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Whether your diarrhea is caused by allergies, food poisoning, a chronic condition like irritable bowel syndrome, or something else, diet and diarrhea are intricately linked.
Even if you have long-term conditions that affect the digestive system, the diet you eat can greatly affect your comfort levels.
When you’re experiencing an episode of diarrhea, there are certain foods that you can eat to help your digestive system get back on track. There are also certain foods that you should avoid.
When you have diarrhea, the foods that you eat and the foods that you avoid can be critical to helping you recover quicker. This is where BRAT foods come in.
BRAT stands for “bananas, rice, apples, toast.” These foods are bland, so they won’t aggravate the digestive system. They’re also binding, so they help firm up stool.
Other foods that are included in the BRAT diet include:
- cooked cereal, like Cream of Wheat or farina
- soda crackers
- applesauce and apple juice
You also need to drink plenty of liquids so that you can stay hydrated and replace the fluids that you’re losing. Drink lots of water and suck on ice chips. Other liquids that you can try include:
- clear broths, like chicken broth or beef broth, with any grease removed
- electrolyte-enhanced water or coconut water with vitamins or electrolytes (try to avoid ones high in sugar)
- solutions like Pedialyte
- weak, decaffeinated tea
After you’ve started to recover, you can add in foods like scrambled eggs and cooked vegetables.
When you’re experiencing diarrhea or recovering from it, there are a large number of foods that you want to avoid. These foods can trigger the digestive system and exacerbate or prolong diarrhea.
Foods to avoid while experiencing diarrhea include:
- milk and dairy products (including milk-based protein drinks)
- fried, fatty, greasy foods
- spicy foods
- processed foods, especially those with additives
- pork and veal
- raw vegetables
- all citrus fruits
- other fruits, like pineapples, cherries, seeded berries, figs, currants, and grapes
- coffee, soda, and other caffeinated or carbonated drinks
- artificial sweeteners, including sorbitol
Many cases of diarrhea are short-lived and respond well to home treatments such as a modified diet, heavy fluid intake, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. OTC treatments include anti-diarrheal medications like Pepto-Bismol, which can help stop or slow down diarrhea.
In some cases, diarrhea is caused by parasites or a bacterial infection, and it may need to be treated with antibiotics.
Taking probiotics as soon as possible after taking antibiotics can help prevent adverse reactions to antibiotics by introducing healthy bacteria back into the digestive system. This can also help prevent future cases of diarrhea.
If the diarrhea is severe, you may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive intravenous fluids.
While many cases of diarrhea can be treated at home with OTC remedies, rest, and a temporarily restricted diet, if it lasts long enough you should consult your doctor. Call your doctor if your diarrhea lasts more than 2 days without improvement or if you get dehydrated.
If you get dehydrated or have other symptoms, you may need to go to the emergency room to get prompt treatment.
Other symptoms to watch for include black or bloody stools, severe abdominal pain, or a fever of 102°F (39°C) or higher. You can call your doctor and ask what you should do if you experience any of these symptoms.
If your child has diarrhea, call their pediatrician and ask whether you should take them to the emergency room if they:
- don’t improve after 24 hours
- haven’t had a wet diaper in three or more hours
- have a fever of 102°F (39°C) or higher
- have a dry mouth or tongue
- cry without tears
- have skin that doesn’t flatten if pinched and released
- have a sunken appearance to the abdomen, cheeks, or eyes
- have black or bloody stools
Your diet can both cause and treat diarrhea.
When you have diarrhea, get lots of rest, drink plenty of water, and start introducing BRAT foods after a few hours. After a day or two of bland, soft foods, you can start to add in foods like lean ground chicken and scrambled eggs.
Sticking to this diet can help you recover faster and feel better sooner, so you can get back to eating all the foods that you love as soon as possible.