Nausea is the unpleasant and sometimes debilitating sensation of needing to vomit.
It’s surprisingly common, with 50% of adults experiencing it at some point each year.
First described in relation to seasickness, the term is derived from the Greek word “naus,” which means ship.
Nausea begins in the brain, where emotional, cognitive or chemical triggers may stimulate your nervous system, causing your stomach muscles to dysfunction and making you feel nauseous.
Many things can trigger this process, such as infections, surgery, gut diseases, medications, cancer treatment, hormone disorders, pregnancy or food allergies and intolerances.
Though eating can be challenging when you feel sick, food and drinks are important for hydration, replacing lost electrolytes and helping your stomach settle.
Here are the 14 best foods and drinks for when you’re feeling nauseous.
Though there is no consensus on the amount of ginger necessary to achieve therapeutic effects, most studies use the equivalent of 0.5–1.5 grams of dried ginger root per day.
Ginger is commonly consumed as tea, ginger biscuits, crystallized ginger or ginger beer or ale. It’s also available in capsule form.
However, bear in mind that some products may not contain significant quantities of ginger, minimizing their effect on nausea.
Summary Consuming 0.5–1.5 grams of ginger root per day has been found to be effective at treating nausea due to motion sickness, surgery, chemotherapy and pregnancy. However, study results have been mixed.
When you’re nauseous, you may not feel like eating at all. However, drinking fluids and staying hydrated is crucial, especially if you have been vomiting or have a fever.
Water is always a good source of hydration, but if you have been throwing up or experiencing diarrhea, you may also need to replace lost electrolytes.
- Oral rehydration solutions
- Sports drinks
- Soda water or flavored sodas
- Iced tea
- Clear juices
- Coconut water
Very sweet, caffeinated or dairy-based beverages may worsen your nausea, so it may be best to avoid them.
You may tolerate sipping cold drinks throughout the day better than drinking a lot at once, especially if you have been vomiting.
Summary It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when you're ill. Clear, cold beverages like water, oral rehydration solutions, iced tea, juice, sports drinks and coconut water can be sipped throughout the day when you’re nauseous.
Dry foods such as crackers, pretzels, toast and cereals are often recommended to people experiencing nausea. In fact, one study found that almost 90% of gynecologists recommend soda crackers to women with morning sickness (12, 13).
It’s not clear why people tolerate dry, plain foods when they’re nauseous, and no scientific research on the topic exists.
However, it’s known that people feel more nauseous on an empty stomach and react poorly to strong-smelling foods (12).
That’s why it’s best to avoid preparing and cooking food when you’re sick, as the sight and smell of food could trigger nausea.
Crackers, pretzels, toast and cereals are quick meal fixes that require little to no preparation, have no strong odor and may help settle your empty, upset stomach (12).
Summary An empty stomach and strong-smelling foods can trigger or worsen nausea. Crackers and other plain, dry foods may help settle your stomach.
When you’re sick, you may tolerate cold foods better than warm dishes. That’s because they generally don’t have strong odors, which may trigger nausea (12).
Aversion to odor is particularly common during pregnancy. One study found that 41% of pregnant women experienced aversion to food smells and were more likely to be affected by nausea (14).
Some good choices of cold foods include Jell-o, ice cream, chilled fruits, yogurt, custard and frozen popsicles.
If your nausea makes it difficult to keep food down, simply sucking on an ice cube may help. This is also a good way to slowly replenish your fluids.
Summary Food smells can trigger nausea. Therefore, cold foods that produce less odor like popsicles, Jell-o, chilled fruits and ice cream are often better tolerated.
Chicken broth and chicken soup are common home remedies for everything from headaches to colds to fevers.
Fluids are often better tolerated when you’re nauseous. That’s why broths and soups may be a good first step towards eating again. They also provide hydration and electrolytes, which are particularly important if you have been vomiting or had a fever.
One cup (240 ml) of chicken broth contains 16% of the daily recommended intake (DV) for salt, 8% of the DV for potassium and 8% of the DV for niacin (15).
If you’re feeling up to it, including chicken or vegetables in your broth provides additional calories, protein, vitamins and minerals to give your body back some energy.
Summary Broths and soups provide hydration and electrolytes. They are a good first step towards eating more solid foods again when you’re nauseous or have been vomiting.
When you’re sick and nauseous, it can be difficult to eat significant quantities of food.
Therefore, it’s important that the foods you manage to eat are nutritious and provide energy to help your body stay strong and recover. This is particularly true if your nausea is due to a chronic condition and you’re struggling to maintain weight.
Bananas are a nutritious, energy-dense snack that’s easy to eat even when you’re sick.
What’s more, bananas help replace potassium that may be lost if you have been vomiting or have had diarrhea (17).
Just one medium-sized banana packs 105 calories, 27 grams of carbs, 12% of your daily potassium needs and 22% of the DV for vitamin B6 (18).
Other soft, energy-dense foods include avocados, porridge, stewed fruits, mashed potatoes and peanut butter.
