5 foods to eat when you have diarrhea and 5 to avoid
- When you have
diarrhea, avoid greasy, sugary, and spicy foods.
- Eat foods that are easy on the stomach like soup, boiled vegetables, crackers, and lots of liquids.
- The BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) can help over short periods of time as well.
If you have diarrhea, food may be the last thing on your mind. However, it's crucial to stay hydrated and get adequate nutrition during a bout of diarrhea, says Deepti Mundkur, MD, a
Some foods can make an upset stomach worse, so it is important to eat foods that are easy on the tummy. Boiled vegetables, low-fiber starches, lean poultry, crackers, soup, and eggs are some of the foods that are recommended for patients with diarrhea, says Mundkur.
On the other hand, foods to avoid include spicy foods, sugary foods, dairy products, foods with a high fat content. You should also avoid foods that give you gas.
You may have heard of the BRAT diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, which is a traditional remedy for diarrhea. It isn't a diet that you should go on long term, but can be helpful over short periods of time.
Here are some foods you should eat when you have diarrhea, to help ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery.
5 types of foods that can help diarrhea
1. Low-fiber starches and cereals
While fiber is a critical nutrient that adds bulk to stool and keeps your bowel movements regular, a low-fiber diet is recommended when you have diarrhea since it makes digestion easier and reduces the frequency of bowel movements. Mundkur says boiled rice, noodles, wheat, or oats can help, especially if you have watery stools.
2. Boiled vegetables
Raw vegetables can be harder to digest and can cause discomfort in the form of gas and bloating, so boiled vegetables may be easier on your system when you have diarrhea. Mundkur recommends opting for boiled vegetables like green beans, potatoes, and carrots.
3. Soup and crackers
Soup can help replenish your fluid and nutrient levels, whereas crackers are helpful since they typically have a high salt content. Diarrhea can result in considerable loss of fluid and electrolytes, which are minerals like sodium and potassium, so eating salty foods can help restore them.
4. Lean chicken or turkey
Greasy foods with a high fat content can make your diarrhea worse, so opt for low-fat meat options like skinless chicken or turkey. Mundkur recommends baking the meat and eating it unseasoned, since spices and seasonings can irritate your system. You can use dry or fresh herbs, like basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, or cilantro to flavor the meat, says Mundkur.
Cooked eggs are safe to consume when you have diarrhea. Opt for preparations that don't involve a lot of butter, cheese, or seasonings, like scrambled eggs seasoned with salt.
While the BRAT diet, consisting of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, was once prescribed to treat diarrhea, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders says that this diet is not nutritionally adequate for long periods of time. However, you can eat these foods when you have a short bout of diarrhea.
If you don't have an appetite, or if you have nausea or vomiting in addition to diarrhea, Mundkur says you can stick to only liquids for a short while, until you're able to tolerate some food. Liquids are easier to digest and can help prevent bowel irritation.
Liquids to drink when you have diarrhea:
- Diluted fruit juice
- Clear soup or broth
- Weak, decaffeinated tea or coffee
- Electrolyte-rich drinks, like Gatorade or Pedialyte
- Frozen popsicles
5 types of foods you should avoid eating if you have diarrhea
These are some foods that tend to worsen diarrhea. Mundkur recommends checking with your doctor about what foods might trigger diarrhea for you if you have it chronically (i.e. over an extended period of time or very frequently), individually, as food intolerances can lead to diarrhea.
1. Foods high in fat
Foods that have a high fat content can make diarrhea worse, resulting in more trips to the bathroom as well as greasy and smelly stools. Mundkur says this can happen because diarrhea can sometimes temporarily affect your body's ability to absorb fat. Fat typically takes longer to digest so it slows down the movement of food through your system; however, if your body is unable to digest fat, food may pass through your system a lot faster.
"Foods with a high fat content should be avoided until gut function returns to normal after a severe bout of diarrhea," says Mundkur. Some foods to avoid include fried foods, meat dishes with added fat or a high fat content, nuts, and creamy sauces or dressings.
It's also worth noting that the reverse can also happen sometimes - you may develop fat malabsorption, which is the inability to digest fats, and that can lead to chronic diarrhea, says Mundkur.
2. Dairy products
According to Mundkur, you may not be able to adequate digest dairy products while you have diarrhea, and sometimes up to several weeks or months after your illness. Dairy products to avoid include milk, cheese, cream, and butter; yogurt however is the exception because it's a probiotic that can help treat diarrhea, says Mundkur. "Plain yogurt is best since the added sugars in flavored yogurt are not easy on the gut during an episode of diarrhea," she says.
3. Spicy foods
Spicy foods and seasonings can irritate your digestive system and add to your discomfort, so avoid them while you have diarrhea. Moreover, what makes spicy food so spicy going down might also make it spicy coming back out. Therefore, do your rump a favor and season your food with just salt or herbs instead, since that can help replenish your electrolyte levels.
4. Sugary foods
Sugar can make diarrhea worse because it causes the gut to release a lot of water, resulting in loose stools. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, even those with artificial sweeteners like stevia and aspartame, like baked goods, candy, and soda when you have diarrhea.
5. Foods that cause gas
Certain foods tend to cause gas and should be avoided when you have diarrhea, as they can worsen diarrhea and add to your discomfort. These foods include:
- Beans and legumes, like kidney beans and chickpeas, since they are high in fiber and contain certain raffinose, a complex sugar that is hard to digest
- Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, since they also contain raffinose
- Chewing gum, as it can make you swallow a lot of air, leading to gas
- Aerated drinks, like soda pop, since they are carbonated and have a lot of gas
Most cases of diarrhea are caused by viral infections, says Mundkur. They often clear up on their own, without requiring any treatment. But you can take over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate for relief.
"If vomiting and severe diarrhea limit your ability to hydrate yourself, it is time to seek care at a clinic or hospital for intravenous (IV) repletion of fluids," says Mundkur.
When to seek medical treatment for diarrhea:
- Yellow urine
- Less urine than usual
If your diarrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, Mundkur says you may experience severe diarrhea, fever, and bloody stools; however, antibiotics can help treat the infection if it's bacterial.
On the other hand, persistent blood in your stools could also be an indication of something more serious. "Sometimes colon cancer can cause diarrhea and blood in the stool, so it is important to talk to your primary care physician about whether you need a colonoscopy," says Mundkur.
If your diarrhea is mild, chances are that it will likely get better on its own. You can take over-the-counter medications for relief and make it a point to get adequate nutrition and hydration to avoid dehydration.
Spicy foods, sugary foods, dairy products, foods high in fat, and foods that cause gas can worsen your symptoms, whereas low-fiber starches, boiled vegetables, soup, crackers, lean meats, and eggs may be easier to digest.
If you don't feel like eating or you are unable to keep food down, you can drink liquids for a few hours until you're able to eat something. It may be easier to eat small portions of food more frequently, rather than attempting to eat a large meal at one go. However, if you are unable to stomach any foods or liquids, you should seek medical attention.8 foods that boost your immune system and can help keep you healthyThe different types of fat-soluble vitamins - and how to get enough of themThe best time to take vitamins and supplements for maximum absorption, according to nutritionistsWhat is the BRAT diet? Why doctors no longer recommend it
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