Are Digestive Biscuits Healthy?

While digestive biscuits were originally created to aid digestion in the 19th century, their recipes have changed over the years to suit our modern diet, which, sadly, involves high-calorie foods and bad eating habits. Modern digestive biscuits, therefore, may not be as healthy as their predecessors. They may also pose risks, especially if you have IBS, IBD, gluten intolerance, or certain food sensitivities.

If you experience bloating, gas, and abdominal pain after eating a few pieces of digestives, it’s highly likely that they contain certain ingredients that trigger your symptoms.

What ingredients are those? Let’s find out.

1. Wholemeal Wheat Flour

Like most cereals and biscuits, digestives are mainly made up of wheat flour, which is bad news for people with gluten sensitivity. This condition involves adverse reactions to gluten that is commonly present in rye, barley, and wheat. Common symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation. It may also trigger headaches, tiredness, depression, and skin problems in patients suffering a severe form of this condition.

Additionally, those with wheat allergy may experience swelling of the throat or mouth, shortness of breath, hives, itchy eyes, cramps, nausea, and even anaphylaxis after eating some digestives. If you suspect you have wheat allergy, get yourself checked by a physician immediately.

If you’re really keen on including digestives into your diet, we recommend looking for brands that offer gluten-free or wheat-free options, such as those made with:

  • Finely ground cornmeal
  • Millet flour
  • Tapioca flour
  • Coconut flour
  • Sorghum flour
  • Rice flour

2. Added Sugars

The combination of natural sweeteners and added sugars is what makes many digestive biscuits a “semi-sweet meal” today. However, added sugars contain no nutritional benefit compared to whole foods. They can also easily displace healthier food choices in your diet, and when consumed excessively, lead to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases.

How much added sugars should you consume daily?

According to the American Heart Association, the added-sugar limit should not be more than 100 calories per day or 25g of sugar/6 teaspoons for women and 150 calories per day or 36g/9 teaspoons for men.

On average, a couple of digestive biscuits contain about 5g of sugar, which you can probably consume in just one sitting during an afternoon tea. Four digestives alone are equal to 10g of sugar, which is already 30% to 50% of AHA’s added-sugar limit.

Add the other sugar-rich foods and drinks that you consume daily to the mix, and you can see how you can quickly reach the limit. Eating healthier (i.e., without added sugar) snacks like nuts, wholegrain crackers, veggie sticks, and seeds instead of sugary treats will go a long way in improving your health.

Alternatively, there are some digestives that are low in sugar (approximately 1.7g per biscuit), specifically those that are made for your everyday tea tradition. Just avoid falling into these two traps: eating more digestives than you intend to and eating more regularly than you should.

It’s also important to read the labels carefully if you want to steer clear of added sugars. Some brands use alternative terms for sugar, such as:

  • Molasses
  • Maple syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Glucose
  • Agave nectar
  • Glucose syrup
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Hydrolyzed starch

Fruits, milk and other foods that contain naturally-occurring sugars are excellent alternatives.

If you want to make your own digestive biscuits, use any of these natural sweeteners as a substitute to table sugar:

  • Stevia. It is a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant. The bio-sweetener called the steviol glycosides in these plants are up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. They also do not contain calories.
  • Erythritol. It is 70% as sweet as sucrose but contains fewer calories. Therefore, it does not cause spikes or dips in your blood sugar levels, cause cavities, or weight gain.
  • Xylitol. Derived from xylose, xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol that contains 75% fewer carbs and 40% fewer calories than table sugar. However, be careful with sugar alcohols like xylitol if you have IBS, as they are a high FODMAP food that can trigger some IBS symptoms. Check with your dietitian for more information.

Sugar and digestive problems

Diarrhoea has been linked to poor digestion of certain sugars. If you have Crohn’s or coeliac disease, your body produces a lot of mucus in the colon. This makes it difficult for you to digest and absorb sugars and starches, which leads to diarrhoea, excess gas, and abdominal pain.

Other digestive issues that can be caused by excessive sugar consumption include bloating, damage to the vagus nerve (gastroparesis), and metabolic dysfunction that can result in weight gain and obesity. To reduce your risk for these diseases, cut back on sugar and find healthier alternatives.

3. Fats

Fats in digestive biscuits usually come in the form of palm oil and/or butter, both of which have high saturated fat content. They are considered high FODMAP foods or gastrointestinal distress triggers.

Adults on a 2,000-calorie diet are advised to limit their saturated fat intake to 22g per day. Depending on the brand, a digestive biscuit may contain up to 3g of saturated fat. If you go over the limit, you may experience increased colonic contractions, which can lead to stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea, and rectal urgency.

Moreover, eating foods with high amounts of saturated fats can also raise your bad cholesterol level and increase your risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Eating low-fat foods can prevent symptoms linked to common digestive disorders as well as help you lose weight naturally. Digestive biscuits made with plant-derived oils such as sunflower, olive, and grapeseed have lower saturated fat content, which can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

4. Sodium

Some brands of digestive biscuits contain hidden salt in them. Based on a study, hundreds of biscuits sold in major supermarkets have high levels of sodium. Consumers who eat biscuits with their cuppa or snack on them at midnight are ingesting more salt than they realise.

Higher sodium intake (more than 920mg/2.3g of salt per day) is often linked to hypertension and stroke, but recent studies have shown that it can also cause bloating and change the gut microbiota composition and function, which can exacerbate symptoms of ulcerative colitis in some individuals.

Read Excessively, Eat Responsibly

Most digestive biscuits are not as healthy as their manufacturers make them out to be. Make sure you read the food labels carefully and limit the number of biscuits you eat. Pay attention to how a particular brand affects your digestion. To be safe, consult a dietitian and bring the packaging for their assessment. You may also consider healthier food choices to aid your digestion such as legumes, seeds, whole grains, fruits low in sugar, amongst other low FODMAP foods.

Need Our Help?

Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, learn how our dietitians can help address your food sensitivities and Gut & Bowel Health concerns.