What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea

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Some foods can cause diarrhea, while others can keep you nourished without aggravating your symptoms further. Know what to eat and drink to get through a bout of diarrhea.

Having diarrhea on occasion is nothing to worry about. The causes of diarrhea can range from a stomach flu to a meal or just an ingredient you ate that didn’t agree with you. Because certain foods can worsen symptoms, in order to start feeling better you need to know what to eat when you have diarrhea — and what not to eat.

You should eat plain, simple foods for diarrhea, especially in the first 24 hours, says Peter Doyle Higgins, MD, PhD, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “It is best to eat thicker, bland foods, including oatmeal, bananas, plain rice, and applesauce,” he says.

  • Boiled potatoes
  • Toast
  • Plain crackers, such as saltines
  • Pretzels
  • Baked chicken without any skin or fat

Foods to Avoid

As important as it is to know what to eat when you have diarrhea, it's equally important to know what not to eat. Certain foods can travel through your intestines very fast and aggravate your digestion, or worsen diarrhea in other ways.

Fatty Foods These include fried foods and foods that are greasy or covered in gravy, which can make diarrhea worse.

Milk, Butter, Ice Cream, and Cheese Even if the diarrhea isn’t caused by lactose intolerance — a difficulty processing the sugar lactose, found in dairy products — stay away from these foods during a bout with diarrhea. You may be temporarily sensitive to dairy products, even if you usually have no problem with them. Probiotic-rich yogurt may be the one exception to this rule.

Alcohol and Caffeine Drinks When you have diarrhea, you want to avoid foods and beverages that cause you to lose fluids. Alcohol and caffeine can act as diuretics, meaning they are dehydrating, and should be avoided, Dr. Higgins says.

Sorbitol and Other Artificial Sweeteners Some people find that artificial sweeteners have a laxative effect on their digestive system. If you have diarrhea, it’s best to avoid sugarless candy and gum, diet soft drinks, and sugar substitutes.

Foods That Cause Excess Gas It’s important that you eat generous amounts of fruits and vegetables every day. But when diarrhea strikes, you want to avoid choices that are likely to increase intestinal gas, such as cabbage, beans, broccoli, and cauliflower, until you’re feeling better.

Foods That May Be Tainted Stay away from foods that may have been mishandled, including foods that have been out of the refrigerator for too long or improperly stored. Raw meat or fish can be problematic, too. Follow the old expression, “when in doubt, throw it out,” and you may save yourself some stomach upset.

Other Diarrhea Strategies

One of the more serious complications of diarrhea is dehydration. When you have diarrhea for any length of time, take steps to avoid becoming dehydrated, Higgins says. “Look for liquids with sugar and salt,” he says. “Pedialyte or full-salt soups work well.”

To stay hydrated, you should consume enough liquid so that you make plenty of clear urine. “If your urine is not clear, or you are not making much urine, you are not drinking enough,” Higgins says.

In terms of diarrhea treatment, Higgins says, if you do not have an infection and are not seeing blood, you can take over-the-counter loperamide (Imodium, Kaopectate Caplet, and Maalox Anti-Diarrheal) to slow your bowel movements. This kind of medication should only be taken for a day or two.

If diet and simple remedies don’t work, and if symptoms persist for more than a few days and include bleeding, gas, and bloating, you should see a doctor. Your doctor can determine whether the diarrhea is caused by a more serious condition, and can recommend treatment.