Treat Your Upset Stomach: 10 Foods That Are Easy to Digest
An upset stomach is the worst — nausea, diarrhea, gas and cramps are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright embarrassing. Not only that, but these symptoms can throw a wrench into your regular diet and put you off food for a long time.
However, even if eating is the last thing you want to do, you still need the energy to function. So the question is, are there foods you can eat to treat your upset stomach? Absolutely! In fact, there are quite a few foods that are easy to digest, and that can also help your ailing belly.
10 Types of Foods That Are Easy to Digest
If you’re experiencing stomach upset, your best bet is to get plenty of rest and hydration. Your body loses a lot of essential fluids when you’re suffering from diarrhea and vomiting. Therefore, if you want to recover more quickly, you need to replenish your fluids as often as possible.
Another important step in recovery is to consume things that are easy to digest, and won’t tax your gastrointestinal tract. These are the types of foods that have been stripped of their fiber during manufacturing. Since fiber is notoriously difficult for your stomach to process, eating low-fiber foods means you’ll be giving your digestive system a much-needed break.
Likewise, you should avoid consuming fats. Since fatty foods can speed up, or slow down stomach contractions, eating added oil or deep-fried foods can worsen your symptoms.
So what exactly can you eat? Here are 10 foods that are easy to digest and you can use to settle your upset stomach.
1. White Bread and White Rice
White bread and white rice get a bad rap in mainstream health circles — for a good reason. White bread is made using white wheat flour, a type of flour that has been refined to have a lighter, finer texture.
This usually involves removing the bran and the germ from the wheat kernels and leaving only the endosperm. Since wheat bran and germ contain most of the vitamins, minerals, and fibers, removing these components strips white flour of most of its nutrition.
White rice undergoes a similar process, where manufacturers remove not just the germ and bran, but the rice husk as well. The resulting products have a longer shelf-life, but no staying power when it comes to digestion.
This is why most health authorities don’t recommend eating white rice and white bread in excess. They’re calorie-dense, yet don’t contain many nutrients or fiber to keep you full.
However, when your stomach can’t work overtime to digest fiber, these foods are your best friends. They pass through your gut quickly, and they’re bland enough not to trigger any nausea or cramps.
Other refined carb options in this same category are toast, salted pretzels, and plain, saltine crackers. The pretzels and crackers in particular are high in sodium, which can help restore your electrolytes if you’re dehydrated. Toast is also one of the foods that are easy to digest, providing you don’t add any spreads or butter to it.
When it comes to foods that are easy to digest, there is nothing better than a nice, ripe banana. They contain a lot of natural antacids that help soothe your stomach, especially if you’re experiencing indigestion.
Moreover, they’re jam-packed with potassium, a vitamin that helps protect your stomach lining and correct electrolyte imbalances. But when it comes to eating bananas on an upset stomach, not all of them are created equal.
Fresh, greener bananas contain high amounts of resistant starches. These starches are molecules that have prebiotic properties. In short, they behave similarly to fiber when ingested, in that the body has a hard time breaking them down. However, the longer the banana sits the more these starches break down.
In the cases of overripe, brown bananas, the resistant starches have almost completely broken down into simple sugars known as fructose. And fructose is something your body has no problem breaking down fast. What’s more, brown bananas can be constipating, which is helpful if you have diarrhea.
Watermelon is another fruit that is soothing to an upset stomach. It’s primarily composed of water, and it has a fairly low fiber content. Therefore it has no problem passing through the GI tract quickly.
Not only that, but its mildly sweet, neutral flavor has the power to settle nausea, especially if you eat it cold. A bonus point is that it’s also very hydrating, something which is incredibly important if you’re suffering from diarrhea.
Other fruits with similar properties include honeydew melons and cantaloupe melons. Both fruits have high water contents which are great at keeping you hydrated. But be warned that they do contain slightly more fiber, so they may not be ideal if you’re suffering from cramps.
