Diarrhea refers to loose, watery stools that occur more frequently than usual, i.e., three or more times in one day. Diarrhea can be acute or chronic.
Acute diarrhea, which is quite common, usually lasts for one to two days, then goes away on its own. Chronic diarrhea lasts for at least 4 weeks, and its symptoms may be continual, or they may come and go.
In the Past BRAT diet was recommended for infants and small children with acute gastroenteritis. However, A recent research conducted by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not support it.
In this article we discuss the best foods to eat if you are having a diarrhea. This foods may not treat the real problem causing the diarrhea, but they will relieve the symptoms.
Potential causes of diarrhea include:
- Bacteria: such as Salmonella, Clostridium difficile, Campylobacter, and Escherichia coli (E. coli), which enter your body through contaminated food or water
- Viruses: such as Norwalk virus, Rotavirus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and viral hepatitis. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has also been associated with gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Parasites: which also enter your body through contaminated food or water. These include Cryptosporidium enteritis, Entamoeba histolytica, and Giardia lamblia
- Medications: such as antibiotics, antacids containing magnesium, and cancer drugs
- Digestive disorders: including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease
- Food allergies: such as allergies to cow milk, eggs, seafood, soy, and wheat
- Food intolerances: such as lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, gluten intolerance, and sugar alcohol (e.g., sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol) intolerance
- Surgery: especially abdominal surgeries
Note: the average adult experiences diarrhea about four times a year.
What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea and upset stomach
Diarrhea often clears up quickly without treatment. But until it goes away, here are foods that can help ease your symptoms:
A bland diet includes foods that are soft, not very spicy, and low in fiber. These foods are gentle on your digestive system and can help make your stool firmer. Bland foods that may help with diarrhea include:
- Plain white rice as adding oils and other fat sources to the rice may make it hard to digest
- Applesauce, which is easier to digest than an uncooked apple
- Bananas, they are not only rich in potassium, which is one of the important electrolytes you lose during a bout of diarrhea, but also provide fluid
- Toast, it is easier to digest than bread as the toasting process breaks down some of the carbohydrates
- Hot cereals, such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, or rice porridge
- Boiled or baked peeled potatoes
- Unseasoned crackers
- Baked or broiled chicken without the skin
These foods may be especially helpful on the first day of dealing with diarrhea. Try eating many small meals throughout the day to help keep your digestive system from becoming overworked.
Probiotics, which are live bacteria and yeasts that have health benefits when consumed, are often described as “good,” “helpful,” or “friendly” bacteria.
They are beneficial when recovering from a diarrhea infection as they aid digestion by restoring the natural balance of bacteria in your gut (including your stomach and intestine).
Although it’s wise to avoid dairy products when you have diarrhea, yogurt and kefir, a fermented milk drink, are an exemption since they are great sources of probiotics.
However, ensure both products are low in sugar as higher levels of sugar can potentially worsen your symptoms or diarrhea losses (water and electrolytes) in some patients.
Note: If you’re lactose intolerant, there are non-dairy sources of probiotics, such as miso, tempeh, kombucha, or sauerkraut.
What to Drink When You Have Diarrhea
Liquids are also vital to your recovery. During a diarrhea episode, water and electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, and bicarbonate) are lost through liquid stools, vomit, sweat, urine, and even breathing. And when these losses don’t get replaced, dehydration occurs.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day and drink at least one cup of water after each loose bowel movement to replace lost fluids.
Doing so not only prevents dehydration but also flushes out any toxins from your body. To replenish lost minerals and electrolytes, drink:
- Soup broth
- Coconut water
- Fruit juices
- Electrolyte-infused water
- Sports drink like Gatorade and Powerade
Foods and Drinks to Avoid When You Have Diarrhea
As important as it is to know what to eat and drink when you have diarrhea, you should also know which foods and beverages to avoid. Food and drinks that can aggravate your digestive system and make diarrhea worse include:
- Fatty foods: These include fried foods, greasy foods, and foods covered in gravy.
- Spicy foods: Spices can irritate your digestive system, which is why people dealing with diarrhea should stick to bland foods.
- Dairy products: These include cow milk, butter, cheese, and ice creams.
- Alcoholic beverages: According to Dr. Peter Higgins, the director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, “alcohol can act as a diuretic, meaning it’s dehydrating.”
- Diet soft drinks and sugarless candy and gum: containing sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. Artificial sweeteners can have a laxative effect on your digestive system.
- Caffeinated drinks: Opt instead for decaffeinated coffee, tea, and soft drinks.
- Insoluble fibers: Foods with insoluble fibers, such as brown rice, whole grain products, fruit peel, and potato skin, can make diarrhea worse.
Diagnosis of Diarrhea
Doctors do not typically need to find a cause of diarrhea since most cases clear up on their own within a day or two. However, if your diarrhea persists for more than a few days or you have symptoms such as fever, dehydration, and blood in your stool, your doctor may need to find the cause by:
- Asking about your medical and family history.
- Doing a physical exam.
- Running tests, including a blood test, stool test, fasting tests, and flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
Diarrhea Treatment and Home Remedies
The treatment for diarrhea usually requires replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. You, therefore, need to drink more water and electrolyte replacement beverages, such as broths, sports drinks, and fruity juices.
As your symptoms improve, you can eat soft, bland food. You can also treat acute diarrhea with over-the-counter medicines such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) and loperamide (Imodium).
To treat or prevent dehydration in children with diarrhea, oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, or CeraLyte, should be given as directed. You can make an oral rehydration solution at home. But talk to your doctor about giving oral rehydration solutions to your infant beforehand.
Over-the-counter medicines used to treat acute diarrhea in adults can be dangerous for infants, toddlers, and young children.
Talk to a doctor before giving your child these medicines. You can give your child his or her usual age-appropriate diet and give your infant breast milk or formula as usual.
Note: Older adults or those with a weak immune system should also drink oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, or CeraLyte.
If diet and home remedies aren’t working, your doctor might recommend medications or other treatments, including:
- Antibiotics: Used to help treat diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites.
- Intravenous therapy: IV fluids may be recommended if drinking liquids upsets your stomachs or causes you to vomit.
- Treatment for the underlying condition: If your diarrhea is the result of a more severe condition like inflammatory bowel disease, your doctor will work to control that condition.
Diarrhea is a common problem with various potential causes. Many cases of diarrhea last only a few days and respond well to home remedies. See your doctor right away if your diarrhea lasts more than two days or 24 hours or more in your child’s case.
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- MNT (November 19, 2018). What foods to eat if you have diarrhea. medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320124
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH)(n.d). Diarrhea. niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea
- UW Health (uly, 2017). Eating hints to help with Diarrhea. uwhealth.org/healthfacts/nutrition/323.pdf
- American College of Gastroenterology( March 27, 2016). Diarrheal diseases: Acute and chronic. patients.gi.org/topics/diarrhea-acute-and-chronic/
- Mayo Clinic Staff(June 16, 2020). Diarrhea. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diarrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20352241