Foods You Should and Shouldn't Eat When You Have Diarrhea
What to Eat and What to Avoid When You Have Diarrhea
Occasional diarrhea is nothing to worry about. The causes of diarrhea can range from a stomach flu to a specific meal or ingredient you ate that didn’t sit well. Because certain foods can worsen symptoms, it's good to know the foods you should eat when you have diarrhea — and what you should avoid.
You want to eat plain, simple foods, especially in the first 24 hours, says Peter Higgins, MD, PhD, the director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“It is best to eat thicker, bland foods, including oatmeal, bananas, plain rice, and applesauce,” he says.
Other bland foods that are easy to stomach include:
- Boiled potatoes
- Plain crackers, such as saltines
- Baked chicken without any skin or fat
A review published in November 2011 in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology suggested that foods with probiotics — often called “good” bacteria — may shorten the duration of a bout of diarrhea. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, probiotics work by releasing "chemicals which break down the damaging toxins produced by unhealthy bacteria causing illnesses such as diarrhea."
Probiotics have become very popular and are found in a number of foods, including:
RELATED: Can Probiotics Aid Digestive Health?
RELATED: 9 Ways to Eat More Probiotics Every Day
Avoid These Foods When You Have Diarrhea
As important as it is to know what to eat when you have diarrhea, you should also know which foods to avoid. Certain foods can travel through your intestines very quickly and aggravate your digestion, or worsen diarrhea in other ways.
Avoid the following for diarrhea relief:
- Fatty foods These include foods that are fried, greasy, or covered in gravy, which can make diarrhea worse.
- Milk, butter, ice cream, and cheese Even if the diarrhea isn’t caused by lactose intolerance — a difficulty processing lactose, a sugar found in dairy products — stay away from these foods when you have diarrhea. You may be temporarily sensitive to dairy products, even if you usually have no problem with them. Probiotic-rich yogurt may be the one exception to this rule, as some studies have shown probiotics help rebalance intestinal flora and could shorten the duration of a bout of diarrhea.
- Alcohol and sodas When you have diarrhea, you want to steer clear of foods and beverages that cause you to lose fluids. Alcohol can act as a diuretic, meaning it's dehydrating, and should be avoided, Dr. Higgins says. Sodas with high-fructose corn syrup can also pose a problem if you have diarrhea. According to a study published in the June 2019 issue of Healthcare, large quantities of fructose can overwhelm your digestive system and lead to gas, bloating, or diarrhea.
- Sorbitol and other artificial sweeteners Some people find that artificial sweeteners have a laxative effect on their digestive system. If you have diarrhea, it’s best to pass on sugarless candy and gum, diet soft drinks, and sugar substitutes. According to Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health newsletter, consuming sugars, including artificial ones, causes your intestines to produce more water and electrolytes, which can then loosen bowel movements and lead to diarrhea.
- Foods that cause excess gas It’s important to eat generous amounts of fruits and vegetables every day. But when diarrhea strikes, you want to avoid choices that are likely to increase intestinal gas, such as cabbage, beans, broccoli, and cauliflower, until you’re feeling better.
- Foods that may be spoiled Stay away from foods that may have been mishandled, including foods that have been out of the refrigerator for too long or improperly stored. Raw meat or fish can be problematic, too. Follow the old maxim, “When in doubt, throw it out,” and you may save yourself some stomach upset.
Other Strategies for Tackling Your Diarrhea
One of the more serious complications of diarrhea is dehydration. When you have diarrhea for any length of time, take steps to avoid becoming dehydrated by consuming enough liquids, Higgins says.
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“Look for liquids with sugar and salt — Pedialyte or full-salt soups work well," he says. "If your urine is not clear, or you are not making much urine, you are not drinking enough."
In terms of diarrhea treatment, Higgins says, if you don’t have an infection and are not seeing blood, you can take over-the-counter loperamide (Imodium, Kaopectate Caplet, or Maalox Anti-Diarrheal) to slow your bowel movements. But this kind of medication should only be taken for a day or two.
If diet and simple remedies aren't working, and if symptoms persist for more than a few days and include bleeding, gas, and bloating, you should see a doctor. Your doctor can determine whether the diarrhea is caused by a more serious condition, and can recommend treatment.
RELATED: When Diarrhea Is More Serious Than You Think
Additional reporting by María Villaseñor.
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