However, if you want to stay hydrated but don’t think you can stomach anything sweet there are some veggies you can enjoy. Cucumbers, for example, have the same water content as watermelons, and they’re one of the foods that are easiest to digest if you’re experiencing bouts of nausea.
But keep in mind that cucumber skin contains fiber and a compound called cucurbitacin, which isn’t ideal to eat if you have indigestion.
4. Chicken and Turkey
Protein is one of the most important macronutrients in your diet. It’s the building block of muscle, and plays a vital role in carrying oxygen through your body. Therefore, when you’re sick, eating a healthy amount of protein will hugely boost your recovery. And when you’re choosing the perfect protein source, it’s best to go with lean, low-fat options.
Fat-rich protein sources are extremely unpleasant if you have pancreatitis and IBS because they can trigger stomach pain, cramping, and diarrhea.
In contrast, things like chicken, turkey, and some types of fish contain very little fat and are thus much easier on the stomach. Plus, they’re also packed with vitamins and minerals which are much better for your cardiovascular system than red meat.
But, be careful when you’re preparing them. Frying or sautéing chicken or turkey can have the same effect as eating red meat because of the added oil.
Likewise, steer clear of oily fishes such as sardines, mackerel, and herring. While they contain heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, they can be incredibly hard for the colon to process. Therefore, save them for when your gut is back to normal.
5. Cooked Cereals
No, this entry doesn’t mean you literally have to boil your cornflakes. Cooked cereals refer to cooked grains like oatmeal, semolina, milled wheat, and grits.
While these breakfast staples are notoriously rich in fiber, cooking them will aid in the digestion process. The high heat won’t dissolve the fiber, but it will help the body break it down faster.
Moreover, since cooked cereals have a fairly neutral, bland taste, you don’t risk triggering nausea if you consume them.
But, just like with your protein sources, how you cook them matters.
For one, you should only use water. Milk might add the necessary flavor to your grains, but it’s difficult to digest. Likewise, refrain from adding any toppings. Most people can’t imagine eating a bowl of oatmeal without a spoonful of nut butter on top.
But nut butters are almost entirely composed of fats, so you should avoid them if you’re experiencing indigestion.
6. Canned Vegetables
This entry doesn’t refer to all canned vegetables. For example, canned tomatoes, pickles, and beans contain acids, seeds, and fiber that can exacerbate an upset stomach.
Canned root vegetables, however, don’t have the same effect. Things like seedless squash, carrots, beets, and pumpkin get stripped of their fiber during the canning process. This, in turn, makes them into foods that are easy to digest. Plus, their neutral, bland taste is always helpful if you’re having trouble keeping anything down.
However, be careful when choosing your canned goods. To give them a longer shelf life, manufacturers often load them with acids and preservatives. If you’re suffering from things like IBS or acid reflux, such chemicals could cause a very serious flare-up.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Most doctors recommend consuming boiled white potatoes for an upset stomach. However, if you want a bit of extra nutrition, then sweet potatoes will work just as well. They rank very high as one of the foods that are easy to digest, especially if you have diarrhea.
Much like bananas, they’re potassium bombs, so they’re excellent at repairing electrolyte imbalances. But, take care to remove the skin when you’re cooking them. Similar to white potatoes, sweet potato skins are very high in fiber which is not a good idea if you’re experiencing stomach cramps.
Having eggs on an upset stomach will largely depend on what your symptoms are. For example, if you’re having bouts of diarrhea, then eggs are an excellent choice. Their moderate fat content will delay gastric emptying which will save you frequent trips to the bathroom. Of course, like with other protein sources listed here, preparation matters.
Since eggs are already naturally rich in saturated fats, you should avoid adding any oil to them. This means no scrambled eggs, eggs over-easy, or omelets. Stick with plain hard-boiled and soft-boiled eggs prepared in water. If you really can’t stand either of these options, try scrambling your eggs in a nonstick pan to avoid any added oil.
