What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea

In This Article

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Diarrhea, or having more than three loose or watery stools per day, can happen for a variety of reasons. While it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, diarrhea can usually be managed at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and the easily digested foods of a diarrhea diet.

Benefits

Temporarily following a limited diet of easily digested food doesn't put much stress on your digestive system. If you have diarrhea and other symptoms like nausea, abdominal cramping, and bloating, you'll feel better if you avoid foods that require your gastrointestinal tract to work hard. The diet also encourages you to restore your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance.

The diarrhea diet has a lot in common with the well-known BRAT diet. BRAT is an acronym for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. You’ll find these items along with others on the list of approved diarrhea diet foods.

Refined carbohydrates in white bread and white rice are easy for your digestive system to break down, meaning your intestines don’t have to contract as much.

Applesauce provides some of an apple's nutrition without the fiber found in the fruit’s tough-to-digest skin. Bananas are soft, mild in flavor, and an excellent source of potassium—an important nutrient that can be lost when you have diarrhea. 

How It Works

Sticking to foods that move through your intestines slowly and don't need much digestion gives your bowel a chance to rest. Food like plain white bread or toast, white rice, and bananas are good choices to start with.

Simple food choices also decrease the amount of waste or residue in your colon, meaning you’ll have fewer and less frequent bowel movements. The slower transit time reduces diarrhea and helps your body stay nourished. When food is moving through your digestive tract too quickly, it’s harder for your intestines to pull out all the nutrients.

Duration

The list of food recommended for the diarrhea diet doesn’t supply enough nutritional variety to be considered a healthy long-term plan.

You will probably only need to stick to the diarrhea diet for a few days. As you begin to feel better, you can start easing back into a well-rounded diet of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. You may need a week to 14 days to fully transition back to your normal diet.

What to Eat

Here’s a list of some of the best foods to eat when you have diarrhea, as well as some you should avoid until you’re feeling better. 

Use these recommendations as a starting place and let your body be your guide.

Compliant Food

  • White Bread or Toast

  • Broth

  • Coconut Water

  • Plain Pasta

  • White Potato (peeled)

  • Bananas

  • White Rice

  • Canned Pears

  • Cream of Wheat/Rice

  • Applesauce

  • Eggs (soft-cooked)

  • Low-Fat Yogurt

  • Skinless Chicken Breast

  • Saltines/Soda Crackers

  • Decaffeinated Tea (weakly brewed)

  • Pretzels

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Dairy Products (except yogurt)

  • Fried, Fatty, or Spicy Meat

  • Whole Grains

  • Nuts and Seeds

  • Beans and Legumes

  • Raw Vegetables

  • Corn

  • Onion and Garlic

  • Potato Chips

  • Sugar-Free Candy or Gum

  • Cabbage and Broccoli

  • Dried Fruit

  • Nut Butters

  • Carbonated Drinks

  • Coffee

  • Citrus Fruit and Juice

  • Alcohol

Fruit: Bananas are bland and easily digested, making them a good choice for settling an upset digestive system. The high level of potassium in bananas helps replace electrolytes. Bananas are also rich in pectin, a soluble fiber that absorbs liquid in the intestines and helps slow diarrhea as well as prevent constipation

Vegetables: Vegetables are nutritional powerhouses but can be hard to digest when eaten raw. Make them into a more diarrhea diet-friendly option through peeling, removing seeds, and cooking.

Carrots, green beans, beets, acorn squash, and peeled zucchini are easy to steam, even in the microwave. The skin of a baked potato is nutritious, but it’s full of fiber which can be hard to digest. Stick to peeled, plain, boiled potatoes instead.

You can add a little salt to your cooked veggies, but skip the butter, margarine, sour cream, or gravy. Fat and oil can upset a sensitive digestive system. 

Avoid broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, peas, green leafy vegetables, and corn, as they tend to cause gas.

Grains: Hot cereals like Cream of Wheat or rice are easy to digest and fortified with nutrition. As you recover, you may want to add oatmeal as well. Oats have soluble fiber which acts as a bulking agent for stool. If you usually flavor oatmeal with sugar, honey, syrup, or dairy products, you’ll want to avoid these sugary additions if you have diarrhea. Try adding sliced banana instead to add extra potassium.

Whole wheat is generally the healthier toast option, but white bread has very little fiber, making it easier to digest if you have an upset stomach.

