Whether you’ve been fasting, are seeking a great breakfast, or just forgot to grab lunch that day, when you’ve got an empty stomach what you choose next can be either energizing or cataclysmic. Knowing how to fill an empty stomach is all about digestion and protection.
An empty stomach — especially after fasting or just after waking up — does best with a bit of a boost and fairs rather poorly when aggravated.
Lots of gentle fiber and nutrient-rich foods, plus foods that coat and protect the stomach, and stimulate digestion. Yet, you’ll want to balance that out by avoiding processed sugar, refined carbs, spicy foods and other irritants. These foods not only cause stomach upset, but they can drain you of energy before you even being to fill you reservoir for the day!
Avoiding the Big No-No’s on an Empty Stomach
When it comes to choosing your first meal of the day or a snack to break a long fast, there are a few things to take into consideration including how that first meal may affect your satiety for the rest of the day, what foods are gentle on the digestive system, and how to avoid irritating the lining of the stomach.
First and foremost, what you choose to eat on an empty stomach actually sets the course for the following day of eating. Going for that cinnamon roll, a slice of white bread with sugary jam, or syrup covered pancake? How about a bowl brimming with boxed cereal? What about that on-the-go banana you thought was the smarter option? While these options are traditional staples in the Standard American diet, they are unfortunately poor options for an empty stomach.
It’s all due to the sugar.
Sugar-rich foods — especially refined carbs such as white bread and those dreaded added sugars — load your body with empty calories — calories that don’t provide nutrients. This means you’re fueling your body with a quick-burning food that is unable to sustain proper energy levels leading to more cravings and overreating. On top of that, “sugar in the form of fructose in fruits can cause an overload on your liver” — remember that banana? — and “processed sugar is even worse” — like that bowl of cereal, cinnamon roll, or pastry.
Caring for Your Digestion and Your Stomach
Yet, it’s not just about setting yourself up for the day, it’s also about gently waking your digestive system to run smoothly.
This means that even some normally healthy foods should be off-limits for that empty stomach of yours. Raw vegetables, for one, are filled with coarse fiber that can lead to gas, bloating, and nausea. Citrus fruits — think about that healthy half a grapefruit or warm lemon water — may actually boost acid production causing heartburn and stomach irritation. Spicy foods are also out, sorry to say for all of those breakfast burrito lovers! Spicy foods regularly cause irritation to the stomach lining, especially if you haven’t taken precautions to eat foods that may provide protection.
1. Spicy Food
One of the most popular on-the-go breakfast foods across the states is a breakfast burrito. While a breakfast burrito can absolutely be a stellar option to break your fast — wheat or gluten-free tortilla, beans, well-cooked veggies, maybe even soaked nuts — the standard burrito that you’ll find at the grocery store or restaurant generally is slathered with some sort of spicy sauce.
Unfortunately, this is a big mistake on an empty stomach!
Consuming “spices and chilies on an empty stomach may irritate the stomach lining which can lead to acidic reactions and cramps” — including heartburn and stomach upset — and spicy food’s natural pungency “can trigger indigestion.”
Instead of opting for spicy breakfast foods — yet without giving up that burst of flavor! — try for subtle flavored and inflammation-fighting spices and herbs such as turmeric, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, and even clove.
Try a few of these empty stomach-friendly, spice and herb-rich breakfast burritos. Make note of the “stomach-friendly directions” for each: Breakfast Burrito (opt for no salsa), Black Bean and Chorizo Breakfast Burrito (sans chili powder and salsa), Mushroom and Avocado Breakfast Burrito, Protein-Packed Burrito Bowls (sans cayenne and green chili), or these White Bean Baked Burritos (sans red pepper flakes).
There are lots of reasons to avoid sugar at any point in the day, but this is especially true when it comes to loading up an empty stomach.
Beginning your day with sugar — whether it’s a donut or a glass of orange juice — can put “an extra load on the pancreas that [is] still waking up after long hours of rest,” plus it can overload your liver. Processed sugar has also been linked to a wide range of health concerns including unwanted weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, possible increase of certain cancers, and fatty liver disease. On top of that, sugar consumption may also cause acne breakouts, increase symptoms of depression, and will drain your energy.
With that said, starting your day with a slice of jammed toast or a pancake is definitely still an option, as long as you’re careful about the ingredients you choose to include and exclude.
For instance, almond flour, buckwheat flour, and wheat germ are all excellent nutrient-rich and low glycemic index alternatives to white flour such as in these Cosmic Blueberry Pancakes, these Fig and Almond Bars, or these Maple and Wheat Germ Waffles. Instead of using sugar-rich jam, opt for a jam that sources sweetness from the fruit instead of added sugars such as this Ten-Minute Chia Jam — opt to forego the optional sweetener. Also, consider making your own super healthy sugar-free cereal such as this 3-Ingredient Chocolate Cereal or this 3-Ingredient Berry Cereal.
Tomatoes are a great addition to a plant-based diet. They’re juicy, full of vitamin C, and can really beautify a lunch or dinner plate. On the other hand, starting your morning with tomatoes may not be the best of options. These beautiful foods “contain high levels of tannic acid which increases acidity in the stomach and can lead to gastric ulcers,” as well as cause heartburn.
Instead of tomatoes, how about your favorite squash variety such as zucchini, yellow squash, butternut, or acorn? These are all slightly sweet, nutrient-dense, filling, yet don’t have that same acidic content. Here are a few squash recipes, great for any time during the day, to invigorate the swap: Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas, Stuffed Acorn Squash with Bulgur Pilaf, Grilled Baby Summer Squash: Two Ways, or this Tender Turmeric and Squash Soup.
