Anyone who suffers from diarrhea is faced with the question of what to eat and drink at best so that the intestines are not additionally burdened. Because consuming the wrong foods in this situation can not only worsen intestinal activity and thus your own well-being, but also deprive the body of essential nutrients that it needs in this situation. Which foods are therefore suitable for counteracting diarrhea and which should you avoid?
In this article we will give you answers to both questions so that you know exactly what should be on your menu now. So that you can be spared future diarrheal diseases, we will also explain possible causes, when you should seek medical advice and what needs to be explicitly observed with certain groups of people such as children or seniors.
the essentials in brief
- Diarrhea is a symptom whose origin needs to be found out. The origins are diverse and range from an infection to intolerance, after which diarrhea can occur acutely or chronically. If in doubt, medical advice should always be sought.
- In order to relieve the burden on the intestines, the diet should be switched to gentle, easily digestible food during a period of diarrhea. High-fiber or high-fat foods should be avoided, as well as processed or sugary foods.
Those who suffer from diarrhea lose more fluid than usual. Increasing the amount you drink and, if necessary, enriching it with electrolytes is advisable, because the body is deprived of important nutrients such as sodium or potassium. Especially with children and older people, who usually do not have an overview of their required drinking intake, this should be checked.
Definition: What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea, also known as diarrhea, refers to bowel movements of a mushy to liquid consistency that take place at least three times a day. Consistency is crucial here, because just because you have a bowel movement several times a day does not automatically mean diarrhea. In the case of the latter, a distinction must be made between acute and chronic diarrhea.
Consistency combined with frequency of bowel movements is key.
Acute diarrhea lasts three to four weeks, while chronic diarrhea lasts longer. Although diarrhea is usually an accompanying reaction and thus a clear signal from the body that something is wrong in the gastrointestinal tract, it is an unpleasant side effect that can severely affect the patient and should therefore not be underestimated (1).
Background: What you should know about diarrhea
Before we inform you about what you should eat and drink when you have diarrhea and what you prefer to keep your hands off, we want to show you possible causes of diarrhea. Since diarrhea, as mentioned above, is a symptom of the body, it is not always clear to those affected where the cause comes from.
What causes diarrhea?
Diet has an immense influence on the function of our intestines, which is why spoiled or unfamiliar foods can have a direct, noticeable effect. However, intolerances such as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, fructose, lactose or histamine intolerance can also result in diarrhea as a possible symptom.
Other factors that can trigger diarrhea are stress , both physical and psychological, a viral infection such as rotavirus or norovirus, or poisoning of the body. Salmonella, which can be ingested through foods such as raw meat, is also a possible cause.
Taking medication, especially antibiotics, as well as incorrectly used laxatives or drugs that lower blood pressure can also promote diarrhea. While these are usually triggers for acute diarrhea, diseases such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome are often associated with chronic diarrhea (4).
What can I do against acute diarrhea?
In principle, you can do a lot to get rid of diarrhea even if you have diarrhea, so that taking medication is not absolutely necessary. A temporary change in diet to light food and finding out the cause can already make a big difference. However, if you are unsure and do not feel any improvement or even worsening, you should definitely consult a doctor.
While there are many over-the-counter medications for diarrhea, you should exercise caution and, if possible, discuss them with your doctor before taking them. Especially if the cause is unclear, taking medication can make your situation even worse.
- Adjust diet : In the case of diarrhea, it is important to temporarily adjust the diet so that it does not put additional strain on the intestines, which are in turmoil. So-called bland food and stomach-friendly food, which is easily digestible and supports the intestines in their activity, are particularly suitable here. Basically, this diet should be low in fat and fiber. Completely abstaining from the supply of food may, depending on the illness, for a short time! period may be appropriate, but the supply of sufficient liquid must be ensured in any case.
- Medications : Because medications have a direct effect on the gut already irritated by diarrhea, medical advice should be sought before taking. The cause of the diarrhea should also be clarified so that appropriate medication can improve it.
Finding the trigger : Diarrhea is exhausting for the entire body, which is why taking medication "blindly" without knowing the trigger can have fatal consequences for the intestines and the intestinal flora. Especially if there is a suspicion of an intolerance, the exact trigger should be found in order not to repeatedly irritate the intestine
Eating a light diet often improves the diarrhea. However, what you can and should always do, because this is not only informative for you, but also for your doctor in case of doubt, is to write down exactly what you have eaten in the past few days. Because food travels a longer route to the intestines than it does in the stomach, it's harder to figure out which food didn't get you.
Soups and broths have several advantages when it comes to diarrhea: they provide the body with additional fluids, are easy to digest and a soothing, warm meal. (Image source: Bernadette Wuringer / pixabay)
As you have seen from these three points, you do not need to panic and feel helpless when you have diarrhea. You can use these points to help you not only avoid diarrhea acutely, but hopefully also in the future.
When should I seek medical advice?
The following criteria show you when it is better to see a doctor, since diarrhea is just a symptom that can be the cause of an illness or intolerance. When in doubt, it is always advisable to go this route.