Saltines and pretzels are often made with white flour rather than wheat. Plus, they also contain salt. Not only are these snacks comforting to your stomach, but they can also help restore your body’s sodium balance.

Plain white rice is easily digested and binding, which means it helps firm up loose stools. Cook it plain or with chicken broth. Pasta noodles made from white flour without any sauce or butter is another option. Avoid any spicy, fatty, oily, or dairy-based sauces.

Dairy: Avoid dairy products until your diarrhea improves. Even if you normally tolerate lactose, it can be more difficult to digest when you have diarrhea.

The one exception is a small serving of low-fat yogurt with live or active bacterial cultures. Choose brands that are low in sugar without any artificial sweeteners, which can worsen gas and loose stools. 

Protein: Chicken broth can help replace fluids and sodium lost from repeated bouts of diarrhea. A warm, nutritious drink is also soothing for a sore stomach.

Steamed white meat chicken is one of the most easily digested sources of animal protein. Lean cuts of turkey, beef, pork, and fish are also acceptable. 

While perhaps not the tastiest option, you’ll want to keep things simple and bland. Avoid cooking with butter, oils, or any spices and seasonings (other than a little salt). 

Steaming, baking, and broiling are good options for cooking meat on the diarrhea diet. Basting meat with chicken broth can improve the taste and help prevent it from getting dry and tough. 

Beverages: It’s important that you replace the fluids and electrolytes by drinking plenty of water. Coconut water is another hydrating choice. Electrolyte-replacement sports drinks may be an option, though they can be high in added sugar.

Coffee and tea should be avoided as they can stimulate bowel contractions. You'll also want to skip alcoholic beverages including wine, beer, and cocktails until your diarrhea gets better.

Carbonated beverages like seltzer water and soda may cause gas and bloating, although some people find sipping on flat ginger ale helps settle their stomach.

Desserts: Avoid hard candy, chewing gum, or beverages that contain sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, xylitol, or erythritol, as they can have a mild laxative effect. 

While ice cream and pudding are soft foods, they’re usually high in sugar and made with milk—both of which can put a lot of demand on a sensitive digestive tract.

Ice pops are a cool treat that can help prevent dehydration. Brands like Pedialyte make freezer pops or you can make your own.

Recommended Timing

If you’ve also been vomiting, wait until you can tolerate solid food before starting the diarrhea diet. Try warm broth or sips of water first and see how you feel.

Depending on the cause of diarrhea, you may want to stick to clear liquids for a few hours to a full day. Once you feel like eating, choose bland food and start with small portions. Give your stomach time to rest between light meals and snacks. If you are still feeling nauseated or get full quickly, try eating and drinking at separate times. 

Following a restricted diet for a day or two and gradually resuming your typical food choices can ease your symptoms and gives your body the chance to recover. 

Cooking Tips

While some types of food are generally hard to digest, heating them up changes the chemical structure and makes them easier for your body to break down.

If you’re following the diarrhea diet, one of the easiest ways to make fruits and veggies easier on your digestive system is to cook them. Try steaming, boiling, or microwaving fresh vegetables. You can bake or warm up peeled apples to make your own stovetop applesauce.

Temperature extremes may hurt rather than help diarrhea. Drinking very hot or very cold beverages can stimulate bowel movements. Instead, stick to room temperature drinks until your symptoms improve.

Modifications 

Recommendations for a diarrhea diet are different for adults and kids. However, doctors generally agree that if a child already eats foods included on the diarrhea diet as part of their regular diet, and they tolerate them, they can eat them when they have diarrhea. Choosing from a limited range of foods and drinks when you're sick is better than eating nothing at all.

The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends parents limit a child to the BRAT diet when they have diarrhea.

If you have another medical condition that’s directly affected by your diet (such as diabetes) you'll need to pay extra attention to what you eat. Your doctor may want you to add special nutritional supplements, like Glucerna, to make sure your blood sugar remains stable.

If you have diabetes and get diarrhea frequently, talk to your primary care doctor or diabetes doctor (endocrinologist). Some people with diabetes develop a type of neuropathy that affects the intestines. The condition, called diabetic enteropathy, can cause diarrhea.

Several of the most common medications used to treat diabetes, such as Metformin, list diarrhea as a side effect, though it typically improves with time.

