Diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery stools three or more times a day. It can last just a day or two, for a week or so, or even longer. Research has shown that there are more than 179 million cases of acute (short-term) diarrhea every year.
These loose stools can be caused by many different things, some of them nothing to worry about and some of them more serious. Most of the time, the cause of diarrhea is never found out or diagnosed. Diarrhea, particularly acute diarrhea, goes away on its own in at least four days.
When you have diarrhea, you’re usually having other symptoms such as stomach pain and cramps and nausea that make you not have a very big appetite. Eating a big meal will likely seem unappealing when it immediately causes cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and more.
Here are some foods you should stick to when you’re having diarrhea and what you should avoid.
Foods to Eat With Diarrhea
The best diet to combat diarrhea is to follow the BRAT diet. These are bland foods that won’t further irritate or upset the digestive system.
- Bananas: They have no fat, cholesterol, or sodium, but are packed with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and complex carbohydrates. They are also very easy to digest.
- Rice: Plain white rice can help stop diarrhea by acting as a binding food and making your stools a little bit more solid. Rice will help you replenish your system with iron, manganese, selenium, folate, niacin, and thiamine.
- Applesauce: Apples are high in fiber, vitamin C, and various antioxidants. Foods high in fiber help bind up your stool. Applesauce is also easier for a person’s digestive system to handle than a raw apple. The natural sugar of applesauce helps replenish energy lost during a diarrhea episode.
- Toast: Toast helps to relieve diarrhea by adding bulk and firmness to the stool. Eaten plain, meaning without butter or other toppings, it is also a bland food that provides carbohydrates which may help with depleted energy levels.
Other foods that can help with ease the symptoms of diarrhea include:
- Soda crackers: Similar to toast in that they contain carbs that will make the stool less watery, and they are also bland enough to not irritate the digestive tract.
- Clear broth: This is also bland and prevents you from getting dehydrated.
- Pedialyte or sports drinks that have electrolytes: This will help aide in keeping you hydrated and won’t irritate the stomach like soda or coffee.
- Scrambled eggs: This is one of the first more “solid” foods you can introduce into your diet after you’re feeling better. Eggs contain protein, something that is missing from the BRAT diet and the other bland foods.
- Baked chicken: Eating chicken that is prepared in the simplest way, with no skin or fat, can help you get your protein in without further aggravating your stomach.
Only stay on a strict diet like the BRAT diet for a short period time. Go back to your regular diet and the foods you normally eat as soon as your digestive tract can tolerate it. The BRAT diet doesn’t contain enough of all of the essential nutrients you need for your body to function properly. It is also too low in calories, protein, fiber, calcium and vitamins A and B-12. Eating some of the other foods listed above that are helpful in stopping diarrhea besides the BRAT diet will help you get a broader range of essential everyday nutrients.
But during the first 24 hours of having diarrhea, sticking to a bland diet that will help work to bind your stool together and relieve symptoms. A study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that eating foods high in probiotics such as yogurt can also help shorten the duration of an episode of diarrhea. Eating many small meals during the day can help keep the gastrointestinal system from becoming overworked and becoming further irritated.
Liquids are also extremely important to recovery and seeing symptoms disappear. People with diarrhea should drink plenty of water throughout the day and should drink one cup of water after every loose bowel movement to make sure they don’t get dehydrated. A person with severe diarrhea and dehydration may need to stay in the hospital and receive intravenous electrolytes.
Eating a simple diet, drinking plenty of water, and taking over-the-counter medications as necessary can help reduce symptoms quickly.
There are also foods to avoid when you have diarrhea that can make symptoms worse, particularly fatty foods, caffeinated foods, sugary foods, and raw fruits and vegetables.
If sticking to the foods in the diet above aren’t working, and if symptoms last for more than a few days and include bleeding and high fever, you should see a doctor. Your doctor can determine whether the diarrhea is caused by a more serious condition, and can recommend further diagnostic tests and treatment.