The stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, is often accompanied by some nasty symptoms — vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and sometimes fever, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Drinking plenty of fluids is important for staying hydrated when you have the stomach flu, but some types of fluids may be better than others.
So where does fruit juice fall? Here's what you should know about drinking fruit juice when you're sick, as well as some suggestions for other liquids that may help you feel better.
Why Juice for an Upset Stomach Might Not Help
The NIH includes fruit juice along with water and broths in its recommended list of beverages to drink when you have the flu to replace lost fluids and electrolytes and prevent dehydration. But Michele Sidorenkov, RDN, a trained chef and dietitian who spoke with LIVESTRONG.com, says there may be better options.
"If I had to pick one drink with some electrolyte properties, I would suggest orange juice that has been fortified with calcium," she says. "But in general juice is not really a significant source of the rehydrating electrolytes you need." Coconut water is a better source of electrolytes.
Read more: Foods to Avoid When Vomiting
Speaking of orange juice, won't the vitamin C in juice made from citrus fruits like oranges and lemons help treat the stomach flu? Not necessarily, as there's conflicting evidence on whether vitamin C can actually boost the immune system and ward off harmful viruses and bacteria.
A meta-analysis of nine clinical trials, published in BioMed Research International in July 2018, did find that a higher dosage of vitamin C, taken at the onset of a cold — a cold, not the stomach flu — helped reduce the cold's duration and symptoms. That said, the benefits of vitamin C come taking it long-term on a daily basis, not just when someone is already sick
Sidorenkov also cautions against juices with a lot of added sugar because too much sugar is bad for our health and there's no nutritional benefit.
"Just because a juice is freshly squeezed, that doesn't mean that something like honey or any other sweeteners haven't been added," she says. "Even a juice shop blending the juice right in front of you can be adding sugars to the smoothies." Something else to watch out for if you're craving fruit juice? Sugar alcohols, which can be irritating to your upper and lower digestive system and particularly problematic when you have the stomach flu. "Beware of ingredients that end in 'ol' (like sorbitol) and are typically found in products that taste sweet but have 'zero sugar' listed on the nutrition facts label," Sidorenkov advises.
The Bottom Line
One of the most important ways to take care of yourself when you have the flu is to listen to your body about what may make it feel better — and sometimes that may be fruit juice, which is OK as long as you can tolerate it.
Just be sure to follow these simple recommendations:
- If you've experienced vomiting, dilute the fruit juice with water; otherwise, it could irritate an empty stomach.
- Try not to let your overall added sugar calories exceed 10 percent of your total calories for the day.
- Try to stick to freshly squeezed juice over smoothies because juice usually has little to no fiber. "When you have the stomach flu, you really don't want to stress your stomach," Sidorenkov says. "Staying away from fibrous foods lets your stomach rest and not have to overwork."
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institutes of Health: "Definition & Facts for Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”)"
- National Institute of Health: "Treatment of Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”)"
- BioMed Research International: "Extra Dose of Vitamin C Based on a Daily Supplementation Shortens the Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of 9 Randomized Controlled Trials"