A bout of diarrhea is something everyone has had to deal with. Often lasting no more than a day or two, most people will experience diarrhea a few times a year. While there can be many causes for the condition, the food you consume plays a huge role in how your digestive system works.
To avoid aggravating the problem, it can help to know what to eat when you have diarrhea. This article will outline the symptoms and causes of diarrhea and offer tips on foods that can help alleviate the symptoms, as well as those you should avoid.
What Is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a loose, watery bowel movement. Typically defined as having loose stools three or more times in a day, most cases of diarrhea clear up on their own without the need for medical assistance.
Symptoms of diarrhea include abdominal pain and cramps, and they may result in the loss of bowel control. In some cases, diarrhea can also lead to headaches, fever, or nausea.
Causes of Diarrhea
While you can get diarrhea from something you ate, the most common causes of diarrhea include:
- Bacterial infection
- Viral infection
- Some medications like antibiotics
- Food intolerances and allergies
- Medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
In many cases, it is difficult to identify the cause of diarrhea. If you suffer frequent bouts, speak to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment.
What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea
While it’s common to experience bowel problems from time to time, many people are unsure about the best foods to eat when they have diarrhea. Although you may not have a huge appetite, eating the right diet can help alleviate the symptoms and make you feel better.
Try a Bland (BRAT) Diet
Bland food is gentle on the stomach and easy to digest. When you have diarrhea, most people recommend eating a BRAT diet, which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Bananas are high in the soluble fiber pectin which helps absorb liquid and move stools smoothly through the digestive tract. A great source of potassium, eating bananas when you have diarrhea will replace some of the electrolytes lost during frequent bowel movements.
As they ripen, the starch in bananas is turned into sugar which is easier to digest. To avoid upsetting your stomach, only eat bananas that are ripe and completely yellow.
As rice passes through the digestive tract, it absorbs water and binds material. This makes for firmer stools and can help relieve diarrhea.
Although brown rice has many health benefits, the high fiber content can make matters worse when you’re struggling with your bowels. White rice is a good source of carbohydrates and gentle on the system, making it the perfect choice when you have diarrhea.
The natural sugars in applesauce make for a quick way to increase your calorie intake when you have diarrhea. Bland yet sweet, applesauce goes down easy even with a diminished appetite.
Made from ground apples including the skins, applesauce contains high concentrations of soluble fiber which can help bind stools. Look for organic applesauce or make your own, but be careful with flavored varieties as they may contain added sugars that worsen symptoms.
One of the blandest things you can eat is a dry piece of toast, but it’s often the perfect thing when your stomach is playing up. While a small amount of butter can help it go down, make sure not to add anything that is hard to digest.
Avoid whole wheat bread and instead opt for white bread when you have diarrhea. Much like white rice, the lower fiber content is easier on the system.
One of the biggest dangers of diarrhea is dehydration. As bowel movements are watery and frequent, the body needs more fluid than usual to stay hydrated.
Common signs of dehydration are dark-colored urine, thirst, and infrequent urination, while other symptoms can include:
- Dry skin
- High fever
The easiest way to hydrate is to drink clean, plain water. If you’re in an area with substandard water resources, opt for purified bottled water or boil water before consumption.
When you’re experiencing diarrhea, another great way to replace lost fluid is to use sports drinks. Not only will they rehydrate the body but the included salts and electrolytes can help replace minerals lost through bowel movements.
If you’re dehydrated, it’s best to avoid high-sugar and caffeinated beverages. While some people swear by a glass of warm coke to soothe a sore stomach, be sure to also drink plenty of water to avoid worsening the symptoms.
Other Foods That Can Help
Although bland food isn’t too appealing, it’s generally the easiest food to digest. Other bland foods you can eat when you have diarrhea include:
- Cooked cereal
- Boiled potatoes
- Cooked vegetables like carrots and green beans
- Boiled or baked chicken and broth
Try Beneficial Bacteria
Probiotics can help relieve diarrheal infection by introducing good bacteria to the gut. As considerable amounts of the beneficial bacteria are lost through diarrhea, probiotics like those found in yogurt, kefir, and kimchi can help restore the balance to your system.
Studies have shown that eating foods containing probiotics can make diarrhea go away faster. They help break down damaging toxins and can assist in preventing or reducing the frequency of diarrhea.
Foods You Should Avoid
It can be easy to eat something that will further upset your stomach. To keep the discomfort to a minimum, it is best to avoid the following when struggling with diarrhea:
- Milk and dairy products like cheese
- Spicy food
- Fried or processed food
- High fiber foods like whole grains and nuts
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower
- Citrus fruits
- Garlic and onion
- Artificial sweeteners
Should You Change Your Diet?
If you have stomach issues or suffer from frequent bouts of diarrhea, it could have something to do with your diet. Many people suffer from food intolerances and may not realize it. If you think you’re sensitive to any foods, speak to a doctor about an allergy test.
After learning what to eat when you have diarrhea, you should be able to make some positive changes to your diet to avoid ongoing problems. Keep hydrated and follow a BRAT diet to avoid upsetting your stomach. Speed up recovery with probiotics and steer clear of foods that might trigger another bout.
If you experience symptoms of diarrhea for longer than three days or notice blood in your stool, it’s best to speak with a doctor. They can determine the cause of your diarrhea and recommend a treatment plan to help.