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Best Food for Digestion: What to Know

Medically reviewed on July 25, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Efficient and healthy digestion is a fundamental feature of human health, as achieving digestive health and wellness can support many other bodily functions. However, from bloating after a meal, to feeling constipated for days, digestive issues and disturbances are sure to show up now and then.

That said, if digestive issues have become the norm for you, it may be time to reassess your diet. While certain foods can hamper digestive processes, others may be able to support a faster, more comfortable transit of food in your digestive tract.

Adding digestion-friendly foods to your pantry and kitchen is an excellent place to start. We’ll discuss how to stock your fridge with the best food for digestion, and how to find out what’s causing a digestive problem or upset in the first place.

Top 7 Foods to Improve Digestion

Developing a core diet of digestion-supporting food can help assuage discomfort. However, improving digestive and gut health isn’t simply a matter of eating the right foods. A healthy gut is cultivated by consuming a diverse diet that incorporates a wide variety of whole foods. [1]

An excellent rule of thumb is to “decorate” your plate: the more color you can get via whole foods sources on your plate, the more likely you’ll be consuming a versatile diet for healthy digestion rich in vitamins and minerals.1 The following 7 ingredients, all shown to assist with digestion in most individuals, can be a promising place to start.

1. Whole Grains

Refined grains, like white bread and rice, shed some of their nutritional content in the process of manufacturing. [2]

Whole grains, on the other hand, retain a denser nutritional profile.2 They are generally considered supportive of digestion by providing more fiber, which helps move food through the gastrointestinal (GI),or digestive tract. [2]

Some accessible, digestion-friendly whole grains include: [2]

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Oats

Whole grains can be healthy, but they’re not for everyone. For instance, people with Celiac disease should not eat rye or certain types of oats.3 Individuals with celiac disease cannot digest gluten, and eating these foods could cause a digestive problem (as well as intestinal damage). [3]

2. Leafy Greens

High in fiber and other essential vitamins for digestion, leafy greens are an excellent option to fuel digestion.4 They also contain sugars that good bacteria in your colon feed on, contributing to a healthier gut microbiome. [4]

If you’re new to leafy greens, some options to consider trying include:

  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Swiss chard

When integrating this type of vegetable into your diet, most people find them easier to digest (and more palatable) when they are cooked thoroughly. People with sensitive stomachs may find raw, tougher leafy greens like kale or cabbage harder to digest, which may lead to bloating or cramping. This may be an answer to the question of: “Why do I bloat after eating?”

3. Fermented Foods

Many high-quality, minimally processed fermented foods contain bacterial cultures known as probiotics. The strains of beneficial bacteria most commonly found in probiotic foods include: [5]

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium animalis
  • Bifidobacterium longum

Probiotics and good bacteria in fermented food have been shown to improve a variety of digestive concerns, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). [5] They have also been shown to reduce weight and combat obesity. [5]

Some common types of fermented foods include: [1]

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso

Some fermented food types, like kimchi, kombucha, or sauerkraut, may not be as effective a source of probiotics as other types. This is because many do not contain live bacterial cultures, to begin with. Or, the cultures they contain do not survive as they transit the digestive system. [5]

Moreover, many store-bought fermented foods, like sugary kombucha or sourdough bread, may lose their probiotic content during manufacturing.5 On the other hand, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus found in some yogurts tend to be shelf-safe and survive the manufacturing process better. [5]

4. Ginger

Ginger is a potentially beneficial ingredient that many cultures have used to encourage digestion for thousands of years. [6] In supplement form, it’s been shown to:

  • Cut down on bloating and flatulence [7]
  • Curb constipation [7]
  • Reduce some forms of nausea [7]
  • Alleviate menstrual cramps [8]

Ginger can be easily incorporated into many dishes and beverages. If you want to know what to drink after a meal to help digestion, ginger root can also be boiled to make a tea that may alleviate digestive upset.

5. Papaya

Papaya is a very soft fruit that is usually easily digested by the body. Studies have shown that people who consume papaya may report a reduction in digestive symptoms like: [9]

  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms

Papaya contains high amounts of antioxidants known as “carotenoids.”10 In one study, carotenoids from papaya were found to be more bioavailable (more easily absorbed by the body) than other carotenoid-containing foods like carrots and tomatoes. [10] Its combination of antioxidants and digestive relief could make papaya an ideal addition to a digestion-boosting diet.

6. Fennel

Like ginger, fennel has been used for millennia to combat digestive conditions.11 Several modern trials have found evidence to substantiate its customary applications like:

  • Improving transit time – In one study, fennel was used to help restore digestive motility, like facilitating a person’s first bowel movement after surgery. [12]
  • Strengthening the intestinal barrier – In a separate study, fennel seed extract was shown to improve intestinal barrier function in patients experiencing IBS. [11]

Fennel and fennel seed may be taken in supplement form. Keep in mind that US supplements are not reviewed or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Both fennel and fennel seed can be incorporated into the diet via whole food sources as well, which may make them more bioavailable.

7. Peppermint

Peppermint is an herb that is commonly used to treat a variety of digestive ailments, including: [13]

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Abdominal pain
  • Reduced GI stress due to overall stress reduction

Like fennel and ginger, peppermint has been widely used by many cultures to deal with digestive conditions. [13] However, some modern research also shows that peppermint may aggravate digestive distress in some people. [13]

If you’re dealing with mild digestive discomfort, a safer way to use peppermint may be to brew peppermint tea. [13]

Which Foods Are Easiest to Digest?