If you are pregnant or nursing, it’s especially important that you stay hydrated and get as much nutrition as you can. Changes in your body and your diet can cause occasional bouts of diarrhea during pregnancy. However, if it happens frequently and doesn’t respond to a bland diet, talk to your doctor.

Diarrhea is not a typical symptom of “morning sickness” and may indicate a more serious condition, such as a bacterial infection. Toward the end of pregnancy, diarrhea can even be an early sign of labor

Depending on the cause of diarrhea, over-the-counter medications can help. For example, if you’re experiencing “traveler’s diarrhea” while on vacation, anti-diarrheal drugs like Immodium can be used to control symptoms.

If you have diarrhea from a bacterial infection or condition like Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) you may need antibiotics. Unfortunately, diarrhea can also be a side effect of antibiotics.

There are some medications or supplements you can combine with diet. People who are lactose-intolerant may take enzymes like Lactaid when eating foods that contain dairy. If you experience diarrhea frequently due to a condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), your doctor may suggest a probiotic supplement.

Considerations

Whenever you need to make adjustments to your diet, even if only temporarily, it’s important to consider how it will impact your life. You'll want to think about how your work or school routine, responsibilities at home with your family, and other medical conditions could affect your ability to stick to a particular diet.

General Nutrition

Being on a limited diet for even a short period of time can put you at risk for deficiencies in essential nutrients. A restricted diet also makes it harder to eat enough calories each day and drink enough fluid to stay hydrated. 

The diarrhea diet is only meant to be followed for a few days while you recover. It's not designed to be a way for you to eat long term.

If you need to use the diarrhea diet often due to a medical condition, make sure to work closely with your doctor. You may need supplemental nutrition or fluids to ensure you stay properly nourished and hydrated. 

Sustainability and Practicality

If you aren’t feeling up to peeling and cooking fruits and veggies, you can usually find pre-cut, pre-cooked, or pre-peeled varieties at the store. You can also look for produce that’s already been pureed or frozen, which can be quickly microwaved. 

Whether you get produce at the store, your local farmer’s market, or pick it from your very own backyard garden, make sure you practice proper food safety handling. Foodborne illness is a common cause of diarrhea, but you can reduce your risk by properly washing, storing, and preparing fresh produce

Safety

Following the diarrhea diet for a short period of time is generally safe as long as you’re able to stay hydrated and you don’t have another medical condition, such as diabetes, which could become complicated by an abrupt change in your diet.  

Having diarrhea causes your body to lose a lot of water. While you may not feel up to guzzling down glass after glass, be sure to sip on water or another approved beverage as frequently as you can.

Preventing dehydration is especially important to your wellbeing when you are following the diarrhea diet. Babies, young children, and the elderly are especially at risk of dehydration from diarrhea.

If the balance of fluid and salts (or electrolytes) in your body is off, not only will you continue to feel unwell, but it can lead to potentially serious complications

If you aren't feeling any better after a couple of days of following the diarrhea diet, call your doctor. If you can’t drink enough fluid, get a high fever, see blood in your stool, or are experiencing severe pain, go to the emergency room. 

Flexibility

While you may decide to stay home from work or school for a few days while you're sick, most of the foods approved for the diarrhea diet are fairly easy to prepare and take with you if you do need to leave the house.

A cup of broth can be kept warm in a thermos and Saltines or pretzels are easy to toss in your bag. A small container of applesauce paired with a serving of plain noodles and skinless chicken breast can be kept cool in an insulated lunchbox.

Dietary Restrictions

If you follow a special diet due to a food allergy or prefer to avoid certain foods, you will need to consider them when looking for diarrhea-diet approved options.

For example, if you usually buy gluten-free wheat bread, most brands also offer a version that is in the style of soft white bread.

If you’re looking for gluten-free pasta, pay close attention to the ingredients. Many alternatives to traditional noodles are made from beans and lentils. Likewise, if you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, you'll want to avoid most plant-based protein sources including nuts, legumes, and beans that can make diarrhea worse.

Support and Community

Having diarrhea and being on a limited diet for even a couple of days can leave you feeling rundown and fatigued. While it is important that you get plenty of rest, you also need to keep eating and drinking as you recover.

If you don’t feel up to going to the grocery store or cooking, ask a friend or family member to help. Even having someone make you a cup of tea can make a world of difference when you aren’t feeling well. 

