Most of us don’t have a so-called stomach of steel. In my private practice, I focus on personalised nutrition advice and often work with people who have sensitive stomachs for a variety of reasons. I’ve found that each individual person responds to food differently, and general nutrition guidelines don’t necessarily apply to everyone.
In fact, some of the healthiest foods don’t agree with many people. For example, raw and fibrous foods can be hard to digest for someone with enzyme deficiencies, whereas some people have a lowered ability to digest and break down a family of carbohydrate sugars called FODMAPs.
Certain people will experience symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhoea, and even constipation when they eat particular foods, especially in large amounts.
However, that doesn’t mean that people with sensitive digestive systems necessarily need to avoid these foods forever. I generally recommend being careful about how much they have and using some strategic techniques to make those foods easier to digest.
TYPES OF EASY-TO-DIGEST FOODS
While food affects everyone a bit differently, generally speaking, there are some types of foods that are easier to digest than others. In my experience, foods that are easier on the stomach are “predigested”—in other words, they’re treated with temperature, fermentation, grinding, or more. Below, I’ve outlined some of the primary ways to make food easier to digest:
1. Cooking Or Heating
Applying temperature or heat to your foods can help break them down and make them easier to digest. As for proteins specifically, I’m a big fan of stewing, in other words, cooking meats, lentils, and beans for a longer time at a low temperature.
This might look like a traditional stew in a cast-iron pan, or the newly popular sous vide method. Whatever method you choose, cooking these proteins more slowly can help to make them much easier to digest. This applies to raw produce, too—especially when it comes to high-fibre vegetables and fruit.
Further, when you’re cooking up your veggies or protein with oil, it’s important to go for healthy, high-quality options like olive oil, sesame oil, or coconut oil.
Some of my favourite ways to apply this method include baking apples with spices or whipping up veggie soups and stews.
2. Sprouting Or Soaking
In addition to cooking your food, soaking your beans and lentils in advance makes them easier to digest, according to traditional cooking techniques.
Opting for sprouted grains or nuts can be similarly beneficial. You can even sprout nuts and seeds yourself by soaking them in water overnight—just be sure to always choose organic, high-quality options.
In my experience, using these techniques helps micro-activate the foods’ biochemical compositing which enables them to be more bioavailable and easier to digest.
3. Fermenting Or Pickling
Fermented foods contain good probiotic bugs that are healthy for your gut and support overall digestive health. For example, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, radishes, cauliflower, cucumbers, and carrots are easier to digest after they’ve been pickled. That’s because when these foods are fermented via naturally occurring bacteria, that bacteria predigests the food for us, making it easier for digestion. Some examples of these fermented or probiotic foods include sauerkraut, tofu, kefir, and yogurt.
4. Grinding Or Blending
Using a grinding process reduces the particle size of food and makes it easier to digest—particularly when it comes to nuts and seeds. For this reason, I often recommend organic tahini and nut butters.
RECIPES FOR EASY-TO-DIGEST MEALS
There are a number of ways to use the above methods to create healthy, easy-to-digest meals. One of my favourite options is sautéing greens like bok choy, Swiss chard, kale, and spinach with a healthy oil.
I also love adding alliums (such as onions, leeks, garlic, scallions) to a veggie stir fry or sauté. They’re an excellent source of prebiotics and add a lot of flavour to any simple vegetable or tofu dish.
Another one of my go-to meals is blended vegetable soup, made with anti-inflammatory herbs and lower in potentially irritating ingredients like pepper or garlic
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT AND OPTIMISE YOUR DIGESTION</strong?
One of the best things you can do to optimise digestion is supporting your microbiome with colourful fruit and vegetables high in fibre, prebiotics, and polyphenols.
Exposing yourself to a variety of microbes is key to gut health diversity (think probiotics and fermented foods), which makes our digestion stronger and more resilient.
Additionally, I recommend avoiding or limiting artificial sweeteners, cured and processed meats, excessive sugars, and alcohol whenever possible.
I’m also a big proponent of taking a personalised approach to all things digestive health. Consult with an integrative health specialist or a nutritionist, uncover any food sensitivities and intolerances, then create a personalised nutrition plan for your individual optimal health and digestion.
Ultimately, strategically nurturing your digestion is important for your overall health. Other benefits include high-quality sleep, better energy levels, less inflammation, and a greater sense of calm. Choosing foods and preparing them in ways your body agrees with can make a world of difference.