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7 Tricks for Making Hard-to-Digest Foods Easier on Your Stomach

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
May 3, 2022

Here’s a difficult truth: just because you love a food doesn’t mean it loves you back. Each of us have our own sensitivities, but there are some foods that are notorious for being difficult to have a smooth experience with, no matter who you are.

Some of these known ingredients and processes are easy to avoid. Fried foods, overly processed goods, and artificial sweeteners are known for being tough to digest, and they should be kept to a minimum in our diets anyway. But there are plenty of healthy foods that we do benefit from eating regularly that can also be tricky for your body to process. These include spicy ingredients like peppers, fiber-rich vegetables such as crucifers, citrus fruits, and legumes. 

Read next: 5 “Healthy” Habits That May Be Bad for Your Gut

Because these foods benefit our bodies in many ways — such as how cruciferous vegetables reduce the risk of cancer and legumes lower the risk of developing diabetes — it’s a great idea to learn how to prepare them in ways that work for our bodies, rather than just avoiding them. In that spirit, we have seven of our favorite tried-and-true tricks to make hard to digest foods an easier choice. 

1. Low and slow is the way to go

We all know that there are many benefits to eating raw foods, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our bodies are able to break them down well. If you find that raw vegetables are a challenge for you, opt instead to eat them cooked, which breaks the fiber down into a more digestible format. Specifically, try cooking them slowly, over low heat, which provides the opportunity for the fiber to get softened throughout its entirety. For spicy ingredients like peppers, it also tames some of the heat that can upset our stomachs. 

Hard to digest foods like meat, which can be tricky due to their protein content, can benefit from long, slow cooking. Our bodies are better able to break down the protein in meat cooked that way, and it’s able to pass through our systems more speedily in turn. 

2. The right combinations matter

“Food combining” was a health craze years ago, but some aspects of it didn’t hold up to scrutiny. However, there is definite evidence that eating certain categories of food together helps them to digest and process in an ideal manner, and to get the most out of them. One example is that for foods high in iron, such as animal proteins, spinach, or beans, the iron in them is particularly well absorbed when consumed with vitamin C. That means that bell peppers or citrus fruits can complement those foods well. 

When it comes to how to combine foods best purely for digestion, the main goal is simply to avoid eating more than one food at a time that’s hard on your body. If you’re sensitive to both legumes and crucifers, avoid a bean and cabbage soup. Instead, stick to one difficult ingredient per meal. 

3. Grind it up

For foods that are high in fiber, the fact that we don’t tend to chew them well enough certainly doesn’t help. Remember that when you consume anything that’s challenging to break down, always be sure to chew, chew, chew your food as thoroughly as possible, which eases digestion.

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If you’re on the go, this can be difficult, but grinding or blending your food does the work for you! If you don’t have time to enjoy a proper breakfast where you can take your time to chew your food, consider making a smoothie. For lunch, you can enjoy a blended soup — just pulse your cooked vegetables in the processor, or use an immersion blender. The more work you do before your food hits your mouth, the less stress on your stomach. 

4. Sprouting and soaking really do help

We all know that soaking beans in advance of cooking makes them take less time on the stove, but it also makes them easier for our bodies to process. Soaking beans also removes anti-nutrient lectins, thus making the nutrients in the food more available for your body. 

Sprouting grains has been well-proven to increase their digestibility. Where once that would be an arduous task for a home cook to take on, nowadays sprouted products are available far and wide. From dried grains like rice to minimally processed items such as crackers, sprouted items are sold wherever regular grain foods are available. 

5. Some things are better with time

Probiotics are one of the most important elements of our digestive systems. These tiny flora, which the average person carries around 3-5 pounds of, determine how well our immune system functions, among other health concerns. Having a diet rich in probiotics is proven to give us an easier time digesting our foods. 

You can take a pill full of probiotics if you need to, but so many foods are cultured and contain them naturally. Fermented foods are full of these good bacteria, and many people find that eating them alongside their meals contributes to better digestion. So consider including some kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha. 

6. Get enough liquids

It doesn’t matter how well you eat if you aren’t sufficiently hydrated. Proper hydration is key to proper digestion for many reasons — for instance, if your intestinal system isn’t well hydrated enough, waste can’t easily pass through it. Constipation results from that, which can then cause more problems. 

Eating meals with liquid foods is a simple way to ensure you’ve got a good liquid to solid ratio happening. A cup of bone broth, a side of soup, or a glass of green juice along with your meal or snack will help your body to run smoothly. 

7. Digestive enzymes offer a boost

When our bodies can’t produce enough of the enzymes needed to break down our food well, sometimes the best answer is to supplement with digestive enzymes. These are natural supplements that contain protease, lipase, lactase, and other enzymes that our bodies are supposed to produce. They play an important role in managing digestive illnesses, and they can make the difference between the ability to eat a healthy food you love, or the lack of it. Some digestive enzymes contain all the major ones needed to break down fats, protein, and carbohydrates, and others are more specific, such as lactase for people who are lactose intolerant. 

Quick recap

Eating healthy food should feel good from start to finish. If you find that your digestion isn’t always on point, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to eliminate multiple items from your diet. Instead, these are numerous solutions available. Try cooking troublesome ingredients slowly, eat more fermented foods, and opt to soak or sprout prior to cooking, as just a few options. These tricks will help your body be more able to process the foods you love, and help you get more nutrients out of them. 

Read next: What You Need to Know About the Gut Health-Sleep Connection

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