Gastrointestinal (GI) function is complex and physiological measurements are subject to a variety of technical difficulties and practical limitations. The ideal technique would be non-invasive, widely available, convenient, and reliable and would not expose the subject to ionising radiation. It would permit direct assessment of GI function in the postprandial as well as the resting state, and be able to differentiate between food, secretion, and air in the lumen. GI structure and function are interdependent and the ideal technique would permit simultaneous assessment of these factors. Finally, the bowel operates as a functional whole and assessment of the GI tract proximal and distal to the area of interest is desirable. In this article the authors summarise the development and validation of magnetic resonance imaging techniques that overcome many of the deficiencies of existing methods, and have many characteristics of the "ideal" investigation of GI function.