Summary Bananas are a good source of energy and vitamins when you’re nauseous and can help replace potassium lost due to vomiting or diarrhea.
Applesauce is a popular food for people with nausea or diarrhea.
In fact, it’s part of the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.
This diet used to be routinely recommended to people with upset stomachs, particularly children. Though now it’s considered overly restrictive, many people still find its components helpful (19).
One study in people undergoing chemotherapy found that a light, bland diet including applesauce, cottage cheese and vanilla ice cream resulted in improved food intake and less nausea and vomiting (20).
Applesauce is a good source of carbs and gentle on your stomach.
One-half cup (122 grams) of unsweetened applesauce contains about 50 calories and 14 grams of carbs (21).
What’s more, it’s high in the dietary fiber pectin, which may be beneficial if you’re experiencing diarrhea in addition to feeling nauseous (22).
Summary Applesauce is commonly used by people with nausea and diarrhea. It’s a good source of energy and carbs and usually well tolerated even when you’re feeling sick.
Starchy, plain foods like rice, potatoes and noodles are good choices when you’re nauseous.
They’re easy to prepare, high in calories and help settle your stomach.
Bland, colorless and odorless foods are often more easily tolerated, as they trigger nausea to a lesser extent than strongly flavored foods do.
Rice can be boiled or steamed and eaten plain or with light seasoning. It can also be eaten cold if hot foods are off-putting.
Alternatively, potatoes can be boiled, steamed, baked or mashed with a little butter and milk for extra calories.
Finally, noodles can be boiled and eaten plain. They can also be added to a light broth or sauce to increase your fluid intake.
Summary Bland, starchy foods are good choices when you’re nauseous, as they are mild in taste and smell and provide a good source of calories and comfort.
A few studies have investigated the effects of the macronutrient composition of meals on nausea.
Also, as part of motion sickness research, people were given a protein- or carb-rich beverage before being spun in a rotating drum. The protein-rich drinks proved to be most effective at suppressing nausea symptoms (24).
Another study in people undergoing chemotherapy found that a combination of ginger and protein supplements reduced nausea (25).
It’s unclear why protein has this effect on nausea. The hypothesis is that it helps normalize stomach activity by increasing the secretion of the hormone gastrin (24).
Protein-rich meals are particularly important for people experiencing chronic nausea due to illness, as this macronutrient helps keep your body strong and reduces the risk of malnutrition.
Summary Protein-rich meals are superior to high-carb or high-fat meals at reducing nausea. Protein may help normalize stomach activity by increasing gastrin secretion.
However, there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims. Research on specific compounds such as peppermint and chamomile has primarily been carried out in capsule or aromatherapy form.
For example, peppermint aromatherapy has been found to reduce nausea in women who had undergone a C-section, while chamomile capsules and lemon scent had the same effect in pregnant women (26, 27, 28).
Despite a lack of scientific evidence, many people with nausea find that herbal teas are well tolerated.
Drinking a cup of peppermint tea or adding a slice of lemon to hot water may ease your nausea. Even if the herb itself may show no effect, the fluids aid hydration when you’re sick.
Summary Though peppermint and chamomile have been found to reduce nausea in capsule or aromatherapy form, there is no scientific evidence that herbal teas reduce nausea. Nonetheless, many people find them soothing, and they provide hydration.
Besides consuming certain foods and beverages, you can take other steps to relieve your nausea (12):
- Eat something small every 1–2 hours: Avoid skipping meals, as an empty stomach can worsen nausea.
- Eat and drink slowly and in small amounts: This allows you to relax during meals and take time to enjoy your food. You may also want to avoid consuming liquids and solids at the same time.
- Do not lie flat after eating: Avoid lying down for at least 30 minutes after eating, as this can put pressure on your stomach, making nausea worse.
- Avoid food preparation: The smell while cooking and preparing food can worsen nausea. If possible, avoid or shorten the time spent in the kitchen.
- Keep your mouth clean: Nausea and vomiting can leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth, which may prevent you from eating. Rinse and brush your teeth regularly and use sugar-free mints to keep feeling fresh.
In addition, avoid the following types of foods when you feel nauseous (12):
- Fatty, greasy or fried foods
- Very sweet foods
- Spicy foods
- Foods with strong odors
Summary You can take additional steps to treat nausea by avoiding certain foods, eating small, regular snacks or meals, consuming liquids and solids separately, avoiding food preparation, sitting up after eating and keeping your mouth fresh and clean.
Nausea is a very unpleasant sensation that can make it difficult to eat, drink and keep down food.
Those experiencing it seem to tolerate certain foods better than others, including bland rice, pasta, potatoes, salty crackers and cold foods.
Other foods and beverages may even improve symptoms of nausea, such as ginger, certain teas and protein-rich meals.
What’s most important when you’re sick is to ensure proper hydration by drinking plenty of water and electrolyte-rich drinks.
By trying these foods, you can keep yourself nourished while you’re ill and in the long term.