But, if you’re experiencing indigestion, cramps, and acid reflux then eggs won’t be one of the foods that are easy to digest. Thanks to their saturated fat, they’ll rest heavily in your stomach, and cause painful bloating.
Gelatin may seem like a strange entry for this list. However, it actually ranks high as one of the foods that are easy to digest. In fact, hospitals will often serve gelatin desserts to their patients after surgery.
This is because it contains no fiber or oil, while simultaneously packing quite a lot of protein. Since it also has high water content, it’s ideal for managing dehydration.
The only downside is that gelatin is an animal-based product. Therefore, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, it’s a no-go for your upset stomach. But, the good news is that you can find plant-based, gut-friendly alternatives. Seaweed and agar-agar both have similar textures to gelatin and provide some of the same benefits as the animal based-product.
10. Chicken Soup
Chicken soup isn’t just something you eat when you have a cold. This comforting food is also perfect for soothing an upset stomach. Not only does it provide essential hydration, but it also helps you sneak in extra nutrition.
Cooking the veggies, chicken, and broth all together for extended periods of time helps break down lots of the components long before they make their way through your digestive tract. Plus, the added salt will help balance your electrolytes.
Therefore, if you can’t stomach the idea of eating steamed chicken and veggies on their own, consider dumping them in a pot with some water, and slurp away.
Bonus Entry: Drinks
This last entry may seem like cheating since it concerns drinks. However, we would be remiss not to mention them since hydration is so important when you have an upset stomach. While plain water will do the job, teas are even better, especially if you have a nasty stomach bug.
Herbs like chamomile are great for soothing stomach irritation, while fennel tea has the ability to alleviate cramping and constipation. Other teas like ginger root tea fight nausea symptoms, while peppermint tea remedies stomach pain and diarrhea.
Just make sure you choose herbal teas, as caffeinated ones can act as natural diuretics and further exacerbate your gut issues.
Other drinks which can help soothe your stomachs include sports drinks, broths, and carbonated water. Sports drinks contain simple sugars, salt, and potassium, all components which are crucial for restoring electrolyte imbalances.
Clear soup broths rank very high as foods that are easy to digest, while simultaneously being nutritious. Lastly, the gas in carbonated water can help kickstart your digestion, especially if you’re suffering from constipation.
7 Types of Foods to Avoid on an Upset Stomach
While some types of food soothe your ailing stomach, others can make your symptoms worse. To help you recover more quickly, here is a list of foods you should avoid when you have an upset stomach.
Depending on your food tolerances, you can put dairy as one of the foods that are easy to digest. This is especially true if you choose low-fat milk and probiotic yogurts to treat constipation and indigestion. However, this isn’t always the case. One of the reasons most people avoid dairy when they have an upset stomach is because of lactose.
Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar that is present in most dairy products and is fairly difficult for the human body to process. Most research estimates that over 68% of the world’s population has some form of sensitivity to lactose.
In fact, undiagnosed lactose intolerance is one of the most common reasons people experience indigestion, gas, and bloating. In this instance, consuming lactose can only worsen your symptoms.
2. Acidic Foods
Acids can be pretty damaging to the stomach lining. This is especially true if you have a sensitive gut, or suffer from heartburn or frequent acid reflux. Therefore, to minimize your symptoms, steer clear of acidic foods that can exacerbate your digestive issues. This includes tomato sauce and citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes.
3. Fatty Foods
As mentioned above, fatty foods are a no-go on an upset stomach. Fat has the ability to stimulate contractions in the digestive tract, which can either slow down or speed up the emptying of the stomach. Therefore, regardless of whether you have diarrhea or constipation, fat will only make your symptoms worse. This effect is two-fold if the type of fat you’re consuming is saturated.
To avoid food resting heavily in your stomach, ditch the high-fat foods like butter, ice cream, red meat, and cheese. This also applies to fried foods such as fried chicken, burgers, french fries, or egg rolls.