If you experience chronic diarrhea as a result of a medical condition such as IBD, you may want to reach out to other patients who have “been there” and can support you. If you aren’t sure where to reach out, start by asking your doctor if there are any local support groups. You can also research online and social media to find patient support networks and message boards. 

Cost

Many of the foods and beverages you’re allowed to have on the diarrhea diet are readily available at the grocery store. In a pinch, stomach-settling snacks such as Saltines and pretzels are even available at most gas stations. 

Boxed white flour pasta, canned goods, and ice pops are inexpensive, especially if you buy them in bulk. Since they’ll keep for a long time in your pantry, stock up so you’ll have some on hand if you or someone in your home gets sick. 

Side Effects

If you’re eating a limited variety of food in small quantities for an extended period of time, you’ll want to be aware of symptoms that could indicate a nutritional deficiency. 

For example, if you become anemic from a lack of iron, you may feel especially fatigued and short of breath. A severe lack of Vitamin C can lead to scurvy, which can cause gum bleeding and skin rashes. 

Most of the foods approved for the diarrhea diet are meant to slow digestion and reduce diarrhea, but that can also lead to constipation. The best thing you can do is be sure to drink plenty of water. Taking a fiber supplement to restore digestive balance may also help.

Energy and General Health

At first, you may not mind being on a limited diet because you don’t feel well. If you’re tired and nauseated, bland, easy, food will be a comfort. Once you start feeling better, you may be eager to resume your normal diet.

You’ll want to pace yourself, though. Avoid eating too much too fast or adding back complex foods with lots of flavors and ingredients (like pizza) before you’ve given your digestion a chance to heal. 

Your appetite might come back and you may start feeling bored with your restricted list of foods, but resuming a normal diet too soon can cause diarrhea to return as well as other digestive discomforts. 

Diarrhea Diet vs. Other Diets

The recommendations for diet while recovering from a brief diarrheal illness overlap with other diets that can be used to treat chronic bowel conditions or help people prepare or recover from surgery. 

Low-Fiber Diet

For adults eating 2,000 calories a day, the daily recommended intake for fiber is at least 28 grams. On a low-fiber diet, you restrict your intake to around 10-15 grams of fiber per day. 

Fiber is still an important part of your diet, even if you need to cut back on how much you eat. You don’t necessarily need to eat a high-fiber diet for optimum health, but keep in mind that a low-fiber diet isn’t a no-fiber diet. 

If you are limiting your fiber intake to manage diarrhea you’ll need to carefully consider which sources of fiber you choose to include in your diet. 

For instance, whole nuts are high-fat and difficult to digest, but a spoonful of peanut butter is a quick source of calories and protein that also adds fiber.

Low-Residue Diet

A low-residue diet is similar to a low-fiber diet but with additional limitations. It's usually prescribed temporarily when you are preparing for or recovering from a procedure such as a colonoscopy.

One of the main differences between a low-fiber and low-residue diet is the restriction on dairy products.

On a low-residue diet, you’ll have to restrict your dairy intake to 2 cups of dairy per day. Unless you are also lactose intolerant, you don't have to limit dairy on a low-fiber diet. Even though they don’t contribute plant fiber, dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt do leave undigested material behind in the colon. 

You may find dairy makes digestive symptoms worse and choose to avoid them while following the diarrhea diet.

Low-FODMAP Diet

FODMAP is an acronym for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” These carbohydrate chains are present in many foods, but especially grains, beans, and legumes.  

The small intestine doesn’t absorb small-chain carbohydrates very well. If you’re lactose intolerant, you’re already familiar with the symptoms of not being able to digest one of these carbohydrates very well. 

Some people find foods high in FODMAPs tend to trigger or worsen digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, and bloating. 

A low-FODMAP diet is similar to other low-fiber diets, such as the BRAT diet and a low-residue diet, but isn’t as limited. High-fiber foods are avoided on a low-FODMAP diet, but unless you are lactose intolerant, you won’t have to restrict dairy products. 

You may find low-FODMAP foods appealing as you transition from the diarrhea diet back to your normal diet.

A Word From Verywell 

Even an occasional bout of diarrhea isn’t pleasant, but most cases can be treated safely at home. Following the diarrhea diet can help ease your symptoms and give your digestive tract a chance to rest and heal. While you can follow a bland diet for a day or two as you recover, the restricted food list lacks nutrition and is not meant to be used long term. If your diarrhea doesn't start getting better after a few days, call your doctor.

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