Luckily, there are many foods to eat that may help a person reduce the symptoms of diarrhea. There are also some foods to avoid when dealing with a bout of diarrhea, and some additional home care tips to consider.
Anyone who is experiencing persistent diarrhea should see a doctor, as a person may become dehydrated over time.
What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a bowel movement that is more liquid than solid or has a loose texture. It is a common problem and may occur a couple of times each year. Diarrhea will usually last no more than 3 days.
Soft, bland foods, such as toast, will help to absorb excess water and ease the symptoms of diarrhea.
In addition to loose or runny stools, diarrhea is also associated with other digestive symptoms, including:
- abdominal bloating and pain
- a bubbly feeling in the intestines
- an urgent need to have a bowel movement
A person's diet is crucial if they are experiencing diarrhea. Some foods might help relieve symptoms of diarrhea while eating other foods can make diarrhea worse.
Foods to eat
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.
People with diarrhea should eat bland foods, as spicy or complex foods can irritate the bowels. Bland foods that may help with diarrhea include:
- hot cereals, such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, or rice porridge
- plain white rice
- bread or toast
- boiled potatoes
- unseasoned crackers
These foods may be especially helpful on the first day of dealing with diarrhea. Eating many small meals throughout the day can help keep the digestive system from becoming overworked.
Probiotic foods, such as yogurt and kefir, may help in some cases, but in others, probiotics may irritate the digestive system even more.
Probiotics aid digestion by improving the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. However, dairy products can irritate the digestive system, so a person may wish to try non-dairy sources of probiotics, such as miso or sauerkraut.
What to drink
Liquids are also vital to recovery. People with diarrhea must drink plenty of water throughout the day and 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.
Soup broth will help to replace minerals and electrolytes lost because of diarrhea.
However, as well as water, the body also 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 broth
- coconut water
- electrolyte water
- sports drinks
Foods to avoid
Many foods can aggravate the digestive system and make diarrhea worse. These include:
Spicy ingredients can act as irritants in the digestive system. This is why people dealing with diarrhea should stick to bland foods, as they pose the least risk of agitating the digestive system.
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 steam 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. This includes fruit juices and high-sugar fruits.
People with diarrhea should also avoid artificial sweeteners, as some 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 symptoms worse.
Insoluble fibers are the main culprit and can be found in foods such as:
- 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 found in apples and bananas, can actually help a person recover from diarrhea, but 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:
- onion and garlic
- most processed, packaged food
- raw vegetables
- foods that produce gas in the intestines, such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower
- citrus fruits
- fatty meats, including sardines, pork, and veal
- dairy products
What not to drink
Carbonated or fizzy drinks should be avoided, as they can irritate the digestive system and make the symptoms of diarrhea worse.
Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soda, may overstimulate the digestive system and make symptoms worse.
Carbonated drinks may also irritate or contribute to other symptoms, such as bloating and cramps. People should also avoid alcohol while dealing with diarrhea.
While many sports drinks contain electrolytes that may help with dehydration, they often contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Coconut water or electrolyte-enhanced water are good alternatives.
Home care and treatment
In addition to following a diet that will help relieve diarrhea, there are several other steps a person can take to make a swift recovery.
Over-the-counter diarrhea treatments include bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) and Ioperamide (Imodium). These drugs can help relieve occasional cases of diarrhea and may be helpful to have on hand in a medicine cupboard.
People with diarrhea should also ensure they get enough rest, as putting the body in stressful situations while dealing with diarrhea may make matters worse. Physical activity may put the body at a greater risk of dehydration and should be limited.
When to see a doctor
Blood or mucus may appear in the stool in more serious cases of diarrhea. This is often accompanied by a fever and requires a visit to the 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 of higher than 102°F or severe abdominal pains should visit a doctor.
Parents or guardians should carefully monitor any children with diarrhea. If symptoms do not clear up with 24 hours, they should call the doctor for guidance.
If a child shows any signs of dehydration, seek immediate medical care. Signs include:
- dry mouth
- dry diaper for longer than 3 hours
- weight loss
- crying without tears
Any additional symptoms should be reported to a doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
Many cases of diarrhea last only a few days and respond well to home treatments. Eating a simple diet, increasing fluid intake, and using over-the-counter medications as necessary can help reduce symptoms quickly.
In cases where the body does not respond to these treatments after 2 or 3 days, a person should visit their doctor for diagnosis and treatment.