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The Best Foods to Eat and Avoid When You Have Diarrhea

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The Best Foods to Eat and Avoid When You Have Diarrhea

Hands up if you’ve ever had diarrhea!

Chances are, we’ve ALL experienced diarrhea at some stage in our lives. Whether from illness, antibiotics, a food allergy or intolerance, stress, or something you haven’t quite been able to identify, diarrhea can strike for a number of reasons.

Acute diarrhea is most often caused by a viral infection, such as stomach flu or gastroenteritis. In other cases, contaminated food or water is a likely culprit. Some people may also have diarrhea as a result of IBS, or after eating foods such as bread, eggs, large amounts of fruit, or even dairy products.[1]

Of course, the first thing you want to do when you have diarrhea is make it stop! And while there are many anti-diarrheal medications available over-the-counter, these should really only be used as a last resort, or if you’re going to be travelling long-distance.

Fortunately, there are a number of remedies and foods that help with diarrhea and relieve your symptoms without medication.

What Stops Diarrhea Naturally?

Psyllium Husk

One of the quickest remedies for diarrhea is a natural plant fiber called psyllium husk. Psyllium is a soluble fiber derived from an herb called Plantago ovata, which grows all over the world. It’s often used in bulk-forming laxative in products such as Metamucil – but, strangely, it’s also very helpful for diarrhea!

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A plantago ovata plant can produce up to 15,000 tiny, gel-coated seeds. This is where psyllium husk comes from. When psyllium husk is combined with water, it swells and forms a kind of gel. This gel is extremely good at absorbing excess liquid and waste in the bowel. It soaks up a significant amount of liquid in the digestive tract and helps to forms normal stools which can be passed out of the body at the usual pace.

Psyllium is often recommended for relieving mild-to-moderate diarrhea.[2]

To take psyllium husk, simply add a teaspoonful of husk to a glass of warm water. Stir and drink immediately (the husk settles very quickly).

Probiotics

As well as psyllium husk, one of best remedies (and preventatives) for diarrhea is probiotics. You see, in many cases, diarrhea can be caused by gut dysbiosis and an overgrowth of either yeast or bacteria. This dysbiosis occurs when ‘bad’ microorganisms in your gut manage to overwhelm the good ones, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea and IBS.[3]

Your gut is home to millions of healthy bacteria which help with digestion, immune function, nutrient absorption and dozens of other jobs. But when too many pathogenic bacteria or yeast are able to take hold in your gut, your populations of beneficial microbes can be severely diminished.

As a result, your immune system may react poorly to certain foods, which in turn can result in diarrhea. An imbalance of pathogenic bacteria and yeast can also lead to gastrointestinal infections which can too result in diarrhea.

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Probiotic supplements have been proven to reduce and prevent diarrhea in both children and adults. Probiotics are also found to be highly beneficial for restoring the imbalance caused by dysbiosis and Candida yeast infections. By repopulating the gut with ‘good’ bacteria, your body is better able to overcome a gastrointestinal infection and get normal digestion back on track.[4]

Research shows that the most helpful bacteria strains include Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus paracasei. Look for a probiotic supplement that contains at least one of these strains, as well as a high CFU count. Also make sure to choose a probiotic that uses time-release tablets to deliver its bacteria to the gut.

Consider taking a probiotic on vacation with you. This is the most common time that diarrhea tends to strike, and it’s often when you’re most tired and have the least access to anti-diarrhea medications. Start taking your probiotic before you go on vacation for the best results.[5]

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is an excellent natural remedy for diarrhea, particularly when the diarrhea is a result of toxins, bacterial infections or food upsets. It’s been used since ancient times to treat and relieve gastrointestinal issues, and has very few (if any) side effects.[6]

Activated charcoal is made from natural carbon-containing materials such as bamboo or coconut husk. It works by binding to toxins in the gut and ‘adsorbing’ harmful material into itself. It then creates a bulky complex that the body can’t absorb, so your digestive system flushes it out as part of your stools.

Activated charcoal can also help to prevent toxins from reaching your liver, which makes it particularly useful in the case of ingested poisons.

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Look for activated charcoal in a health store or online. It’s readily available as a supplement in the form of capsules or powder. Be sure to read the instructions on the product label first.

Foods To Eat When You Have Diarrhea

When you have diarrhea, it may seem like everything you eat is going straight through. However, it’s very important to keep your nutrition levels up as you may be losing important vitamins and minerals.

Knowing the foods that help with diarrhea will help you to recover faster, as well as preparing you for eating out at restaurants and other houses.[7]

The BRAT foods diet

BRAT stands for bananas, rice, apples, toast. Yes, these are the blandest foods you could ever possibly eat – but they won’t upset your irritated gut, so you’ll be less likely to suffer after eating them. These foods also help to firm up your stools by binding with excess water in your gut, which can help slow down your diarrhea and help your gut return to normal.

When choosing a bread for your toast, make sure that you choose a healthy option like wholewheat, sprouted, or sourdough. Less nutritious breads that you should avoid include pita bread and plain white sandwich bread.[8]

If your digestive system has coped okay with the BRAT foods, you can begin to add a few similar foods that help with diarrhea, such as:

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  • Cooked cereal such as oats or wheat
  • Unflavored soda crackers
  • Applesauce
  • Apple juice (unsweetened)

Electrolytes

The most important part of your treatment is to keep up your fluid and mineral intake. Diarrhea causes you to lose a lot of water and electrolytes, and your body needs both of these in order to recover – and to function properly.[9]

You can buy electrolyte powders at the pharmacy which are easy to mix with water. These should be your first option if your diarrhea is severe or has continued for several days.

Some nutritious liquid-based foods include:

  • Clear broths such as bone broth (preferably from beef or chicken, with the grease removed)
  • Drinks with added electrolytes (not sports drinks as they contain a lot of sugar)
  • Natural coconut water
  • Gastrolyte or Pedialyte sachets
  • Weak black tea (preferably decaffeinated)
  • Ice chips

Foods To Avoid When You Have Diarrhea

Diarrhea can cause – or worsen – inflammation of the gut, so it’s very important to avoid any foods that will exacerbate this. Foods that are difficult to digest are also off the list, as your digestive function will be significantly impaired.

Consider avoiding these foods until your diarrhea has completely passed:

  • All dairy products (including milk and whey-based drinks)
  • Fried foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Processed and/or packaged foods
  • Foods containing artificial additives
  • Fatty meats such as pork and veal
  • Raw vegetables
  • Rhubarb
  • Onions (raw or cooked)
  • Corn
  • Dried and fresh fruits, especially citrus, pineapples, stone fruits, berries, figs, currants, and grapes
  • All alcohol
  • All caffeinated and/or carbonated beverages
  • Foods or drinks that contain artificial sweeteners, including sorbitol

Remember – if diarrhea persists for more than a day or two, it’s recommended that you seek medical advice.

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More Related to Your Gut Health

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Lisa Richards

Nutritionist, Creator of The Candida Diet, Owner of TheCandidaDiet.com

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