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What foods to eat and what foods to avoid when you have diarrhea

Eating bland, easy-to-digest foods and drinking electrolytes can relieve diarrhea

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Bowl of apple sauce.

Apple Sauce.

Brenda Stanley, Brenda Stanley

Eating bland, easy-to-digest foods and drinking electrolytes can relieve diarrhea. Foods like crackers, chicken broth and toast are excellent food options while suffering from symptoms of diarrhea.

Diarrhea is a common problem that typically lasts up to two days and goes away on its own, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. Selecting certain foods and avoiding others can improve symptoms and shorten its duration. If diarrhea lasts more than two days, talk to a doctor about treatment.

“You can often get rid of acute diarrhea through lifestyle changes you can make at home,” reports Cleveland Clinic. “Changing your diet can make a huge difference when it comes to getting relief.”

Here are the foods to eat and the foods to avoid while experiencing diarrhea.

BRAT diet

When suffering from diarrhea, the BRAT diet can be effective in the short-term while symptoms last. These foods are widely available and easy on the digestive system, per Forbes Health. The BRAT diet prioritizes foods with binding properties which can solidify stool and treat diarrhea.

BRAT stands for:

  • Bananas.
  • Rice.
  • Applesauce.
  • Toast.

While following the BRAT diet, you should avoid sugar, dairy, spicy food, fried food, caffeine and alcohol.

“In the short term, it’s kind of a means to an end,” family medicine specialist Sarah Beers told Cleveland Clinic. “But you’re not getting any great nutritional value from it and you’re not going to get everything that you need if you use it long term.”

When symptoms of diarrhea improve, begin incorporating nutritious foods back into your diet.

Bland foods

Beyond the BRAT diet, there are other bland, easy-to-digest foods that may alleviate diarrhea.

Some bland foods to eat when you have diarrhea include:

  • Saltine crackers.
  • Dry cereal.
  • Cooked cereal like oatmeal.
  • Boiled or baked potatoes.
  • Pretzels.
  • Plain pasta.
  • Clear broth.

These foods are high in soluble fiber, which absorbs liquid in the gut, firms up stool and slows digestion.

Probiotics

Probiotic foods — or “good” bacteria — may shorten the duration of diarrhea symptoms, according to a review from the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. Some probiotic foods include kombucha, kefir and kimchi.

“Probiotics aid digestion by improving the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut,” per Medical News Today. “However, dairy products can irritate the digestive system because the lactose present in these foods can be difficult to digest. Therefore, a person may wish to try nondairy sources of probiotics, such as fermented soy milk, fruits, and vegetables.”

Electrolyte drinks

When experiencing diarrhea, you can lose a significant amount of fluid and become dehydrated. Drinking fluids with electrolytes and minerals are vital to avoiding dehydration.

“Electrolyte drinks offer a bonus given the amount of sodium and sugar in the mixture. The sodium slows fluid loss and helps with fluid retention. The sugar, meanwhile, helps your body to absorb sodium,” per Cleveland Clinic.

Some liquids with electrolytes and minerals to drink include:

  • Gatorade or Powerade.
  • Soup or broth.
  • Coconut water.
  • Pedialyte.

Salty foods

Diarrhea can cause the body to lose a significant amount of sodium — an electrolyte that aids the body in managing fluid retention, per the Mayo Clinic. If the body loses too much sodium, you are at risk of worsening symptoms.

“We tend not to want people to have too much salt or sodium in general, but when you’re having significant diarrhea, you want to make sure you’re getting enough to stay out of the emergency room,” gastroenterologist and nutrition specialist Donald Kirby told Cleveland Clinic.

Try eating mild, salty foods like chicken broth, saltine crackers or pretzels as a source of sodium.

Foods to avoid when you have diarrhea

Some foods can irritate the digestive system and worsen symptoms of diarrhea. It may be advantageous to avoid these foods while you are experiencing symptoms.

According to Medical News Today, the following foods may worsen symptoms of diarrhea:

  • Spicy foods.
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners.
  • Highly processed foods.
  • Dairy products.
  • Fried foods.
  • Caffeinated beverages.
  • Raw vegetables.
  • Fatty meats.