- no solid food intake within 48 hours
- blood in the stool
- persistent pain, cramps , and a bloated lower abdomen
- Unable to urinate for 12 hours or more
- Drinking is not possible
- constipation accompanied by diarrhea
- the temperature is increased
- the stool contains undigested food components
- the color and smell of the stool are unusual(1)
Very important: You do not need to have all or more of these criteria! These are only indications of when and for which criterion it is always better to seek medical advice.
Diet for diarrhea: The best tips & tricks for a quick recovery
Diarrhea often causes those affected to feel exhausted and exhausted. It is therefore important to supply the body with the nutrients that it particularly needs in this situation. In order not to make the work of the intestine even more difficult, you should avoid larger portions and instead eat several smaller meals throughout the day.
Rolled oats soaked in water and combined with fruit such as blueberries, apples or bananas make a warm, wholesome meal. (Image source: iha31 / Pixabay)
Here you should rely on the foods that are good for you. We will now show you exactly which foods you can reach for, for example. Because by no means all foods that come to mind spontaneously when you have diarrhea are actually effective.
What should I eat if I have diarrhea?
You have probably heard that foods such as pretzel sticks, rusks or cola are suitable for diarrhea. However, it is not these foods per se that are particularly suitable, but rather the properties that they bring with them.
Unprocessed, easily digestible foods are now on the menu.
For example, the good digestibility of the rusk, or the salt content of the pretzel sticks and the sugar in the cola. Although these foods may well give you diarrhea and possibly also help you, they are not really nutritious and healthy. The sugar contained in the cola can even have the opposite effect by binding water and thus increasing the high fluid loss caused by the diarrhea.
For this reason, we have put together a list of different foods that you can eat if you have diarrhea, depending on your tolerance. Depending on personal preferences and diet, there is something for everyone.
Basically, the food should be low in fiber and easy to digest. In addition, foods that have a slightly constipating effect, such as rice or oatmeal, are particularly suitable, as they form mucous substances during cooking that bind the water in the body.
- Foods rich in carbohydrates : Products made from lighter flour such as bread and rolls, but also pasta, white rice, oatmeal and semolina are suitable here. Potatoes are also good. However, make sure to eat these foods "pure" if possible and not with fatty bread toppings or sauces, as these can make it difficult to digest and wholesome.
- Protein-rich foods : Here you should always make sure that the fat content is low, because fat is more difficult for the body to digest and is more of a strain on the body, especially in the case of diarrhea. Instead of frying, steaming is ideal here. For meat, you can go for lean varieties like chicken or turkey, lean beef or pork, lean fish, and boiled eggs. For the latter, omelettes or scrambled eggs can also be used. The low-fat variant should also be preferred for milk. Plant-based milk alternatives such as oat or rice milk are also suitable.
- Fruit : When it comes to fruit, you should use ready-ripened fruit, preferably in the form of compote or fruit puree (preferably prepare it yourself, because bought ones usually contain added sugar) to increase digestibility. Bananas , blueberries and grated apples are particularly suitable here. Do not peel the apple, because the pectin contained in the peel, a dietary fiber, swells in the intestine, absorbs water and thus ensures a firmer stool.
- Vegetables : since vegetables are naturally rich in fibre , which is essential for a healthy intestinal flora and intestinal activity, but which can make digestion difficult in the event of diarrhea, they should not be eaten raw but cooked. Porridge or soups are also suitable. Varieties such as carrots, squash, fennel, parsnip, celery, and zucchini are ideal.
- Probiotics : probiotic foods have a supporting effect on the intestinal flora. According to a study, probiotics not only reduce the duration of diarrhea, but also their number. Yoghurt is one of the probiotic foods. In order to improve digestibility, one should rely on one with a low fat content (3,6,7,8,9).
- Medicinal plants : There are numerous medicinal plants that have a calming effect on the intestines and provide natural relief from diarrhea. These include, for example, cinquefoil, chamomile, blueberries, oats, cloves, peppermint, rhubarb, yarrow, wild berries, elm, cranesbill, opium poppy, licorice root or horse chestnuts. A study also showed that a combination of chamomile, myrrh and coffee charcoal had comparable effects to curing acute diarrhea as conventional medicines (2,5).
- Home remedies : in addition to the tried and tested home remedies such as oatmeal, also in combination with mashed banana and grated apple, electrolyte powders are also suitable for enriching the drinking water in order to restore the mineral balance. Charcoal tablets, which absorb and neutralize possible bacterial toxins from the intestine, should also be mentioned here, as well as healing earth (2).
As you can see from the list, there are some foods that are also ideal for consumption during diarrhea. Because nobody has to suffer from hunger, despite intestinal problems, and the body needs supporting food and sufficient liquid in this situation.
Vegetables should not be eaten raw, but cooked. This ensures better digestibility. Carrots, parsnips and celery are good for diarrhea. (Image Source: agamaszota / Pixabay>)
What should actually be a matter of course for us, but which recedes into the background in stressful moments or out of habit, is thorough chewing and slow, conscious eating. This alone makes it easier for the stomach and intestines to do their jobs.
