Foods That Help Digestion—And Foods You May Want To Skip

Here are some foods you should eat to soothe your stomach and keep your digestive tract running smoothly—and some you'll want to leave alone.

If you have a sensitive stomach or a medical condition that affects your gastrointestinal (GI) tract (the system in your body responsible for digesting food), you may feel sick or uncomfortable after eating certain foods—like spicy dishes.

To help keep your GI tract moving smoothly, here is a list of common foods that trigger digestive troubles, ideas for alternative food options, and foods that aid digestion.

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Foods to Limit for Digestion

Several foods are known to contribute to digestive upset. Listen to your body and consider limiting or avoiding the following foods.

High Fat and Fried Food

High-fat and fried food can overwhelm the stomach, resulting in acid reflux and heartburn. "The body can only handle so much at one time," Jessica Anderson, RD, a diabetes educator with the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi, told Health.

High-fat food also can result in pale-colored stool, a phenomenon called steatorrhea, which is essentially excess fat in the feces, per StatPearls. A lot of people with irritable bowel syndrome need to stay away from foods high in fat, said Anderson, because they can cause digestive problems.

Besides high-fat foods, here are a few other foods that can cause stomach upset.

Chili Peppers

This staple of spicy cuisine can irritate the esophagus and lead to heartburn pain.

"Consuming chili peppers can be a particular problem for people with irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] or those who already suffer from chronic heartburn," Tim McCashland, MD, a gastroenterologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told Health.


You need calcium in your diet, and an easy way to get it is from dairy products such as milk and cheese. However, dairy can cause diarrhea, gas, abdominal bloating, and cramps for those who are lactose intolerant.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains that lactose intolerance occurs when people don't make enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose (the sugar found in milk). Celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and chemotherapy can damage the intestines, leading to lactose intolerance.

If you're lactose intolerant, avoid dairy to keep unpleasant digestive symptoms away.


Alcohol relaxes the body, but it also relaxes the esophageal sphincter. This can lead to acid reflux or heartburn.

Drinking also can inflame the stomach lining, impairing certain enzymes and preventing nutrients from being absorbed, said Anderson. Too much alcohol can cause diarrhea and cramping, but unless you have a gastrointestinal disorder, moderate amounts of alcohol shouldn't irritate the digestive tract.

Coffee, Tea, and Soft Drinks

Coffee, tea, and carbonated beverages not only over-relax the esophageal sphincter, which keeps stomach acid confined to the stomach, but they also can act as diuretics, which can lead to diarrhea and cramping, noted Anderson.

Caffeinated beverages can be a particular problem, especially for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

If you have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or heartburn, you should avoid mint tea; it can, however, calm the stomach, said Anderson. This is because while regular use of peppermint tea may contribute to symptoms of GERD, peppermint tea may help relieve gassiness, nausea, and vomiting. It all depends on the symptoms and condition.


So chocolate itself may not be the true villain here, said Anderson. For people with milk allergies, for example, the real culprit in chocolate is the milk content. Even for people without lactose intolerance or dairy allergies, the caffeine content in chocolate can also stimulate cramps, bloating, or diarrhea for those with IBS.


Fiber-rich corn is good for you, but it also contains cellulose, a type of fiber that humans can't break down easily because we lack the necessary enzyme.

"Our evolutionary ancestors were probably able to break it down with bigger, stronger teeth," said Anderson. If you chew corn longer, you can probably digest it just fine, added Anderson. Still, if you decide to wolf it down, it may pass through you undigested and cause gas and abdominal pain.

Alternative Foods Safer for Digestion

Fortunately, there are many alternatives if you are lactose intolerant or develop stomach upset from one of the food options listed. For example, several options are available for lactose-free milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products. Dairy-free chocolate is also an option for those who love chocolate but need to avoid milk products.

Additionally, for those looking for an alternative to alcohol, numerous breweries sell non-alcoholic versions of beer. There are also creative ways to make "mocktails" so you can still sip something tasty and skip the bad side effects of too much alcohol.

