What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea

Is your stomach acting up? Maybe you caught a bug, maybe you ate the wrong thing, maybe you are under stress, or maybe you have absolutely no idea why your stomach is feeling so lousy. When you are running back and forth to the bathroom it can be hard to know what to eat without making things worse.

The basic BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) is a good place to start. Here is a quick guide as to what to eat as part of the BRAT diet, as well as some other choices that can be safe and soothing. 

Note: If your diarrhea is caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the BRAT diet may not be what is right for you. But don't worry, you will find some ideas here that are better choices for people who have IBS.

1
Bananas

Three bananas with their skin on, and one peeled banana
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The "B" in the BRAT diet, bananas are bland and easily digested, and thus are a good choice for settling your upset tummy. As a bonus, the high level of potassium in bananas helps to replace electrolytes that may be lost by severe bouts of diarrhea.

Bananas are also rich in pectin, a soluble fiber that helps to absorb liquid in the intestines and thus move stool along smoothly.

Bananas also contain a good amount of inulin, another soluble fiber. Inulin is a prebiotic, a substance that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in your large intestine Thus, bananas may actually help to address the underlying problem that is causing the diarrhea.

2
White Rice

Boiled rice in bowl, close-up
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The "R" in the BRAT diet, plain white rice is easy on your digestive system as most of it is digested in your stomach, thus giving your bowels a break. Rice also has a reputation for being "binding," which means that it can help to firm up your loose stool.

3
Applesauce

Bowl of applesauce
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The "A" in the BRAT diet, apples are also a good source of pectin. However, the high fiber in raw apples makes them too rough for a dicey intestinal system. Cooking the apples makes them easier on your system to digest. This allows you to benefit from the pectin and the other nutrients that apples have to offer.

However, if you have IBS, applesauce might not be a good choice for you. Apples are high in FODMAPs, which are carbohydrates that are associated with worsening IBS symptoms.

4
White Bread Toast

Four slices of white toast in four-slot toaster, close-up
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Toast is the "T" in the BRAT diet. Although whole wheat bread is thought to have more health benefits than white bread, you may want to reach for the white bread when you are experiencing diarrhea. White bread has had most of the fiber removed, making it easily digestible and thus is easier on your large intestine.

If you have IBS, you may be better served by a slice of gluten-free toast. Gluten-free bread will spare you from both the FODMAP fructan and the protein gluten, both of which have been associated with worsening IBS symptoms.

5
Mashed Potatoes

bowl of mashed potatoes
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We move beyond the BRAT diet with an option that can be called the ultimate comfort food. Due to their low-fiber content, white potatoes are easily digested way up high in the GI tract. Eat your potatoes plain; butter has a high fat content, which could be irritating to your sensitive system and contribute to increased intestinal cramping.

6
Steamed Chicken

Raw chicken pieces
Don't ever eat chicken raw! Steamed chicken is your best choice for an upset tummy. Lew Robertson / Getty Images

Due to its bland nature, steamed white meat chicken is an easily digested source of protein. This provides a fairly safe way to get some nutrients into your body. As discussed the fat content of butter and oils can be hard on a delicate system, so avoid deep-fried or sauteed preparations.

7
Yogurt

Yogurt with raspberries in a white bowl
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It is generally recommended that dairy products be avoided during acute diarrhea episodes. Yogurt is an exception to this rule because it contains gut-healing probiotics, otherwise known as the "good guy" bacteria.

Look for yogurt that contains live or active bacterial cultures, or more specifically Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Read the label carefully and choose a brand that does not have a high sugar level or does not contain artificial sweeteners. Both of those can contribute to excessive intestinal gas and loose stools.

If you have lactose intolerance, you will want to look for lactose-free varieties.

8
Blueberries

Blueberries Close-up
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Reportedly, dried blueberries have a long history of use in Sweden as a treatment for diarrhea. Dr. Varro Tyler in his book, ​"Herbs of Choice," recommends either chewing dried blueberries or making a tea by boiling crushed dried blueberries for about 10 minutes.

The helpfulness of blueberries for diarrhea appears to be due to the fact that they contain tannins, which act as an astringent, contracting tissue and reducing inflammation, and the secretion of liquids and mucus.

Blueberries also contain substances called anthocyanosides, which have antibacterial properties, as well as being a good source of antioxidants.

Lastly, blueberries are another source of the soluble fiber pectin.

9
Pureed Pumpkin

Pureed, Mashed Pumpkin & Cinnamon Spice, Thanksgiving Squash
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There is an old-wives tale that pumpkin is good for diarrhea. It doesn't seem as if any researchers have put pumpkin to the test, but looking at its nutritional profile, it is not a bad option.

Just be sure to buy 100% pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, which may have ingredients that are not right for your current tummy sensitivity. 

10
Chicken Broth

Chicken bouillon in cup
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Your great-grandmother had it right - chicken soup is good for whatever ails you, including diarrhea. Besides the fact that sipping soup can be extremely soothing, chicken broth contains nutrients and electrolytes that can help to replace those that might have been lost by your repeated bouts of diarrhea. 

When You Start to Feel Better

You cannot live on a bland diet forever! But as your stomach starts to settle down, you may still need to feed it gingerly until you feel that things have truly returned to normal. You can try other types of soups, some steamed vegetables, and/or other types of white meats, such as turkey or pork.

The food suggestions in this article are intended to be your best choices when dealing with acute symptoms of diarrhea. If you find that you are dealing with chronic diarrhea, you need to inform your doctor so you can get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

If your doctor has diagnosed you with IBS, you may find relief from your chronic diarrhea by following a low-FODMAP diet. This involves an elimination phase in which you only eat foods that are low in FODMAPs before slowly re-introducing FODMAPs back into your system.

Sources:

Nanayakkara WS, Skidmore PM, O’Brien L, Wilkinson TJ, Gearry RB. "Efficacy of the low FODMAP diet for treating irritable bowel syndrome: the evidence to date." Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology 2016;9:131-142.

Tyler VE, Awang D. Tyler's Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals (3rd ed.). CRC Press; 2009.

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