Here we have put together a few inspirations for possible and simple meals, in which there should be something for every taste. As already discussed, the focus is on easily digestible foods that still provide you with the nutrients that are relevant in this situation.
- Oatmeal (optional with fruit like grated apple or mashed banana)
- carrot soup
- fruit pulp
- Yoghurt with oatmeal
- vegetable broth, chicken broth
- Mashed potatoes with carrots
- Scrambled eggs / omelet with vegetables (e.g. carrots, pumpkin)
- Oatmeal and banana pancakes
- rice with vegetables
It is best to test what works best for you in your situation. For some it may be porridge, for others just a broth is good for the time being. Listen to your gut feeling in the truest sense of the word.
What should I drink if I have diarrhea?
When you have diarrhea, your body loses more fluids than usual, which puts you at risk of dehydration. To prevent this from happening to you, you should make sure that you drink enough regularly, if necessary every hour. The usual drinking amount for adults is two to three liters per day, depending on size, weight and activity.
Regular, increased fluid intake is the alpha and omega of diarrhea.
But just like with solid food, you should also be considerate of your intestines when drinking so that you don't put additional strain on it. The longer your diarrhea lasts, the more electrolytes your body loses. For this reason, a supply of electrolyte-containing drinks can not only be useful, but even necessary.
Sufficient liquid is important in the case of diarrhea due to the increased loss of liquid - soothing teas such as chamomile soothe the intestines. (Image source: congerdesign / Pixabay)
In general, drinks such as still mineral water and unsweetened tea are suitable for diarrhea. Here, for example, chamomile, fennel, caraway or blueberry tea can be drunk. Vegetable or chicken broths provide the body with minerals, such as sodium, that the body lacks due to dehydration.
If the diarrhea lasts longer or is chronic, powders containing electrolytes from the pharmacy, which can be dissolved in water and tea, are helpful. Always make sure that your drink is at least room temperature but not too hot (1). Which foods should I avoid if I have diarrhea?
Basically, you should avoid all foods that can complicate the functioning of your intestines. These include (1):
- High-fat foods : Meat, fish or sauces are fat carriers, which is why you should either use low-fat varieties, as mentioned above, or, as with sauces, avoid them for the time being.
- Dairy products : Milk, cheese or yoghurt are more difficult for the intestines to digest, partly because of the high fat content.
- (Heavy) Spices : Spices can further irritate your gut, so avoid processed foods and fast food altogether.
- Sugar substitutes : sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol or isomalt are some of the numerous sugar substitutes that can not only have a laxative but also bloating effect.
- Caffeine : Caffeinated beverages can increase diarrhea, so avoid drinking coffee, sodas, alcohol, or even energy drinks.
- Undiluted fruit juices : due to their concentrated form, fruit juices can have a laxative effect.
- Sugary Foods : Pastries, desserts, and sweets not only contain high levels of processed sugar, but also trans fats that should be avoided.
- Bloating Vegetables/Pulses : Cabbages and legumes are harder for the gut to digest and can cause gas.
- Intolerances : in general, you should avoid all foods that you do not tolerate and, if necessary, find out which foods are causing your diarrhea. A food log is helpful for this, in which you write down exactly what you have eaten. This can help you and your doctor to identify a possible intolerance.
While this list of foods to avoid for the time being may seem long and you're not able to eat your usual meals as usual, keep in mind that this is only a temporary adjustment for now. Once you have found the cause of your diarrhea and your bowels have recovered, you can gradually resume eating your usual foods.
Which groups of people need to be particularly careful with diarrhea?
Diarrhea is not pleasant for anyone and if it lasts longer than usual or even becomes chronic, it can have health consequences. However, infants and children, the elderly, pregnant women and cancer patients in particular must be careful when they have diarrhea. They should seek medical advice at an early stage.
Children and the elderly in particular have an increased risk of losing too much fluid when they have diarrhea.
Compared to adults, children have a higher loss of liquid and usually have no sense of the amount of fluid they need to drink. For newborns in their first days of life, the rule of thumb is 2 to 3 milliliters per hour and kilogram of body weight, for infants it is 4 to 6 milliliters. Children up to 10 kilograms need 4 milliliters per hour, from 20 kilograms body weight it is 6 milliliters plus another milliliter per additional kilogram.
Just like children, older people can also have problems estimating the amount they need to drink, which is why caution is called for here too. 1.5 liters, which corresponds to approx. 6 glasses, are recommended here. Pregnant women and cancer patients should at best consult their doctor if they have diarrhea, but cancer patients are advised to ensure they drink fluids every hour (1).
Diarrhea is usually a symptom associated with a cause. Although the clarification of this cause should always be the focus, diarrhea should not be dismissed lightly, because due to the high loss of liquid it can have serious health consequences.
In order to get this under control, it is important to eat a diet that is low in fiber and easily digestible. However, if there is no improvement, it is essential to seek medical help.
When choosing foods that are suitable for diarrhea, focus on unprocessed, easily digestible foods. This applies to both solid food and liquids.
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