Replace them all with low-fat options and try to consume smaller, lighter meals throughout the day so your stomach doesn’t get overwhelmed.
4. Ultra-Processed Foods
This entry might seem contradictory, especially since we listed processed foods as foods that are easy to digest. However, the key difference here is the word ‘ultra’. This term applies to foods that have been refined multiple times and infused with a whole host of artificial flavors, chemicals, and preservatives.
These ingredients can wreak havoc on an upset stomach, especially if you’re constipated. Moreover, they often contain high amounts of saturated fat and lactose, which, as discussed previously, aren’t things you want to eat on an upset stomach. Therefore, if you’re experiencing stomach issues, steer clear of things like chips, candy, sodas, and milk chocolates.
You might think of coffee as an irreplaceable part of your everyday life. However, when you’re suffering from indigestion, then your morning cup of Joe is not your friend. Caffeine is a known diuretic.
It stimulates bowel movements, making contents move more quickly through your gastrointestinal tract. In excessive amounts, it’s one of the most frequent causes of diarrhea in healthy people.
For an unhealthy person currently experiencing stomach issues, caffeine is even worse. It can not only worsen diarrhea but also cause some intense cramping. Decaf coffee is not a good substitute here either, as it still holds trace amounts of caffeine. Therefore, until your stomach heals, it’s best to forego that cup of coffee in the morning.
6. Spicy Foods
Anyone who has ever spent the day on the toilet after a Taco Bell feast knows the damage spicy food can do. You can blame these unpleasant side effects on one compound — Capsaicin.
Capsaicin is not only responsible for giving foods like peppers their signature heat but is also a known irritant. When ingested it raises your body temperature, which in turn signals the brain to stimulate pain receptors. And when you’re already experiencing stomach cramps, the last thing you need is more pain.
Therefore, save the spice challenges for when you’re back in good shape.
7. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables refer to the vegetables that belong to the cabbage family. These include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, arugula, Brussel sprouts, and, of course, cabbages. Ordinarily, these veggies should absolutely be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. They’re packed full of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that not only promote gut health but help lower blood pressure as well.
However, when you’re suffering from an upset stomach, cruciferous veggies are a no-no. They don’t just contain high amounts of fiber, but also oligosaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that our gut can’t digest.
Furthermore, cauliflower contains another indigestible carb called raffinose. This carb has a strong impact on sufferers of IBS, especially if you consume cauliflower raw.
Therefore, to break down some of the fiber, most doctors recommend boiling or steaming these veggies if you have an upset stomach.
What Causes An Upset Stomach?
Now that we have covered the food basics, it’s time to address some of the most common reasons for an upset stomach. As discussed, something which most frequently triggers stomach upset is a viral infection. Also known as the stomach flu, viral infections cause gastroenteritis or the inflammation of the stomach lining.
This inflammation is accompanied by a host of symptoms you’re probably familiar with. These include:
• Frequent diarrhea
Apart from stomach bugs, other lesser-known causes of an upset stomach include stress and anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, and various food intolerances. While stress and anxiety are external factors that can cause cramps or indigestion, the exact root cause of IBS is unknown.
Many speculate that it’s just the result of increased bowel sensitivity, and it requires diet and lifestyle changes to manage.
Likewise, various food sensitivities, like the above-discussed lactose intolerance, or gluten sensitivity require dietary restrictions. Moreover, since the symptoms of food intolerances often look like stomach bugs, you’re going to need extensive testing to diagnose them.
In all these cases, it’s best to consult your doctor, especially if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks.
If you’re experiencing an upset stomach, it’s best to consume only foods that are easy to digest. These include bland, processed foods that are low in fiber and fat. Likewise, get plenty of water and try to avoid anything that might upset your stomach like spicy foods, or ultra-processed foods.
Most stomach upsets last a few days, and can easily be treated at home. However, if your symptoms persist for longer, contact your doctor so that you can find the root cause of the problem.