What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea

To "have diarrhea" means you're having three or more watery stools per day. Your bowel movements aren't solid when you use the bathroom, and that can happen for several reasons.

While it's unpleasant and uncomfortable, diarrhea can usually be managed at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and easily digested foods.

This article looks at the specific foods that make up the diarrhea diet and how they can help you. It offers cooking and other tips for how to use the diet, and some side effects you may experience.

Bananas on toast, apple sauce and white rice

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

Benefits

If you have diarrhea and potentially related symptoms like nausea, stomach cramps, and bloating, a temporary switch to a limited diet may reduce stress on your digestive system. The diarrhea diet gives your bowels a chance to rest and helps to restore your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance.

Electrolytes are minerals in your body fluids, like sodium and potassium. They're important chemical messengers needed for heart beats, nerve signals, and other functions. The fluid loss in diarrhea may lead to electrolyte imbalance, which may cause serious medical issues.

Simple food choices decrease the amount of residue, or undigested waste, in your colon. The colon is the last part of your digestive tract before waste leaves the body, so less waste means fewer urgent bowel movements.

Foods that move slowly through your system give it more time to absorb nutrients you need to stay healthy, and they help to calm the diarrhea.

The diarrhea diet has a lot in common with the well-known BRAT diet, which is used for a variety of digestive concerns. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, and you’ll find these items and others on the list of approved diarrhea diet foods.

How It Works

The foods in the diarrhea diet are simple because the idea is to give your body the break it needs. The diet may seem hard to follow, but it helps to know that you only need to stick with it temporarily. On the other hand, adding foods back too quickly may make your symptoms worse and your diarrhea last longer.

You'll likely be making changes in how much fiber you eat each day. It's important to remember that fiber is still an important part of your diet. The task will be finding out how much fiber you can eat without making your symptoms worse.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and helps to lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels. It can help absorb water and reduce diarrhea symptoms. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water.

Duration

You will probably only need to stick to the diarrhea diet for a few days. That's a good thing, because these foods don’t offer enough variety for this eating plan to be healthy in the 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 shift back to your normal foods.

What to Eat

Choose These Foods
  • 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

Avoid These Foods
  • Dairy (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 a good source of potassium, an important electrolyte that can be lost when you have diarrhea, as well as a rich source of pectin, a soluble fiber.

If you have diarrhea, eating soluble fiber can help absorb liquid in the intestines while preventing constipation. Applesauce is a better choice than an apple, as the fruit's skin contains insoluble fiber that can put a strain on your digestive system.

Vegetables: Vegetables are nutritional powerhouses but can be hard to digest when eaten raw. Make them more diarrhea diet-friendly 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 can handle, so 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 often have added vitamins. As you recover, you may want to add oatmeal too. Oats are a source of soluble fiber, which can firm and thicken the stool to reduce diarrhea. If you usually flavor oatmeal with sugar, honey, syrup, or butter, you’ll want to avoid them until your diarrhea clears up.

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 (the sugars found in milk) 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 and don't contain any artificial sweeteners, which can make gas and diarrhea worse.

People are "lactose intolerant" when they cannot digest the sugars in milk and related dairy products very well. These foods may be harder to digest with diarrhea, even if you don't have a lactose problem.

Protein: Steamed white meat chicken is one of the most easily digested sources of animal protein. Lean, fat-free servings of turkey, beef, pork, and fish also are fine. 

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

Bone broth can help replace fluids and sodium lost from repeated bouts of diarrhea. While it can be used for homemade soups, some people use 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.

Avoid coffee and tea because 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 to settle their stomach.

Desserts: 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.

Avoid hard candy, chewing gum, and 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.

Recap

Foods used in the diarrhea diet are meant to reduce your trips to the bathroom. They offer key nutrients, add fiber to firm up your stool, and help to keep electrolytes in balance.


Use the recommended food list as a starting place and let your body be your guide.

Recommended Timing

If you’ve been vomiting, wait until you can keep solid food down 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 foods and start with small servings.

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 a gradual return to your regular way of eating.

Cooking Tips

Some types of food are generally hard to digest, but heating them changes their chemical makeup and makes it easier for your body to break them down.

If you’re following the diarrhea diet, one of the best ways to make fruits and veggies easier on your 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. Avoid cooking with butter, oils, or any spices and seasonings (other than a little salt). Steaming, baking, and broiling are good 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 a diarrhea-related illness is involved, it's important to keep in mind that kids and babies can become dehydrated more quickly than adults.

Most healthcare providers agree that if a child already eats foods included on the diarrhea diet as part of their regular diet, and they manage them well, they still 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, drinking fluids 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 healthcare provider 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 the 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 healthcare providers may suggest a probiotic supplement.

Considerations

Whenever you need to make changes 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 result in low levels of 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 healthcare provider and/or a nutritionist.

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. 

Safety

Following the diarrhea diet for a short period of time is generally safe as long as you’re able to stay hydrated. If you have another medical condition, it could become complicated by an sudden change in your diet. 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 healthcare provider. 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 healthcare provider or endocrinologist. Some people with diabetes develop a type of neuropathy that affects the intestines. The condition, called diabetic enteropathy, can cause diarrhea. (Note 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 healthcare provider. 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 antibiotics. (Unfortunately, diarrhea can also be a side effect of antibiotics.) Additional symptoms of SIBO include nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain, and gas.

Foodborne illness is a common cause of diarrhea. Whether you get produce at the store, your local farmer’s market, or from your own backyard garden, make sure you follow good food safety practices. You can reduce your risk by properly washing, storing, and preparing fresh produce.

Side Effects

If you’re eating a limited variety of foods in small quantities for a longer time, you’ll want to be aware of symptoms that suggest you're not getting enough nutrients.

For example, if you become anemic (low on red blood cells) 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 healthcare provider 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.

Recap

The diarrhea diet is meant to be used a short time until your symptoms resolve. Staying hydrated is a priority, and so is making sure that you're getting enough nutrients to avoid other issues.


In some cases, you may have an underlying illness like diabetes or a digestive disease. Talk to your healthcare provider if diarrhea happens frequently and doesn’t get better with the diarrhea diet.

Dietary Restrictions

If you follow a special diet due to a food allergy or prefer to avoid certain foods, you will need to consider that 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.

How It Compares to 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 before and after surgery. 

Low-Fiber Diet

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

If you limit your fiber intake to manage diarrhea, carefully consider which sources of fiber you choose to include in your diet. 

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 concerns for people on a low-residue diet is the limit on dairy products. You’ll have to restrict your intake to 2 cups of dairy per day. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt don’t add fiber, but they do leave undigested material behind in the colon. 

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

Low-FODMAP Diet

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

The small intestine doesn’t absorb short-chain carbohydrates very well. If you’re lactose intolerant, you’re already familiar with related symptoms. Some people find that 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.

Summary

You'll be able to manage a bout of diarrhea on your own in most cases, but that means changing what you eat and drink for a few days. The diarrhea diet will help you to recover by choosing foods that are gentle on your system while still providing key nutrients and fluids.

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, then easily digested foods will be a comfort. But once you start feeling better, you may be eager to resume eating as usual. Pace yourself so the diarrhea doesn't return, and you'll get back to life (and your favorite tasty foods) a lot faster.

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