There is a common misconception that solid foods should be stopped when diarrhea is present. This is not true. Solid foods should only be avoided if or when there is vomiting to prevent vomited food entering the airways and causing conditions like aspiration pneumonia. For diarrhea, solid foods should be eaten although a slight change in regular eating patterns may be necessary. Two common concerns is what solid foods are acceptable to eat during diarrhea and which foods should be eaten to stop diarrhea.
Dietary changes may help with the management of diarrhea and preventing complications like dehydration and malnutrition. However, diet is not a way to treat or stop diarrhea. Often diarrhea resolves on its own without specific diarrheal treatment. All that is needed in these cases is supportive care like bed rest, plenty of fluids especially oral rehydrating solutions and balanced meals. These measures will help the body overcome the diarrhea especially when it is caused by an infection. It will also reduce any further strain on the body and allow it to recover.
Start with the BRAT Diet
Although solid foods should not be stopped and a balanced diet is important during diarrhea, sometimes regular foods are not as well tolerated. It may therefore be advisable to start with the BRAT diet. This is particularly useful if you have stopped solid foods for period of time while vomiting. The BRAT diet ensures sufficient nutrition while gradually re-introducing solid foods in to the diet. It also involves eating foods that are less likely to trigger diarrhea. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, apples and toast.
Not only is it easier to digest but the high levels of potassium within bananas helps to replenish electrolytes lost with diarrhea and vomiting. For easier consumption and digestion, it may be better to mash up the bananas before eating.
Plain white rice is a good binding agent as well as a source of slow-releasing carbohydrates for longer sustenance. Whole grains should be avoided during diarrhea despite its overall health benefits.
Apples are another useful food to slowly start up on solids after vomiting while diarrhea persists. However, the skins should be avoided. Applesauce is a better option but if it is not available then grated apple will do.
Regular white toast, plain with no butter or other spread, is easy to digest and can act as a binding agent. However, it is only a short term option and should not be used as a means of continuing sustenance.
Crackers and Starches
Many people find that they prefer eating more carbohydrates than proteins or fats when they have an upset stomach with vomiting and diarrhea. Apart from the rice and toast advised for the BRAT diet, there are also other options to consider.
- Plain crackers are usually well tolerated. Chew thoroughly on small bites before swallowing. Lightly salted crackers are better as it provides some electrolytes that may be lost. It should be followed by plenty of water.
- Pasta without any seasoning or sauce is another food that is well tolerated. It provides sufficient carbohydrates for sustenance. A little salt is all that should be added to it during preparation.
- Boiled potatoes without the peels are another good source of carbohydrates and potassium which is well tolerated. It can also be baked in an oven or microwave but the peels should always be removed.
These foods alone do not constitute a balanced meal but are a good second step after trying the BRAT diet. Oral rehydrating solutions should be continued even if solid foods are well tolerated.
Fruits and Vegetables
Both fruits and vegetables are required as part of a balanced diet. If the foods above are not worsening symptoms then these fruits and vegetables should be added to the diet. However, fruit juices must be avoided as it can sometimes worsen diarrhea.
- Fruit like pineapples that are canned should be consumed in small quantities and with sufficient water.
- Carrots that are boiled or steamed are also well tolerated. Avoid adding seasoning beyond a little salt. The carrots can be mashed.
- Squash is another well tolerated food that should be boiled or steamed with just a little salt for seasoning. It should be mashed thoroughly.
Together with the crackers and starches, these fruits and vegetables can provide sufficient nutrition along with the oral rehydrating solutions.
Most of the foods above have small amount of proteins. In the short term proteins may not be as essential but it should be included as part of a balanced diet. Although you may not have an immediate appetite for meat, even a small piece can provide sufficient protein. It should be lean and prepared without any added oil or lard. Lean red meat or skinless chicken are good options. Vegetarians should choose soy-based foods that they find palatable, like tofu. However, beans may not be the bes option as it can increase intestinal gas and flatulence.
Guidelines for Foods to Eat to Stop Diarrhea
While food alone cannot stop diarrhea there are certain items that can actually worsen it. These foods and beverages should therefore be avoided. It includes sugary foods, oily foods, processed foods and those laden with preservatives and colorants. Dairy, foods that are known to increase gas or with artificial sweeteners can also be a problem. With regards to beverages, caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea and cola), alcoholic drinks, fruit juices and sodas should be avoided.
Read more on foods and drinks that worsen diarrhea.
The key to eating solids while the diarrhea persists is to consume small quantities of food many times during the day. Try two or three types of foods at a time. Too many foods may mix together to irritate the bowels further. All meals should be consumed with plenty of water while oral rehydrating solutions should be drank in large amounts between solid meals. As far as possible it is better to sit up or walk around slowly after a meal rather than lying flat or sleeping.
Read more on foods to stop diarrhea.