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What to Eat When Having Diarrhea? [ Gastroenterologist Reviewed ]

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This article is medically reviewed on July 9, 2020 by:

Picture of Ivan Lyutakov, MD, PhD.

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What is diarrhea? 

What causes diarrhea?

What foods can help with diarrhea?

What foods to avoid with diarrhea?

Conclusion 

Diarrhea is a condition when the patient have 3 bowel movements per day or loose of stools (watery stools). When the diarrhea persist more than 4 weeks it becomes chronic diarrhea.

First, you have to search medical doctor (Gastroenterologist) if you having persisting symptoms of diarrhea [1] . There are plenty of different non-expert opinions when it comes to what foods can improve diarrhea symptoms. However, as diarrhea is a medical health condition, it’s important to understand it before you rush using certain foods as part of home treatment.

This article will guide you through the symptoms and causes of diarrhea, and most importantly, through the foods that can help you recover from this condition, as well as the ones that can make you feel even worse. All of that backed up by scientific sources!

Let’s get started.

What is diarrhea? 

Diarrhea is a condition that affects the gut and causes various common symptoms, including [2] :

  • Loose/watery stools
  • Abdomen cramps/pain
  • Little to no bowel control
  • Urge to go to the toilet
  • Dehydration and malabsorption (depending on the severity and longevity of symptoms)
  • Nausea

More severe diarrhea symptoms that may require medical attention include [3] :

  • Bloody stool
  • Weight Loss
  • Malnutrition
  • High fever
  • Severe dehydration
  • Long-lasting symptoms (more than 2 days)

There are two types of diarrhea [4] :

  1. Acute diarrhea. It lasts a short time (a day or two, sometimes even less than a day). It is a very common condition and rarely requires medical attention. However, if it continues for more than a few days, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist or your healthcare provider. The symptoms of acute diarrhea may disappear even without treatment or medication, but proper treatment can speed up the recovery process and quickly improve life quality.
  2. Chronic diarrhea. It lasts more than 4 weeks, with changing symptom intensity. It requires medical attention, as it may be related to an underlying health condition that needs serious treatment. If you have chronic diarrhea, you should follow your doctor’s advice and treatment plan.

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What causes diarrhea?

The most common causes of acute diarrhea include [5] :

  • Infections (viruses, bacteria, parasites). Often triggered by contamination of water or food.
  • Medication side effects
  • Acute abdominal processes
  • Gastroenterologic disease (rarely)

Chronic diarrhea can be caused by the following common factors [6] :

  • Infections (parasites, bacteria, viruses)
  • Pancreas or intestinal disorders (e.g., IBD, IBS, cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis)
  • Medication side effects
  • Food intolerance
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Altered immune function
  • Others.

What foods can help with diarrhea?

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders suggests a couple of dietary guidelines to follow if you suffer from diarrhea (the guidelines are directed towards people suffering from chronic diarrhea, but are also applicable to patients with acute condition) [7] :

Drink plenty of fluids to prevent/recover from dehydration.

The source suggests to take the drink in between, but not during meals. Also, keep in mind to drink fluids at room temperature instead of hot or cold:

  • Tea (be careful about the green tea and some laxative herbal teas)
  • Water
  • Sport drinks (isotonic drinks)
  • Pulp-free juices

Learn how to choose the best bottled water for you in our dedicated article!

Consume foods and drinks with sodium and/or potassium to support electrolyte recovery

  • Broth
  • Bananas
  • Nectars
  • Boiled and mashed potatoes without skin

Eat foods low in fiber, but don’t exclude all fiber (to avoid malnutrition)

  • Noodles
  • Pasta (not wholegrain)
  • Refined grains like white bread and white rice
  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Canned or cooked fruits without skin (in moderate amounts)
  • Eggs
  • Well cooked and peeled veggies (in moderate amounts)
  • Dairy products if you’re not lactose intolerant

The advice from Dr. Lyutakov (PhD. Gastroenterology):

It is better to avoid tea and some other drinks with herbs, because some of them can have laxative effect. The best strategy is to drink water, try some toasted bread and cheese. Try first to take loperamide as a medication or some probiotic. If the condition doesn't stop and get worse, please seek medical attention.

What foods to avoid with diarrhea?

According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, the following foods may worsen diarrhea and slow down the recovery [8] :

Fried and fatty foods 

  • Fries
  • Burgers
  • Pizza
  • Processed and fast foods
  • Others

Sugary foods

  • Sweets, cakes, and candy
  • Flavored popcorn
  • Large quantities of juice with added sugar
  • Chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • Others

Foods high in fiber

  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains (e.g., brown rice, oats, bread with seeds)
  • Nuts and seeds

The source also suggests that eating big meals can worsen diarrhea symptoms, so slowly eating small portions is recommended.

Related: What To Eat and What Not To Eat with Gastritis? [ Doctor Approved ]

Conclusion 

Proper nutrition choices can effectively improve the symptoms of both acute and chronic diarrhea. However, while you may quickly recover from acute diarrhea with sensible food choices, chronic diarrhea needs more complex treatment (than only diet change). Consult your healthcare provider or gastroenterologist to get tailored advice and therapy.

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