Most people will experience an upset stomach at some time in their life. There are many potential causes of an upset stomach.
Short-term, or acute, causes of an upset stomach include food poisoning and viral gastroenteritis. The symptoms of acute stomach upset typically involve nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Longer-term, or chronic, causes of stomach upset may include irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, gas, or bloating.
Some foods can worsen symptoms of an upset stomach, while others can help alleviate them. Read on to find out what to eat and what to avoid when experiencing an upset stomach.
Below are some foods and liquids that could help to settle an upset stomach, or prevent further complications.
Doctors sometimes recommend short-term clear liquid diets to help settle an upset stomach.
Below are some fluids that can help replenish water and electrolytes without causing further upset to the stomach:
- plain water
- clear broths
- diluted fruit juice or squash
- popsicles made from frozen diluted fruit juice
- electrolyte drinks
- weak tea without milk
- herbal teas
Drinking enough liquids is also essential for someone who has constipation. Fluids help to soften stools, allowing them to pass more easily through the bowels. This helps keep bowel movements regular.
If a person is unable to eat or keep food down, they may be able to tolerate a simple vegetable or bone broth.
Bone broth contains the amino acid glutamine. A 2017 study notes that glutamine plays a role in maintaining the intestinal barrier (IB). The IB helps to protect the body from harmful pathogens and toxins. It also helps a person to absorb water and nutrients from their food.
According to an older review from 2009, IB dysfunction is a major contributory factor to the following inflammatory diseases:
- regulate a person’s immune response, thereby controlling inflammation
- protect the lining of the gut from damage
- improve the gut microbiome, which is the term for the trillions of microorganisms that live inside the digestive tract
Stewed apples or applesauce are easier to digest than the whole fruit.
Bananas make up part of the “BRAT” diet, which some people recommend for an upset stomach with diarrhea. The acronym “BRAT” stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These bland foods are gentle on the stomach, so they might help prevent further stomach upset.
Ginger can help combat feelings of nausea. A person can make ginger tea by slicing or grating fresh ginger and adding hot water. Sipping the mixture may help to settle an upset stomach.
Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties that could help alleviate IBDs.
A 2019 study investigated the effects of daily ginger supplements on participants with ulcerative colitis, which is a form of IBD. Over 12 weeks, participants with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis received either 2 grams (g) of a ginger supplement per day or a placebo.
Participants who had taken the ginger supplements showed reduced disease activity and increased quality of life, compared with those who took the placebo.
However, the authors note that scientists need to conduct further clinical trials using different dosages and durations of ginger supplementation to confirm the findings.
Linseed for constipation
People who have constipation can try taking linseed oil while increasing their fluid intake. This combination should encourage soft, bulky stools that help keep a person regular.
A person can try sprinkling linseed on their breakfast cereal or adding the seeds to a smoothie.
Try to drink plenty of water while taking linseed, otherwise, stools may become bulky and hard. This might make constipation worse.
Probiotics offer health benefits for the digestive system and the immune system. People can take probiotic supplements or eat foods that are naturally rich in probiotics.
A person may want to consume probiotic foods if they have just finished a course of antibiotics, or as an add-on treatment for chronic digestive issues.
Probiotic-rich foods may not suit people who are experiencing an upset stomach with bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. However, after recovering from these issues, a person may want to consume probiotics to replenish their beneficial gut bacteria
Probiotic-rich foods include:
- natural, unsweetened yogurt
Below are some foods to avoid while experiencing or recovering from an upset stomach.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water and becomes slimy or gel-like when wet. Insoluble fiber does not absorb much water, so it does not change consistency much when wet.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, soluble fiber can benefit diarrhea and constipation. When consumed with plenty of water, it helps to form soft, bulky stools. People who have constipation may also benefit from adding some insoluble fiber to their diet.
However, adding insoluble fiber can worsen diarrhea because it speeds up the movement of food through the intestines.
It may also worsen symptoms in people with chronic digestive issues. A person who has chronic digestive issues should talk to their doctor or nutritionist before increasing the amount of insoluble fiber in the diet.
Some food sources of soluble fiber include:
Some food sources of insoluble fiber include:
- wheat bran
- whole grains
High FODMAP foods
The acronym FODMAP stands for ‘fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.’ FODMAPS are short chain carbohydrates that the intestines do not absorb properly. Foods that are high in FODMAPS can trigger symptoms such as:
Some examples of high FODMAP foods to avoid include:
- Certain vegetables, including:
- pickled vegetables
- certain fruits, including
- ripe bananas
- Certain meat products, such as:
- products containing wheat
- bran cereals
- dairy foods
- soy milk
Dairy contains the milk sugar lactose. Some people are lactose intolerant, meaning they are unable to digest lactose. They may experience the following symptoms shortly after consuming dairy products:
- stomach rumbling
- stomach pain and cramping
People who are lactose intolerant should avoid consuming dairy products, such as:
Lactose-free dairy products are available in most supermarkets and are suitable for people with lactose intolerance.
Fatty and fried foods
People who are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea should avoid fatty and fried foods. These are difficult to digest and can worsen stomach upset.
Examples of fatty or greasy foods to avoid include:
- fast foods
- high fat meats
- high fat cheeses, including cream cheeses
- whole milk, or milk that is 2% fat
- sour cream
- foods with added butter, margarine, or oil
High-sugar foods and drinks
Consumption of high-sugar foods can lead to a condition called dumping syndrome, or rapid gastric emptying. This is where the stomach rapidly empties its contents into the duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine.
A person who has dumping syndrome may develop watery diarrhea. They may also feel the effects of low blood sugar within 30 minutes to 2 hours of eating high sugar foods.
Examples of sugary foods and drinks to avoid include:
- ice cream
- chocolate milk
- sugary sodas
- sports drinks
- fruit juices
- most flavored yogurts
A person who has an upset stomach may find it difficult to eat anything at all. However, they must drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Bland foods without strong tastes or odors may help satisfy hunger without further upsetting the stomach. Some of these foods may also help replace electrolytes lost through vomiting or diarrhea.
Certain foods can further aggravate an upset stomach or an underlying digestive condition. Examples include insoluble fiber, fried or fatty foods, and high sugar foods.
A person should see a doctor if they experience persistent or worsening symptoms of an upset stomach. A doctor will work to diagnose the cause and provide appropriate treatments.