When you're sick with diarrhea, it's important to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. However, there is also a list of foods to eat when you have diarrhea to recover faster. As soon as you start to feel better, you can slowly reintroduce other foods.
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How to Deal With Diarrhea
If your symptoms don't subside, it could be a sign of a more serious issue. Several things may cause chronic diarrhea, which lasts at least four weeks, so it's worth seeing a doctor to make sure you don't have an underlying condition.
Because diarrhea can lead to dehydration, it's important to address it with plenty of fluids and medications, such as bismuth subsalicylate, to soothe your stomach. In the meantime, you can also make the condition more manageable by paying attention to what you eat and switching to an anti-diarrhea diet.
Though loose, watery stools are the primary symptom, you may also experience an urgent need to use the bathroom, loss of bowel control and abdominal cramps or pain. If a virus has caused diarrhea, you may also experience chills, fever and blood in the stool.
The Diarrhea Diet
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a diarrhea diet is essentially the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. This is a bland diet recommended for both adults and children.
Using this approach helps make your stools firmer because all of the above are binding foods. They are starchy and low in fiber. Rich in vitamins and minerals, these foods help replace the nutrients your body needs and lost as a result of diarrhea. Bananas, for instance, are a good source of potassium.
Bland foods will not irritate your stomach. When you have an upset stomach, follow the BRAT diet to help your body move back toward normal eating. The BRAT diet, of course, is not only limited to these four products. As long as the food is bland, it's OK to add to the list of foods to eat when you have diarrhea. Your meals may also include:
- Saltine crackers
- Clear soup broth
- Low-fiber cereals
According to the Cleveland Clinic, you should guard against dehydration by drinking liquids that contain both salt and sugar. Sodium will slow down the fluid loss while sugar helps you absorb the salt. You can do this with over-the-counter products, such as electrolyte solutions, or eat some chicken soup with saltine crackers.
Foods to Avoid With Diarrhea
So what shouldn't be on the list of foods to eat when you have diarrhea? As the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases points out, you should avoid:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Anything that contains caffeine
- Dairy products
- Anything that contains fructose, including fruits, such as apples, pears and peaches
- Fatty and greasy foods
- Any spicy foods
- Any diet drinks and artificial sweeteners, such as xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol
The Cleveland Clinic says that one exception to the dairy rule is yogurt with probiotics. You may also drink kefir, which is fermented milk that contains probiotics. According to a study in the May-June 2012 issue of Holistic Nursing Practice, using probiotics may reduce the duration of diarrhea.
A September 2013 meta-analysis published in BMC Public Health also says that using probiotics may reduce duration and frequency of diarrhea, but more research is needed to support it as an adjunct therapy for children in developing countries.
Adding probiotics to your diet can help restore the beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, which your body loses when you have an upset stomach. For best results, make sure the kefir or yogurt you choose is low in sugar, as high levels of this nutrient may worsen your symptoms.
The University of Wisconsin recommends following a low-fiber diet or one that provides no more than 13 grams of fiber per day. Cornflakes and puffed rice are good low-fiber cereals to eat. Ideally, cereals should contain less than 1 gram of fiber per serving.
If you want to have fruit, opt for fruits that contain less than 1.5 grams of fiber per half-cup serving. These include grapes, cherries, cantaloupe, cooked applesauce, pineapple, grapefruit and Mandarin oranges.
If you want to eat vegetables, cooked veggies are generally better tolerated, but cooking them will not reduce the fiber content. Low-fiber vegetables include cucumber, cauliflower, beets, peeled eggplant, green beans, lettuce, peeled tomatoes and onions.
If you decide to eat meat, choose lean cuts that are baked, steamed or broiled. Do not add fat.
If you get tired of water, you can drink fruit juice, except prune. You may also drink caffeine-free soft drinks that have been diluted with club soda or water. Weak decaffeinated coffee or tea is fine too. Ice pops, sports drinks and gelatin may help with hydration.
Remain on this diet until your symptoms subside. Once your bowel movements have returned to normal, you can start adding other foods to your meals. This is important because the BRAT diet doesn't meet your daily nutritional needs.
Within 24 to 48 hours after you're feeling better, you should be able to resume your regular diet. If your symptoms return, it could be the result of food intolerances or food allergies. Go back to starchy foods for diarrhea until you can get to the doctor.
Read more: Ice Cream & Diarrhea
When to See a Doctor
According to the Mayo Clinic, in cases of severe diarrhea, dehydration may be life-threatening if it's left untreated. Dehydration is most dangerous for children, people with weakened immune systems and older adults.
You should seek medical attention for your child if:
- Diarrhea does not improve after 24 hours.
- Your child is in diapers and hasn't had a wet diaper for three or more hours.
- Your child has a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
- Bloody or black stools are present.
- Your child has sunken eyes, cheeks or abdomen.
- Your child has a dry tongue or mouth or cries without tears.
- Your child has skin that will not flatten if pinched and released.
- Your child is unresponsive or unusually irritable, drowsy or sleepy.
As an adult, you should schedule a doctor's appointment for yourself if:
- You experience diarrhea that lasts more than two days without improvement.
- You have a fever of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You become dehydrated.
- You experience severe rectal or abdominal pain.
- Bloody or black stools are present.
Starchy foods for diarrhea will help you feel better while you're sick. As soon as you can, go back to a nutritionally balanced diet with plenty of fiber.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Diarrhea"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "BRAT Diet: Recovering From an Upset Stomach"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Mom’s Advice Is Still the Best for Treating Diarrhea"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet & Nutrition for Diarrhea"
- University of Wisconsin: "Eating Hints to Help With Diarrhea"
- Mayo Clinic: "Diarrhea"
- Holistic Nursing Practice: "The Role of Probiotics in Diarrheal Management"
- BMC Public Health: "Systematic Review of Probiotics for the Treatment of Community-Acquired Diarrhea in Children"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.