You often hear that certain foods are easy on the digestion.
When you are sick, people recommend you to eat food that is easy for digestion. This is especially true for sickness involving the organs of the digestive track. Examples are GERD, upset stomach, indigestion and diarrhea to name a few.
But what does it really mean to be easy on digestion?
Following factors have to be considered when we are talking about foods that are easy on the digestive tract.
Certain foods, like chili peppers, hot spices, alcohol and caffeine cause irritation along the digestive tract. It would be easy on the digestion if you avoided food items that caused irritation along the digestive tract.
If you already had long-term GERD, your esophagus lining may be inflamed. In this case even citrus fruits or tomatoes may cause irritation to the esophagus and give you heartburn like feeling because of the acidity.
Stomach carries lots of strong acid. The strong acids are required for proper digestion. And the stomach’s internal lining is equipped to handle strong acids without any problems.
But esophagus can not tolerate these strong acids. Normally the valve between the stomach and the esophagus ensures that the stomach contents don’t spill into the esophagus.
Foods like chocolate, peppermint and alcohol causes the valve between the stomach and the esophagus to relax and open up, when it is not supposed to. This can cause the acid stomach to spill into the esophagus and give you heartburn.
Acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato based products and citrus fruit juices, when eaten alone on empty stomach increases heartburn. Because they increase the stomach acid content and with that the likelihood of spilling more acid from the stomach into the esophagus.
Fatty foods slow down stomach emptying. This means food stays longer in the stomach. As long as the food is there in the stomach, there is more pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. This means more likely hood of acid spilling into the esophagus.
Too much food also causes stomach to expand and increase pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter.
Similarly carbonated beverages release gas in the stomach and distend the stomach. This causes increased pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter.
The heartburn sensitivity to different types of foods is very personal. For example some people can tolerate spicy foods without any problems whatsoever and others can not. That is true for very much all the foods listed here.
When it comes to human biology, nothing is black and white. It is all about the degree and the individual sensitivity.
So far we saw that if we avoid foods that cause irritation of the esophagus, we make digestion easier. Also if we avoid foods that cause GERD or the heartburn we make the digestion easier.
Next is the fermentable foods. Some of the carbohydrates cannot be digested through enzymatic breakdown. These carbohydrates are fermented by the bacteria in the colon. Resulting short chain fatty acids are absorbed through the colon.
There are some inherent benefits of symbiotic bacterial fermentation, like weight control and improved immunity. But in a way fermentation process is taxing to the colon.
Ideally if there are no fermentable carbohydrates left when digested food enters the colon, no special care needs to be taken by the colon. This is especially more relevant if the colon is inflamed or irritable.
When you have diarrhea, you don’t want fermentation to take place in the colon.
You inevitably carry at least some of the bad bacteria and they also feast and multiply when we consume fermentable foods. These bacteria produce toxins which needs to be neutralized or eliminated.
You can conclude that if you avoid fermentable carbohydrates, it makes digestion easier. Some examples of fermentable foods are cruciferous family vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), onion family vegetables, wheat bran and oats.
To summarize, if you avoid foods that cause irritation along the digestive tract, or increase the acidity in the stomach or relax the lower esophageal sphincter you can make it easy on the digestion. Also if you avoid bacterial fermentation in the colon, you can make it easy on the digestion.