Good foods to help your digestion

To avoid problems such as constipation, heartburn and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it's important to eat the right foods. Here's a tummy friendly diet to aim for.

Fill up on fibre to prevent constipation

It's a good idea to try to eat more fibre or roughage, as most people in the UK do not get enough. A diet rich in fibre can help digestion and prevent constipation.

Aim for the recommended dietary intake of 30g of fibre a day.

For a healthy bowel, you need fibre from a variety of sources, such as:

  • wholemeal bread
  • fruit and veg

Some people find cereals and grains bring on bloating and irritable bowel syndrome . If that's the case, get your fibre from fruit and vegetables instead.

Drink plenty of fluids to aid digestion

It's important to keep drinking, especially water. It encourages the passage of waste through your digestive system and helps soften poo.

Fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing water. Without fluid, the fibre cannot do its job and you'll get constipation .

A good way to make sure you're getting enough fluids is to drink a glass of water with every meal. Avoid caffeine drinks as they can cause heartburn .

Read about water, drinks and your health

Cut down on fat for a healthy gut

Fatty foods, such as chips, burgers and fried foods, are harder to digest and can cause stomach pain and heartburn .

Cut back on greasy fried foods to ease your stomach's workload.

Try to eat more lean meat and fish, drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, and grill rather than fry foods.

Go easy on spice to avoid tummy troubles

Many people love spicy food and it does not bother their digestive system. Others find their tummy is upset when they have spicy food.

It's not just scorching hot foods like chillies that trigger heartburn. Milder but flavourful foods like garlic and onion can also bring it on.

If spicy foods give you heartburn, stomach pain or diarrhoea, go easy on them in future.

If you already have a problem like heartburn or an irritable bowel, avoid them completely.

Beware gut symptom triggers

Some people find particular foods cause them problems. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, salad dressings and fizzy drinks, can trigger heartburn , while wheat and onions may cause irritable bowel syndrome .

And if you cannot digest lactose ( lactose intolerance ), the sugar in milk, you'll develop wind and diarrhoea after drinking milk or eating dairy products, including cream, cheese, yoghurt and chocolate.

Try to stay away from foods and drinks that trigger your digestive symptoms. Keep a food diary to work out which foods cause your symptoms.

Choose the right drinks to ease digestion

Drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, colas, tea and some fizzy drinks, boost acid in the stomach, leading to heartburn in some people.

Fizzy drinks in general tend to bloat the tummy, which can also lead to heartburn.

To make digestive problems less likely, choose drinks that are not fizzy and do not contain caffeine, such as herbal teas, milk and plain water.

If you cannot do without your coffee or tea, limit your intake to 1 or 2 cups a day.

Probiotics are so-called "friendly bacteria" that are also found naturally in the gut.

There's some evidence that they may be helpful for some conditions, including helping irritable bowel syndrome . But there's little evidence to support some other health claims made about them.

Probiotics are available as supplements from health food shops, or in live yoghurt, which is a good natural source.

If you want to try them, it's best to take them every day for at least 4 weeks to see if they work for you.

If you have an existing health condition or a weakened immune system, talk to a doctor before taking any probiotic supplements.

Find out more about probiotics

Page last reviewed: 5 January 2023 Next review due: 5 January 2026

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Six Tips to Prevent Digestive Problems

Prevent gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, pain.

A woman grabs her stomach, experiencing digestive problems.

It happens to everyone from time to time after eating too much or eating something that doesn’t agree with you. Your digestive system really feels it – and it’s not good.

Symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas or heartburn. The tough part about stomach and digestive issues is that it can make it hard to sleep, work or get through the day.

“Digestive issues can be uncomfortable or embarrassing,” says Kaylan Graham, MD , an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley . “People usually don’t want to talk about them, even with their doctor. But these issues are often not serious and can even be prevented.”

Digestive issues usually go away after a while but for some people they may be recurring symptoms that need medical attention. Contact your primary care physician if you have digestive issues that won’t go away.

Six tips to prevent digestive issues

Many digestive issues can be eliminated with some simple lifestyle changes. Try these six tips to help your digestive system stay on track.

1. Eat small, frequent meals

Prevent indigestion, bloating and heartburn by changing how often you eat without increasing your overall calorie intake.

Instead of three meals a day, enjoy four to five smaller meals and eat them slowly. Taking time to chew food properly makes you feel full, which can help prevent overeating that can cause gas, bloating, heartburn and indigestion .

2. Drink plenty of water and limit alcohol

Water helps your body flush waste and toxins, and helps your colon eliminate waste, which prevents constipation.

The amount of water you need every day may depend on numerous factors, such as activity level, geographic location and temperature. If you have questions about how much water you need per day, check with your doctor.

“Make sure you also limit your alcohol consumption,” notes Dr. Graham. “Alcohol interferes with acid secretion and nutrient absorption. Too much alcohol can contribute to heartburn, diarrhea and liver issues.

3. Exercise regularly

Daily physical activity can help your body’s digestive system move things along and eliminate waste. Try walking, cycling, swimming, using an elliptical trainer or hiking .

4. Maintain a healthy body weight

Extra pounds, especially around the midsection, can make digestive issues, such as heartburn, gas and burping, worse.

If you need to lose weight, you don’t need to rush it. Make easy, small changes for healthy weight loss .

5. Eat a balanced diet

“Stay away from fried, greasy foods that are hard to digest,” notes Dr. Graham. “Instead, fill your plate with fiber-rich foods, like cherries, grapes, bell peppers, beans, whole grains and nuts.”

Add fish to your list of healthy foods as well. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can improve digestive issues by stabilizing cell walls to reduce inflammation. Federal food and environmental agencies have declared that eating fish is part of a healthy eating pattern .

Probiotic-containing foods also help with digestion. Probiotics, such as yogurt and kefir, contain good bacteria that can fight any bad bacteria lurking in your gut.

6. Manage your stress level

Stress can cause “butterflies in your stomach.” A sad experience can be “gut-wrenching.” The reason is because your brain has a direct impact on your stomach.

“Your digestive tract is controlled by a complex system of about 100 million nerves that start in the brain and end in the gut,” notes Dr. Graham. So, your emotions cause chemical and physical responses in the body that can result in stomach pain and discomfort. If ongoing stress is an issue for you, try meditation or other relaxation techniques and make sure to get enough sleep.”

When should you see your doctor about your digestive problems?

“Sometimes an upset stomach or chronic heartburn can be signs of a more serious condition,” adds Dr. Graham.

They can be signs of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers or gallstones . Contact your primary care doctor if digestive issues are intefering with your daily life.

If you have severe symptoms, such as problems swallowing, bloody or black vomit or stool, abdominal pain or have unexplained weight loss, seek immediate medical attention.

Related tags:

  • Health and Wellness
  • Wellness & Prevention

Due to continued inclement weather conditions, all Austin Gastro offices and Austin Endoscopy Centers will remain closed through Thursday, February 18th.