Occasional diarrhea is nothing to worry about. The causes of diarrhea can range from a stomach flu to a specific meal or ingredient you ate that didn’t sit well. Because certain foods can worsen symptoms, it’s good to know the foods you should eat when you have diarrhea — and what you should avoid.
You want to eat plain, simple foods, especially in the first 24 hours, says Peter Higgins, MD, PhD, the 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.
Other bland foods that are easy to stomach include:
• Boiled potatoes
• Plain crackers, such as saltines
• Baked chicken without any skin or fat
The foods with probiotics — often called “good” bacteria — may shorten the duration of a bout of diarrhea.
Probiotics have become very popular and are found in a number of foods, including:
Avoid These Foods When You Have Diarrhea
As important as it is to know what to eat when you have diarrhea, you should also know which foods to avoid. Certain foods can travel through your intestines very quickly and aggravate your digestion, or worsen diarrhea in other ways.
Avoid the following for diarrhea relief:
Fatty foods : These include foods that are fried, 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 lactose, a sugar found in dairy products — stay away from these foods when you have 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, as some studies have shown probiotics help rebalance intestinal flora and could shorten the duration of a bout of diarrhea.
Alcohol and sodas : When you have diarrhea, you want to steer clear of foods and beverages that cause you to lose fluids. Alcohol can act as a diuretic, meaning it’s dehydrating, and should be avoided, Dr. Higgins says. Sodas with high-fructose corn syrup can also pose a problem if you have diarrhea. According to a study published in the June 2017 issue of Healthcare, large quantities of fructose can overwhelm your digestive system and lead to gas, bloating, or diarrhea.
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 pass on sugarless candy and gum, diet soft drinks, and sugar substitutes. According to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health newsletter, consuming sugars, including artificial ones, causes your intestines to produce more water and electrolytes, which can then loosen bowel movements and lead to diarrhea.
Foods that cause excess gas : It’s important to 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 spoiled : 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 maxim, “When in doubt, throw it out,” and you may save yourself some stomach upset.