And as for other beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks, it is important to be aware of your triggers and read labels. For example, low-acidity coffee is available for those who find coffee with higher acidic content irritating. Additionally, if caffeine is a digestive trigger, many herbal teas are caffeine free. There are also caffeine-free versions of black and green tea.

Foods That Help Digestion

While there's a long list of foods to limit to minimize digestive upset, fortunately, there are numerous healthy food options that are typically safe for those with sensitive stomachs. However, you may still need to exercise caution depending on your specific dietary needs and condition.

Berries and Seeds

Berries, such as blueberries, are good for your health since they exist as natural sources of fiber. The same goes for nuts and seeds. However, when it comes to both of these foods, it's best to consume them in moderation.

Berries contain a lot of fructose (sugars found in fruit), which can be hard to digest for some people. In fact, per MedlinePlus, up to 40% of individuals in the Western hemisphere may have fructose malabsorption. This can lead to unpleasant GI symptoms such as bloating, gassiness, diarrhea, or constipation after consuming foods with fructose, such as fruit.


You have trillions of bacteria in your gut that help you digest food, and yogurt contains some types of these healthy bacteria. (Not all yogurts have them, though—check for "live and active cultures" on the label.)

"Yogurt has bacteria, which replenishes the normal flora within the gastrointestinal tract so it's healthy," said Dr. McCashland.


Kimchi is a Korean favorite usually made with cabbage, radish, or onion, along with lots of spices. The main ingredient is usually cabbage, which promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.

Cabbage is a type of fiber that's not digested, so it helps eliminate waste, keeping bowel movements regular, said Anderson. Sauerkraut is good for the same reasons.

This dish can be spicy, however, so it might not be a good option if you've found that spicy foods trigger digestive problems for you.

Lean Meat and Fish

If you're going to eat meat, go for chicken, fish, and other lean meats—they'll be digested a lot easier than a steak.

"Red meats tend to be fattier," said Anderson. "Your body can handle lean meats and fish and chicken a whole lot better than prime rib." StatPearls explained leaner foods, meaning meats and fish with lower fat content, tend to be better tolerated than fattier meats and animal products.

Further, lean meats and fish have not been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer, unlike high-fat red meats. Per the World Health Organization (WHO), there is evidence for a relationship between red meat consumption and colon cancer—although further research is needed.

Whole Grains

Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, oats, and brown rice, are a good source of fiber, which helps digestion.

"If there's one thing America lacks, it's fiber," said Anderson. "We need 20 to 30 grams a day and we maybe get 12."

Fiber also can help you feel full and lower cholesterol, but it can cause bloating, gas, and other problems in people who quickly ramp up their intake—it's better to take it slow when consuming more. Those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should also avoid wheat grains.


Bananas help restore normal bowel function, especially if you have diarrhea. Per StatPearls, they are part of a diet called the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast and is a diet for those experiencing vomiting and diarrhea.

Additionally, they help restore electrolytes, such as potassium, that may be lost due to dehydration, per MedlinePlus. This fruit also has lots of fiber to aid digestion. "A banana a day is what I always say," said Anderson.


This spice has been used for thousands of years to relieve numerous conditions, including GI upset, vomiting, and nausea, per StatPearls.

However, per StatPearls, it's best to consume ginger in moderation. This is because more than 4 grams per day can cause negative side effects, such as GI discomfort. Doses of 6 grams or more can lead to reflux, heartburn, and diarrhea, among other possible side effects.

A Quick Review

Food triggers will vary between individuals. For example, someone with Celiac disease will likely have different dietary needs than someone with lactose intolerance. Regardless of the specific condition, if you have a sensitive stomach or diagnosis that impacts how your body digests food, pay attention to how certain foods make you feel.

If you feel great after eating some foods and lousy after eating others, take note and consider adjusting your diet accordingly. And, if you notice new or concerning GI symptoms, reach out to a healthcare provider for advice.

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  2. Jarosz M, Taraszewska A. Risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease: the role of diet. Prz Gastroenterol. 2014;9(5):297-301. doi:10.5114/pg.2014.46166

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