We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Occasional diarrhea is a common occurrence, and most people will experience an episode at least once or twice a year. In most cases, the symptoms will disappear in a few days.

People can manage the symptoms of diarrhea by resting, staying hydrated, and making certain dietary adjustments. While certain foods can promote recovery, others can potentially make the symptoms worse.

Although it is usually possible to manage occasional bouts of diarrhea at home, anyone who is experiencing persistent diarrhea should see a doctor, as they may become dehydrated over time.

Woman standing in kitchen, preparing foods suitable for diarrheaShare on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

Diarrhea is a bowel movement that has a loose texture or is more liquid than solid. It is a common problem that may affect a person a couple of times each year. Diarrhea will usually resolve within a week or less.

People with chronic digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease, may experience diarrhea more regularly.

In addition to loose or runny stools, diarrhea is associated with other digestive symptoms, including:

  • cramps
  • abdominal bloating and pain
  • a bubbling sensation in the intestines
  • an urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever

A person’s diet is crucial if they are experiencing diarrhea. Some foods might help relieve the symptoms of diarrhea, whereas other foods can make them worse.

While recovering from diarrhea, a person should eat bland, simple foods that are easy to digest and will help absorb some water from the stool.

Bland foods

People with diarrhea should eat bland foods, as spicy or complex foods can irritate the bowels. Doctors often recommend the BRAT diet, which includes:

  • bananas
  • plain white rice
  • applesauce
  • bread or toast

Other suitable foods include:

  • boiled potatoes
  • unseasoned crackers
  • hot cereals, such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, or rice porridge

These foods may be especially helpful on the first day of dealing with diarrhea. Eating many small meals throughout the day rather than a few large ones can help keep the digestive system from becoming overworked.

Probiotics

Probiotic foods, such as yogurt and kefir, may help in some cases. Probiotics aid digestion by improving the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.

However, dairy products can irritate the digestive system because they are difficult to digest. Due to this, a person may wish to try nondairy sources of probiotics, such as fermented soy milk, fruits, and vegetables.

A person should talk with a doctor before using probiotics.

Liquids are also vital to recovery. People with diarrhea need to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and they should drink an additional cup of water after every loose bowel movement.

Drinking plenty of water helps prevent dehydration and flush any toxins out of the body.

As well as water, the body loses minerals and electrolytes through diarrhea. People should try to drink liquids containing minerals and electrolytes to replenish those lost. Sources of electrolytes and minerals include:

  • soup or broth
  • coconut water
  • electrolyte water
  • sports drinks

Many foods can aggravate the digestive system and make diarrhea worse. These include:

Spicy foods

Spicy ingredients can act as irritants in the digestive system. People dealing with diarrhea should stick to bland foods, as these pose the lowest risk of agitating the digestive system.

Fried foods

It is not advisable to eat foods high in fat or oil when recovering from diarrhea. Added fats and oils from frying can be difficult for the sensitive digestive system to process and will likely make symptoms worse.

A person can try eating boiled or steamed vegetables and lean proteins instead.

Sugary foods and artificial sweeteners

Sugars that pass into the colon may disrupt the already sensitive bacteria there, making diarrhea worse. These sugars will be present in fruit juices and high sugar fruits, as well as candy and sweet baked goods.

People with diarrhea should also avoid artificial sweeteners, some of which can have a laxative effect.

High fiber foods

It may also help to avoid too much fiber. Fiber helps keep the digestive system active. Usually, this is a good thing, but when the body is trying to recover from diarrhea, fiber may make the symptoms worse.

Insoluble fibers, which are the main culprit, are in various foods, including:

  • whole grains, such as wheat, rice, and barley
  • whole grain bread or baked goods
  • grain cereals
  • nuts and seeds

Soluble fibers, such as the pectin in apples and bananas, can actually help a person recover from diarrhea. However, a person should still try to limit their intake, at least for the first day of symptoms.

Other foods not to eat

Other foods that can irritate the bowels during diarrhea include:

  • most processed, packaged food
  • legumes, which include chickpeas, beans, peas, and lentils
  • foods that produce gas in the intestines, such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • fatty meats, including sardines, pork, and veal
  • dairy products
  • nuts
  • raw vegetables

Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soda, may overstimulate the digestive system and make the symptoms worse.

Carbonated drinks may also irritate or contribute to other symptoms, such as bloating and cramps. People should also avoid alcohol when dealing with diarrhea.

Although many sports drinks contain electrolytes that may help with dehydration, they often have added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Coconut water and electrolyte-enhanced water are good alternatives.

In addition to following a diet that will help relieve diarrhea, a person can try several other remedies to make a swift recovery.

Other diarrhea treatments include bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) and loperamide (Imodium). These drugs can help relieve occasional cases of diarrhea and may be helpful to have on hand in a medicine cupboard.

Pepto Bismol and Imodium are available for purchase over the counter (OTC) or online.

People with diarrhea should also ensure that they get enough rest, as putting the body under stress while dealing with diarrhea may prolong recovery.

As part of this, they should limit their physical activity, as strenuous exercise may increase the risk of dehydration.

Hydration is also vital when managing diarrhea, so people should drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Blood or mucus may appear in the stool in more serious cases of diarrhea, which can also involve fever. Anyone with these symptoms should speak with a doctor as soon as possible.

Untreated diarrhea can also lead to serious complications, including dehydration. A person with severe diarrhea may require hospitalization and intravenous electrolytes.

Anyone experiencing a fever higher than 102°F or severe abdominal pains should speak with a doctor.

Parents or caregivers should carefully monitor any children with diarrhea. If the symptoms do not clear up within 24 hours, they should call a doctor for guidance.

If a child shows any signs of dehydration, it is essential to seek immediate medical care. The signs include:

  • dry mouth
  • dry diaper for 3 hours or more
  • weight loss
  • crying without tears

It is important to make the doctor aware of any additional symptoms.

Many cases of diarrhea last only a few days and respond well to home treatments. Eating a simple diet, increasing fluid intake, and using OTC medications as necessary can help reduce the symptoms quickly.

In cases where the body does not respond to these treatments after a few days, a person should speak with a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Read this article in Spanish.