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 that make up the diarrhea diet.

Benefits

If you have diarrhea and other symptoms like nausea, abdominal cramping, and bloating, temporarily following a limited diet of easily digested foods reduces stress on your digestive system and gives your bowels a chance to rest, so you can recover. The diarrhea diet also encourages you to restore your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance.

Simple food choices 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.)

The diarrhea diet has a lot in common with the well-known BRAT diet, which is used for a variety of gastrointestinal concerns. 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.

How It Works

The foods in the diarrhea diet are simple. The idea, again, is to give your body the break it needs. It may help to remember that you only need to follow the diet temporarily—and that diverting from the eating plan will likely only worsen and/or prolong your symptoms.

One area you'll likely be making changes is how much fiber you eat each day. It's important to remember that, though the diarrhea diet involves cutting back on fiber, it is still an important part of your diet. The task will be finding the right amount of fiber for optimum health without making your symptoms worse.

Duration

You will probably only need to stick to the diarrhea diet for a few days—a good thing, especially since compliant foods don’t supply enough nutritional variety for this eating plan to be considered healthy long term.

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

Compliant Food

  • White bread or toast

  • Broth

  • Coconut water

  • Plain pasta

  • White potato (peeled)

  • Bananas

  • White rice

  • Canned pears

  • Farina

  • Applesauce

  • Eggs (soft-cooked)

  • Low-fat yogurt

  • Chicken breast (skinless)

  • 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. They are also an excellent source of potassium, an important electrolyte that can be lost when you have diarrhea, as well as a rich source pectin, a soluble fiber. If you have diarrhea, eating soluble can help absorb liquid in the intestines while prevening constipation

Applesauce is a better choice than an apple, as the fruit's skin contains insoluble fiber that can put strain on your digestive system.

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

The skin of a baked potato is nutritious, but it may contain more fiber than your system is up for handling. While you're still having diarrhea, stick to peeled, plain potatoes instead.

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

Grains: Hot cereals like farina are easy to digest and fortified with nutrition. As you recover, you may want to add oatmeal as well. Oats are another source of soluble fiber. As a bulking agent for stool, it can help reduce diarrhea. If you usually flavor oatmeal with sugar, honey, syrup, or dairy products, you’ll want to avoid these additions if you have diarrhea.

Whole wheat is generally the healthier toast option, but white bread may be better, since it's easier to digest.

Saltines and pretzels are often made with white flour rather than wheat. Plus, they also contain salt, which can 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 are another option.

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: 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. 

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.

Chicken broth can help replace fluids and sodium lost from repeated bouts of diarrhea. While it can be used for homemade soups, some consume it on its own as a warm drink.

Drinking very hot or very cold beverages can stimulate bowel movements. Stick to room temperature drinks until your symptoms improve.

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, which should be avoided.

Ice pops are a cool treat that can help prevent dehydration. Brands like Pedialyte make freezer pops that offer added nutrition, or you can buy or make regular ones.

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

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.

If you're feeling better after a few days, you can try gradually resuming your regular way of eating.

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; carrots, green beans, beets, acorn squash, and peeled zucchini are easy to steam, even in the microwave. You can also boil your favorites.

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. 

When it comes to meat, 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 preparation options. Basting meat with chicken broth can improve the taste and help prevent it from getting dry and tough. 

Modifications 

Recommendations for a diarrhea diet are different for adults and kids. Children have different nutritional requirements in general, but when diarrheal illness is involved, it's important to keep in mind that kids and babies can become dehydrated more quickly than adults.

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. When it comes to preventing dehydration, fluid intake will be more of a priority.

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.

There are some medications or supplements you can combine with diarrhea 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. Diarrhea usually isn't a long-term issue, but it can present some day-to-day challenges while you're dealing with it.

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.

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

Sustainability and Practicality

Prepping food for the diarrhea diet can take work. 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. 

Foodborne illness is a common cause of diarrhea. 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. 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 that could become complicated by an abrupt change in your diet.  

When You Need to See a Doctor

While following the diet as recommended doesn't pose any safety concerns, doing so without seeking medical attention when you might need it can.

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.

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

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

If you have diarrhea from a bacterial infection or condition like small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), you may need to be prescribed antibiotics. (Unfortunately, diarrhea can also be a side effect of antibiotics.) Additional symptoms include nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain, and flatulence.

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, which can make diarrhea worse.

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. If your constipation isn't getting better, your doctor might suggest you try a fiber supplement to get things moving again.

Energy and General Health

Having diarrhea causes your body to lose a lot of water, and 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.

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.

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

Diarrhea Diet vs. Other Diets

The diet recommendations for recovering from a brief bout of diarrhea overlap with those of 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 (g). On a low-fiber diet, you restrict your intake to around 10 to 15 g of fiber per day. 

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 diarrhea 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 considerations if you're on a low-residue diet is the restriction on dairy products. You’ll have to restrict your dairy intake to 2 cups of dairy per day. Even though they don’t contribute 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 as well.

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 related symptoms.

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 

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. But once you start feeling better, you may be eager to resume eating as usual. Pace yourself. Avoid eating too much too fast or adding back foods with lots of flavors and ingredients (like pizza) before you’ve given your digestion a chance to fully heal. While that may satisfy your appetite, it can cause diarrhea to return, as well as other digestive discomforts.

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