You've probably heard the expression to feed a cold and starve a fever, but what are you supposed to do about an upset stomach, and is it the same whether or not you have an appetite? Here's a look at what to eat and what to avoid to tame your tummy woes.
Upset Stomach Causes
Before considering which foods can ease your stomach issues, it's helpful to distinguish between everyday stomach upset and a condition that's more of a concern. Indigestion itself isn't a disease, but it causes symptoms like feeling uncomfortable during or after a meal or feeling discomfort, burning or bloating in the upper abdomen, according to the Mayo Clinic. Less frequent symptoms include nausea, vomiting and burping.
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Sometimes, people with indigestion also experience heartburn, but these are two different conditions, per the Mayo Clinic. Heartburn involves feeling pain or a burning sensation in the middle of the chest, and is often a sign of the more troublesome acid reflux. Mild indigestion is very common and usually nothing to worry about.
Stay alert to signals you might be experiencing something more serious. Contact your doctor right away if pain is severe; persists for more than two weeks; or includes unintentional weight loss, repeated vomiting, loss of appetite, vomiting with blood, trouble swallowing that keeps getting worse, considerable fatigue, or black, tarry stool, according to the Mayo Clinic. Definitely seek immediate attention if you have indigestion paired with shortness of breath or chest pain.
Comfort Food for an Upset Stomach
If you have indigestion or you're starting to eat again after an illness, take it slow, according to Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Saginaw, Michigan. If you've had a sickness like norovirus, for example, you should ease back into eating with bland, easily digestible foods, and be sure to drink plenty of water.
It can be helpful to eat small amounts of these type of foods — like plain crackers, gelatin, chicken, bananas and toast — frequently, rather than having larger meals, per the Mayo Clinic.
Foods to Avoid With an Upset Stomach
Some types of stomach upset might actually be caused by what you're eating. For example, you could be experiencing the effects of one of the most common food allergies, an allergy to eggs, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Especially prevalent in children but also possible in adults, egg allergies can cause indigestion, stomach cramps and diarrhea and, in more severe cases, shortness of breath and respiratory issues.
Other common food allergens include shellfish, nuts, fish, peanuts and milk, yet it's possible to have a food intolerance rather than a full-blown allergy to one or more of these foods and develop stomach upset, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
With food allergies, even a small amount will be problematic, but with an intolerance, you may not have symptoms until you eat a large amount or eat the food frequently. Because of this, pay attention to stomach upset after you eat to identify possible food issues related to your indigestion.
In general, whether you're dealing with an intolerance or an illness, take your time in introducing more flavorful and especially highly spiced foods back into your regular meal rotation, says Justine Hays, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in Buffalo, New York.
"If you feel your stomach upset start to return, go back to the bland foods that are easy to digest, instead of spicy, high-fat or high-sugar foods that may worsen your gastrointestinal upset," Hays says. "Once your stomach is back to normal, you can reintroduce different foods gradually."
- Mayo Clinic: "Indigestion: Symptoms & Causes"
- Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, dietitian/nutritionist, creator, EatingWithHeartNutrition.com, Saginaw, Michigan
- Mayo Clinic: "Gastroenteritis: First Aid"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Egg"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Food Problems: Is It Allergy or Intolerance?"
- Justine Hays, MS, RD, CDN, dietitian, nutritionist, Buffalo, New York
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.