What Foods Are Hard To Digest?
If you’ve ever experienced indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain after eating, it could be because your body is having a hard time digesting certain types of food. Knowing which foods are difficult for your body to digest can help you prevent digestive discomfort and make informed dietary decisions.
Ahead, we discuss some of the most common foods that are hard to digest and provide tips on how to prepare them for easier digestion.
What Makes Some Foods Hard To Digest?
When it comes to digestion, not all foods are created equal. Some foods seem to glide through the digestive system with ease, while others can cause discomfort, bloating, and even digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea. So why is it that some foods are harder to digest than others?
To understand why some foods are harder to digest, we first need to understand the digestive process itself.
Digestion begins in the mouth, where enzymes in saliva start to break down carbohydrates. From there, food travels to the stomach, where it is mixed with stomach acid and digestive enzymes to further break down proteins and fats.
The food then moves to the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, before passing to the large intestine, where water is absorbed and waste is eliminated.
So, what makes some foods more difficult to digest than others?
One factor is the type of nutrient the food contains. For example, proteins are more complex molecules than carbohydrates or fats, so they require more time and energy to break down. Another factor is the fiber content of the food. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can't digest, but that helps to keep the digestive system moving smoothly.
However, some types of fiber are more difficult to digest than others. For instance, soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that slows down the absorption of nutrients. On the other hand, insoluble fiber can add bulk to stool and promote easy bowel movements.
The way in which food is prepared can also affect its digestibility. For example, cooking can break down some of the complex carbohydrates and proteins in foods, making them easier to digest.
Finally, individual differences can also play a role in how easily we digest certain foods.
Some people may have a more sensitive digestive system than others, making certain foods harder to digest. Food intolerances or allergies can also make digestion more difficult, as the body may not make the necessary enzymes to break down certain types of food.
Which Foods Are Hard To Digest?
While everyone’s digestive system is different, there are a few foods that are typically harder to digest than others. Here are some foods to keep in mind.
Dairy products contain a complex sugar called lactose that can be difficult for some people to digest.
These products can include:
- Ice cream
If you’re sensitive to dairy or have a lactose intolerance, try limiting your intake or opting for low-fat, lactose-free versions of these items.
Adding a probiotic supplement like our Gut Feelings Probiotics® may also help support your body’s ability to digest lactose since its main benefit is supporting healthy gut function, digestion, and immunity.*
Eating too much sugar can cause gas, bloating, constipation, and other digestive discomforts. You can still enjoy these treats in moderation, but it’s best to balance them out with fiber-rich foods like fruits and veggies.
You may be wondering whether or not you can replace sugar with sugar-free artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, fructose, or aspartame. While everyone’s gastrointestinal system is different, artificial sweeteners can cause digestive upset in some people, so you may want to use natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit extract.
Believe it or not, raw vegetables can also be difficult to digest since your body needs to work harder to break them down.
Raw vegetables that can be hard to digest include:
To make them easier on your gut, try steaming or lightly sautéing your veggies. There are plenty of ways to enjoy these nutritious foods!
Spicy foods can cause digestive problems for some people due to their high capsaicin content. Capsaicin can irritate the lining of your stomach, potentially leading to indigestion and heartburn.
Spicy foods include:
- Chili peppers
If you’re sensitive to spicy foods, try toning down the heat or avoiding them altogether for your gut health.
Whole grains have their health benefits, but they can be hard to digest due to their high fiber content. They are also rich in complex carbohydrates, which can be difficult for the body to break down.
Whole grains include:
- Brown rice
- White rice
Plus, some whole grains, like wheat, contain gluten, a protein that can cause digestive upset for many people.
To support digestive health, try soaking grains overnight before cooking them or pairing them with other foods that support digestion, like yogurt or ginger.
Citrus fruits are known for their refreshing taste, but these acidic foods can also be hard to digest.
Citrus fruits include:
The acids in these fruits can irritate the lining of your stomach, causing stomach cramping and heartburn (also called acid reflux). To reduce these effects, try cutting back on your intake of citrus fruits and replacing them with other fruits that are easier on the gut, such as berries or apples.
Processed food items are often difficult to digest because they contain added preservatives that can cause tension in the gut lining. Processed meats such as bacon, sausage links, or patties can be especially difficult to digest because they may contain unhealthy fats that can worsen existing digestive problems.
Other processed foods, such as chips or crackers made with refined flour, may also be hard on digestion due to their lack of fiber. If you plan on enjoying these types of foods, consider pairing them with our Sparkle Fiber® to support healthy digestion.*
Alcoholic drinks can also be hard to digest because the body must break down alcohol before it can be absorbed. This process requires energy and can put a strain on the digestive system.
Too much alcohol can also increase irritation in the body, potentially worsening existing digestive issues. If you experience digestive upset, you may want to limit your alcohol intake and opt for lighter drinks with lower alcohol content.
How Can You Prepare Food for Easier Digestion?
If you find that certain foods are difficult to digest, there are some simple steps you can take to make them easier on your digestive system.
Here are some tips for preparing hard-to-digest foods:
- Cook foods thoroughly: Cooking can break down the complex proteins and carbohydrates in the foods, making them easier to digest. However, be careful not to overcook or burn your food, as this can strip it of important nutrients.
- Soak grains and legumes: Grains and legumes contain anti-nutrients that can interfere with digestion. Soaking them in water for several hours or overnight can help to break down these compounds and make them more digestible.
- Chew your food well: Digestion starts in the mouth, so make sure to chew your food thoroughly. This helps to break down the food into smaller pieces, making it easier for your stomach and intestines to process.
- Avoid eating too much at once: Overloading your digestive system with a large meal can make it work harder and lead to discomfort. Try eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead.
The Bottom Line
If you experience digestive issues after eating certain types of food, we recommend speaking with your healthcare provider about what steps you should take next in order to address any underlying issues that may be causing discomfort.
Additionally, it’s important to be mindful of which foods may be particularly hard on your stomach so that you can avoid unnecessary distress in the future. By being aware of which foods are hard for our bodies to digest, we can take proactive steps toward keeping our gut happy and healthy!
For more health and nutrition tips, check out the Love Wellness Blog.
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