It may be impossible to go without that cup of joe in the morning but think twice about making it the very first thing you consume on an empty stomach. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach “may lead to acidity,” which “stimulates the secretion of hydrochloric acid int the digestive system, which [can] cause gastritis in some people.”
Instead of starting your day with coffee, try mixing up your daily routine to consume breakfast first and then your coffee after the fact. This also goes for those afternoon espresso shots! If you’ve forgone lunch and snacks for the day, try grabbing a healthy snack — such as a handful of almonds — before downing that afternoon energy boost.
If you simply can’t think about putting anything in your body before that cup of coffee, think about opting for a heartier version that acts more like a meal instead of just a simple energy boost?
Try a few of these hardy coffee drinks to help ease that caffeine into your stomach: Blender Mocha Cashew Latte, High-Protein Caramel Cappuccino, or this Healthy S’mores Frappuccino. You may also want to try a less acidic energy solution for your empty stomach such as this Golden Latte or this Matcha Latte with Coconut Milk.
5. Citrus Fruits
Not all sugar is bad, in fact, natural sugars that come packaged neatly in foods that are also rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals are a wonderful addition to any balanced plant-based diet.
Except when it comes to breakfast.
While citrus fruits — such as sweet oranges, mandarins, limes, grapefruit, and lemons — are loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, dietary fiber, and over “60 varieties of flavonoids, carotenoids, and essential oils,” they also “increase acid production.” On top of that, if you load an empty stomach and sleeping digestive system with the fiber and fructose from citrus fruits, it can “slow down your digestive system.”
If you simply have to have a bit of fruit in the morning — much like myself — opt for fruit that are lower on the glycemic index, basically, fruits that have a lower amount of acid and fructose such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries … pretty much any type of berry. With that said, you still want to be careful of that sugar, so try pairing berries with a stomach lining protective agents such as buckwheat or oats.
Try out a few of these oat or buckwheat, fruit and berry-filled recipes to appease your empty stomach: Apple Cinnamon Buckwheat Porridge, , Pumpkin Earl Grey Oatmeal, Warm Blueberry Overnight Oats, or this .
6. Raw Vegetables
Vegetables are an absolute must-have in any healthy balanced diet. They’re filled with vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents, just to mention a few positives. With that said, veggies eaten raw can wreak a bit of havoc on both sensitive and empty stomachs. Raw veggies — including salad greens — “are full of coarse fiber which may put an extra load on an empty stomach,” causing “flatulence and abdominal pain.”
With that said, beginning the day with a bunch of vegetables is still an excellent idea! All you got to do is cook them up in order to make them easier to digest.
Instead of those raw veggies in the morning, try prepping a few of these vegetable-filled breakfast foods: “Everything” Avocado on Sweet Potato Toasts, Chickpea Crepes with Three Toppings, Tomato & Parsley Quiche, or this Baked Smoky Carrot Bacon.
Grabbing a banana on the go is one of the easiest solutions to your hectic morning rush to get out the door. They’re known to satiate, helps to relieve constipation, and are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Yet, due to a few factors, that banana may cause more upset than its worth.
Bananas are high in “magnesium and potassium, which can lead to an imbalance of magnesium and potassium in the blood if you eat bananas on a completely empty stomach.” On top of that, bananas are also a bit higher in the fructose department, which means, on an empty stomach, you may be overloading your system, especially your pancreas and your liver.
Instead of that banana, why not take a couple of extra moments the night before to create an easy on-the-go meal that won’t upset your tummy such as this nutrient-loaded Simple Lentil Loaf, this 5-Ingredient Chia Pudding, these Glow Buns Energy Balls (sans the agave!), or this Broccoli Flatbread.
Maybe you thought you could forego that cup of coffee and substitute it with a cup of tea instead? I’ve got a bit of bad news for you. Tea is also a big no-no for an empty stomach.
While coffee stimulates that acidity, “drinking tea on an empty stomach can suppress the secretion of gastric juices and reduces bile and acid in the stomach which aid in the overall digestion of foods and is essential to the process of secreting excess cholesterol in the body.” So, yeah, tea can completely mess with your system if you ingest it on an empty stomach.
Much like your coffee alternatives, try boosting the nutrient and ingredient content of your tea making it more of a breakfast item instead of the raw herb. A few ideas for your tea beverage include this Sage and Black Tea Latte, which uses cashew butter, this Earl Grey Rose Nectar, which uses cashew nuts, coconut milk, and dates, or this super simple caffeine-free Ginger Tea, which uses stomach-settling ginger.
Even though pears aren’t citrus and they’re lower on the glycemic index, they’re still not a great option to start your day or break a long fast. These lovely, hardy fruits are actually filled with “crude fiber, which can injure the mucous membranes of an empty stomach.” On top of that, they won’t fill you up for very long, which means you’ll be back at it soon after, scavaging for something to satiate you.
This one really shouldn’t surprise anyone, but alcohol is a supremely poor choice to fill an empty stomach. Whether it’s that brunch mimosa in the morning or possibly a post-work drink after a day sans food.
If you consume alcohol on an empty stomach, then that alcoholic beverage “travels straight to the bloodstream” and is rapidly “distributed throughout the entire body, causing the blood vessels to widen and result in temporary feelings of warmth, temporary decrease in pulse rate, as well as blood pressure.” Plus, the alcohol will make its way through the “stomach, kidneys, lungs, liver, and then to the brain.”
Throwing brunch at your house, but maybe want to avoid that alcohol-induced upset? Try a mocktail at your brunch party! Keep in mind that a super sugary beverage can cause just as much upset, so try shooting for a mixture of low-sugar mocktails and nutrient-rich brunch food.