down the soda can, friends, and follow the expert’s advice.)
12 EASY-TO-DIGEST FOODS
Those with sensitive stomachs suffer the woes and indignities of indigestion more than others. If you fall into that category, it might be time to consider changing things up with a diet that favors tummy-friendly foods. Here are the expert’s top picks.
1. COOKED VEGETABLES
News to no one: veggies are good for you. Aside from being an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients, vegetables also provide your body with the dietary fiber it needs to maintain optimal digestive health. Fiber is a double-edged sword for those with finicky digestive systems, though—namely because large amounts of it can be, well, too much to stomach. As such, Poon suggests steering clear of the crudité platter and sticking to cooked vegetables instead, as the cooking process “helps break down these fibers a bit and makes the food a little more digestible.” Bottom line: If you suffer from indigestion on the regular, the raw food movement is probably not for you.
2. COOKED FRUIT
Sounds weird, right? Well, the reasoning behind this recommendation is the same as with the other stars of the produce section. Fruits, much like vegetables, are high in fiber and, thus, easier to digest when cooked. Still, fruit is an important part of a balanced diet, so don’t abandon the food group—just introduce some heat to give your digestive system a leg up. The nutritionist and professional chef mentions “baked peaches, poached pears or roasted strawberries” as excellent ways to enjoy nature’s candy and the nutritional benefits it provides without sending your stomach into a tailspin.
3. LOW-FAT YOGURT
It’s a well-known fact that the probiotics (i.e., gut-friendly bacteria) found in cultured foods like yogurt play an important role in maintaining the digestive tract’s delicate balance of flora. As great as probiotics are for your gut, Poon says that full-fat options are best avoided, because “foods that are high in fat can be more difficult for your body to process.” The solution: Opt for low-fat yogurt or alternative yogurts, like coconut yogurt, that have probiotics added.
4. FERMENTED FOODS
Good news: You can still reap the gut-healing rewards of probiotics, even if dairy doesn’t go down easy. According to the expert, “fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir, contain natural probiotics that can help balance your gut microbiome and lead to healthier digestion.”
5. WHITE RICE
Whether you’re in the throes of indigestion, or simply trying to avoid it, bland foods like plain ol’ rice are a particularly safe option. If you’re looking for a starch that won’t upset the stomach, Poon recommends white rice, which has less fiber and is easier to digest than brown rice.
Not every fruit has to be cooked before it comes into contact with a sensitive digestive system. Bananas, for example, can be eaten as is. “Bananas are easy for your body to break down and supply an array of beneficial nutrients, such as potassium and magnesium,” Poon tells us. Not so shabby.
7. GLUTEN-FREE CRACKERS
Speaking of bland foods, crackers are another excellent choice when it comes to unpredictable digestive patterns. That said, Poon typically steers people with undiagnosed stomach upset towards the gluten-free kind for a crunchy snack that doesn’t carry the risk of triggering an inflammatory response in sensitive individuals (more on that below).
8. BLUEBERRIES AND RASPBERRIES
So you love fruit, but can’t imagine yourself carving out the time required to poach pears on a regular basis? (We get it.) Fortunately, blueberries and raspberries are both considered low FODMAP fruits. FODMAPs refer to types of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest for some people, thereby causing unpleasant symptoms like bloating and discomfort. Per Poon, uncooked, blueberries and raspberries may be easier on your system than some other fruits because they lack these types of carbohydrates that some people find tough to digest.
9. NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts and seeds needn’t be avoided on account of indigestion; in fact, they’re “a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants,” says Poon. The caveat? Eat them in moderation. Nuts and seeds are also high in fat and fiber—high quantities of both can disturb digestion—so you’re better off limiting yourself to small servings.
The expert tells us that broths in general tend to soothe and help heal the digestive system. Better still are bone broths—a seemingly magical potion that’s garnered quite a bit of attention as of late…and not for nothin’. It just so happens that there’s something to this wellness trend that involves simmering animal bones and connective tissues and then using the liquid in soups, sauces and gravies (or enjoyed on its own as a drink). “Bone broths in particular contain collagen, which has been shown to support healing of the gut lining,” says Poon.
OK, so this one isn’t a food it still deserves a spot on our list since water just makes your body work better. If you’re feeling nauseous, Poon suggests hydrating with baby sips; regardless of how you get it down, though, this one will only do you good.
Again, this one is not exactly a food. Still, electrolytes are an important component of many gut-healing foods, including bananas, broths and even leafy greens (if you can handle the roughage). If you suspect you might not be meeting your electrolyte quota, supplements and drinks (like Vita Coco coconut water, $30) are available to correct the problem without the hassle of major dietary adjustments.
WHAT ARE THE WORST FOODS FOR YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM?
Glad you asked. Now that we’ve covered all the good-for-you foods, let’s take a look at some vices you might need to bid adieu.
1. INFLAMMATORY FOODS
This one’s kind of a no-brainer but which foods in particular are considered to be inflammatory? Per the expert, inflammatory foods include, “processed meat and foods, red meat, foods that are high in sugar, alcohol and refined oils.”
2. RAW FOODS (BUT ONLY SOMETIMES)
Raw foods have had their moment—maybe they’re still having it—and there’s some merit to this philosophy of eating. Indeed, raw foods provide an impressive amount of unadulterated nutrients, vitamins and fiber. The latter is the sticking point though, since fiber-rich fruits and veggies are known culprits when it comes to gas, bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. In other words, proceed with caution.
3. SPICY FOODS
Capsaicin—the active compound in every kind of spicy pepper—is a known chemical irritant that can cause a degree of stomach upset in those with sensitive digestive systems (particularly individuals who are prone to acid reflux). Here’s the kicker: Research also suggests that capsaicin boasts quite a few health benefits. The takeaway? It’s really up to you to weigh the pros and cons next time you order curry.