Digestive discomfort can arise from a number of issues, such as stomach flu, indigestion or food intolerance. Often a warm, creamy bowl of oatmeal for upset stomach is the perfect remedy to make you feel better. At the same time, you'll benefit from the nutrients and fiber oatmeal provides for digestive health. However, some conditions or overconsumption of oatmeal can also cause stomach distress.
Oatmeal not only soothes your upset stomach, it offers a low-fat, low-sodium source of fiber, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins B, E and K.
Which Kind of Oatmeal?
Oatmeal is available in several different forms depending on the way it's processed, including old-fashioned, steel cut, quick-cook and instant. All types of oatmeal offer similar nutritional benefits, but if you choose to eat oatmeal for upset stomach relief, a quicker-cooking type will be the easiest to digest.
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- Old-fashioned rolled oats are steamed and flattened to help them absorb water and cook in about five minutes.
- Quick-cook oats are rolled thinner and steamed longer and cook in about one minute.
- Individually packaged instant oatmeal is precooked so it can be prepared in the microwave in seconds. Instant oatmeal has a mushier texture and often has sugar and other flavorings added that may upset your stomach.
Read more: What Is the Nutritional Value of Oatmeal?
Oatmeal Aids Digestion
Dietary fiber in oatmeal — 4 grams per cup —is important for your overall digestive health. USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that your daily intake of fiber should be 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men. Oatmeal offers 16 percent of your daily amount in just one cup.
Fiber is the part of oatmeal that your body can't digest or absorb. It helps digested food pass smoothly through your stomach, intestines and out of your body, which helps keep you regular. Oatmeal contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, with the majority being beta-glucan soluble fiber.
Oatmeal Improves Digestive Disorders
If your upset stomach is caused by constipation, fiber in oatmeal can help by adding undigested cellulose which softens your stool, allowing food to pass more quickly through your digestive system. If your stomach ache is a result of diarrhea, the fiber in oatmeal helps by absorbing water, adding bulk and increasing the size and volume of your stool.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the fiber in oats is more effective than the fiber from fruits and vegetables and may reduce the risk of diverticular disease. A high-fiber diet may also give you relief from hemorrhoids, fecal incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders.
Eating Too Much Oatmeal
Eating too much fiber too quickly can actually upset your stomach or worsen your discomfort. Excessive fiber, if you're not used to it, can cause bloating, gas and constipation. Medical News Today warns that an excess of 70 grams of fiber a day can cause these symptoms and other uncomfortable side effects, including:
- Feeling too full
- Stomach cramps
- Poor absorption of some key nutrients
- Weight gain or loss
- Intestinal blockage in rare cases
Read more: How Much Oatmeal Should I Eat?
Is There Gluten in Oatmeal?
Although oats don't naturally contain gluten, if you have celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten, you may find that eating oatmeal for an upset stomach triggers allergy-like symptoms, including an digestive disorders.
Some doctors recommend avoiding oats on a gluten-free diet because oats are usually grown with or near gluten-containing grains. As a result of crop rotation or contaminated storage and processing facilities, oats may contain traces of gluten which can trigger an allergic reaction if you're very sensitive.
Oat products including oatmeal are often labeled as "100 percent oats," "organic oats" or "pure oats." But this doesn't reveal whether the product is free from contamination with gluten. To help consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifies that food labeled "gluten-free," "no gluten," "free of gluten" or "without gluten" must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Symptoms of Reaction to Gluten
Most symptoms of an allergic reaction to gluten are related to the digestive system. These and other symptoms may include:
- Acid reflux, heartburn
- Abdominal pain, bloating and gas
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches and fatigue
- Weight loss
- Anemia, usually resulting from iron deficiency
- Loss of bone density or softening of bone
- Itchy, blistering skin rash
- Damage to dental enamel, mouth ulcers
- Nervous system injury such as numbness and tingling in the feet and hands
- Joint pain
Read more: Signs & Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
Allergy to Oats
Cross-contamination with gluten isn't the only cause of digestive disapproval after eating oatmeal. Oats contain a protein called avenin. Your immune system could have a negative reaction to this protein and create antibodies that release histamine. The histamine can send a cascade of allergic responses with varying degrees of severity. Oat allergy symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Throat, lip or tongue swelling and itchy or tingling mouth
- Sneezing and wheezing, sinusitis or asthma
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Sore, watery, itchy or puffy eyes
- Redness or flushing of the skin
- Eczema or hives
- Swelling of the face
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleeping problems
- Abdominal pains
- Anaphylactic response — the most common and dangerous reaction to oat allergy — which can cause severe skin swelling, irritation of the digestive organs, palpitation and difficulty breathing.
Allergy testing by your doctor can accurately diagnose if your allergy is due to cross-contamination of gluten or if you're truly allergic to the protein avenin in oats. If your allergy is related to the protein in oats, it's best to avoid oatmeal completely. In this case, it may be necessary to carry an epinephrine auto-injector, because many foods contain a form of oats.
Chronic Conditions and Stomach Upset
Just as an allergy to oats involves the immune system, an oat sensitivity involves the digestive system. Sensitivity to oats and oatmeal can happen as a result of certain conditions that inhibit absorption in your gastrointestinal tract. These may include celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome or other chronic gastrointestinal conditions.
With any of these digestive disorders, oatmeal and other oat-containing products can wreak havoc with your gut and cause discomfort.
Stomach Upsets From Flu or Virus
If you're experiencing nausea and gastrointestinal symptoms as a result of a virus, infection or stomach flu, oatmeal is a good choice not only to settle your stomach, but to provide the antioxidants that may help your weakened immune system.
Oatmeal contains vitamin E, copper, zinc and selenium, all of which have antioxidant properties. Additionally, phenolic compounds, found only in oats, called avenanthramides (Avns) have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These nutrients can help your immune system defend against infection and help speed recovery of stomach upsets.
Things to Eat With an Upset Stomach
If you can't eat oatmeal because of a sensitivity or allergy, some other foods to eat with upset stomach include bland foods such as soda crackers, plain white rice or applesauce. A common remedy is eating a banana for upset stomach.
University of Wisconsin's University Health Services suggests avoiding spicy, fatty or greasy foods along with dairy, alcohol and caffeine if you have a stomach ache.
- Oldways Whole Grains Council: Types of Oats
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Cereals, Oats, Regular and Quick, Unenriched, Cooked With Water (Includes Boiling and Microwaving), Without Salt
- USDA Dietary Guidelines: Appendix 7. Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations
- SELFNutritionData: Cereals, Oats, Regular and Quick and Instant, Unenriched, Cooked With Water (Includes Boiling and Microwaving), Without Salt [Oatmeal, Cooked]
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Fiber
- WebMD: Soluble and Insoluble Fiber: What’s the Difference?
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: Dietary Fiber
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: Nutritional Advantages of Oats and Opportunities for Its Processing as Value Added Foods - A Review
- Molecular Nutrition and Food Research: Whole Grain Oats, More Than Just a Fiber: Role of Unique Phytochemicals
- Medical News Today: How Much Fiber Is Too Much?
- Mayo Clinic: Celiac Disease: Overview
- New York Allergy and Sinus Centers: Oat Allergy
- Allergy SymptomsX: Oat Allergy
- Food Chemistry: Analysis of Avenanthramides in Oat Products and Estimation of Avenanthramide Intake in Humans
- University of Wisconsin Madison: Health Services: Upset Stomach
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Gluten and Food Labeling