When a person struggles with digestive distress, some healthcare providers may recommend a “soft diet.” gestive discomfort, a safer way to use peppermint may be to brew peppermint tea. [14]

Soft diets include foods that are generally considered easy on the digestive system, including: [14]

  • Well-cooked (not raw) vegetables and pureés
  • Fruit that is canned, cooked, peeled, or pulp-free
  • Low-fiber grains
  • Yogurt
  • Ground meats
  • Tofu
  • Minimal spices

Soft diets are typically prescribed following a significant surgery or if an individual experiences frequent GI distress. [14] However, they may not be sustainable for everyone.

If you frequently deal with digestive upset, working with a healthcare provider to determine your triggers may enable you to eat more complex forms of food.

Can Eating Certain Foods Enhance Digestion?

A well-rounded diet typically includes more than just soft food. In fact, one of the main constituents eliminated in soft diets, fiber, is generally considered crucial for digestive well-being in most people.

Generally speaking, the following types of foods are considered beneficial for digestion.

Fiber-Rich Foods

Fiber is a material that passes through the body undigested. Fiber sources can be: [15]

  • Soluble, turning into a viscous substance when exposed to water
  • Insoluble, staying intact and helping food move through your gut

Foods containing fiber have been known to help regulate the speed of digestion. They also have other benefits, including: [15]

  • Decreasing cholesterol
  • Managing blood sugar
  • Reducing inflammation

Unprocessed, Whole Foods

Processed foods, or foods that undergo a high degree of manipulation prior to distribution, simply aren’t as good for your body as their unprocessed counterparts. [16]

In contrast to whole foods, processed ingredients may:

  • Provoke inflammation
  • Heighten poor digestive functioning
  • Augment your risk of health issues like heart attack and stroke [15]

One study suggested eating processed foods may trigger people to overeat or eat more processed foods, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of poor gut health [18]

Probiotic-Rich Foods

“Probiotic” foods are those which contain certain microorganisms (bacteria and yeast). These may help: [5]

  • Diversify the flora in your GI tract
  • Reinforce your gut barrier
  • Improve overall digestion

Eating fermented foods and dishes may help you reap these benefits, though probiotic supplements may also be a useful alternative and/or additional option. [5]

Troubleshooting Digestive Upset: Where to Start

Experiencing digestive upset is highly common. As many as 70 million Americans are estimated to deal with digestive conditions at some point in their lives. Some common conditions include: [19,20]

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Celiac disease
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux
  • Food allergies

These illnesses can be frustrating to shoulder, making finding a diet that supports digestion a challenge. If you’re struggling with repeated digestive discomfort, screening for food sensitivities, gluten intolerance, and other possible causes can be an important first step in determining the root of your discomfort.

By testing and working with your healthcare provider (or a nutritionist), you can start to create a diet that truly feels good to eat.

Get a Clearer Picture of Your Health With Everlywell

It’s normal for digestive distress to show up for many people on occasion. But if it’s chronic, the discomfort may be pointing to an issue deeper than digestion difficulty.

With Everlywell, you can screen for possible root causes of digestive upset conveniently and affordably at home. When you take an at-home food sensitivity test, all test results are physician-reviewed and data protected to ensure you get results you can trust.

To discover more ways the Everlywell Nutritional Health at-home tests can help you get a handle on your health, visit the online shop today.

  1. How To Improve Gut Health Naturally. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Published May 5, 2023. Accessed July 24, 2023.
  2. Mayo Clinic. The whole truth about whole grains. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published December 10, 2022.
  3. Mayo Clinic. Gluten-free diet: What’s allowed, what’s not. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published December 11, 2021.
  4. 5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion. www.hopkinsmedicine.org. URL. Published September 13, 2021.
  5. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements - Probiotics. Nih.gov. URL. Published 2017.
  6. Ginger. NCCIH. URL. Published December 2020.
  7. Slattery E. Ginger Benefits. www.hopkinsmedicine.org. URL.
  8. Effect of Ginger and Novafen on menstrual pain: A cross-over trial. Taiwanese Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2018;57(6):806-809. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tjog.2018.10.006. URL.
  9. Muss C, Mosgoeller W, Endler T. Papaya preparation (Caricol®) in digestive disorders. Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 2013;34(1):38-46. URL. Accessed July 24, 2023.
  10. Schweiggert RM, Kopec RE, Villalobos-Gutierrez MG, et al. Carotenoids are more bioavailable from papaya than from tomato and carrot in humans: a randomised cross-over study. British Journal of Nutrition. 2013;111(3):490-498. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114513002596. URL.
  11. Das B, Rabalais J, Kozan P, et al. The effect of a fennel seed extract on the STAT signaling and intestinal barrier function. PLOS ONE. 2022;17(7):e0271045. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0271045. URL.
  12. Chen B, He Y, Xiao Y, et al. Heated fennel therapy promotes the recovery of gastrointestinal function in patients after complex abdominal surgery: A single-center prospective randomized controlled trial in China. Surgery. 2020;168(5):793-799. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.surg.2020.05.040. URL.
  13. Peppermint Oil. NCCIH. Published October 2020. URL.
  14. Low Fiber Diet / Soft Foods Diet | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Published 2019.
  15. Mayo Clinic. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published 2021.
  16. Harguth A. Processed foods What you should know. www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org. URL. Published March 21, 2022.
  17. Anti-inflammatory diets may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease | NHLBI, NIH. Nih.gov. URL. Published December 23, 2020.
  18. NIH study finds heavily processed foods cause overeating and weight gain. NIH study finds heavily processed foods cause overeating and weight gain. National Institutes of Health (NIH). URL. Published June 17, 2019.
  19. Digestive Diseases | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL. Published April 22, 2019.
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