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It’s never fun getting sick, but when the nasty bug you’re hit with involves tummy troubles, it’s especially unpleasant. Or maybe stress is the culprit of your stomach woes—as if having to keep running to the bathroom is going to make everything you’re dealing with less stressful. (Talk about a cruel joke.)
When you’re experiencing diarrhea, it’s natural to be hesitant to eat anything at all. But when you do feel up to it, what should you eat with an upset stomach? As a general rule, it’s important to eat since your body is in need of fluid and important nutrients. “When recovering from an upset stomach, it’s best to stick with foods that are easy to digest so that you don’t put too much stress on your digestive system,” registered dietitian Elise Harlow, RD.
Not sure what to try? Use the below list as your sick day food menu. Plus, see what it’s best to avoid until your stomach is stronger.
What to eat with an upset stomach
1. An electrolyte-boosted drink
Gut health registered dietitian Sarah Neumann, RD, points out that if you’re experiencing diarrhea, you’re losing lots of fluid so it’s important to rehydrate. In addition to water, she recommends sipping something with electrolytes, like Gatorade or Pedialyte. Electrolytes help regulate the body’s water balance, which is especially important when you’re sick.
2. Bone broth
“Bone broth can also be good to sip on when you have an upset stomach because it is easy to digest and also contains some protein and gut-healing nutrients,” Harlow says. Since bone broth is a liquid, the body doesn’t have to do as much work as it would digesting meat or even plant-based protein sources.
3. White rice
In terms of solid food, both dietitians say white rice is very gentle on the digestive system, making it a good food to start with. Since white rice doesn’t have any protein, try mixing it with your bone broth to get some protein without making your digestive system work too hard.
Both dietitians say that bananas are also easy on the stomach and they have the added benefit of containing potassium. Not getting enough potassium can make the body feel weak, something anyone experiencing diarrhea is likely feeling so that potassium can help you get some of your energy back.
5. Peppermint, ginger, fennel, or chamomile tea
Certain herbs are linked to soothing the stomach and peppermint, ginger, fennel, and chamomile are all sick day picks Harlow and Neumann like to have on hand. “A peppermint tea or ginger tea with no additives is your best bet as it may help soothe abdominal pain and lower intestinal gas,” Neumann says. Both peppermint and ginger have been linked to easing stomach discomfort. Harlow says that the same goes for fennel and chamomile tea.
6. White potatoes without the skins
Similar to white rice, Neumann says that white potatoes without the skins can be gentle on the digestive system while also providing some sustenance. White potatoes also contain potassium, which is important for recovery.
7. Pureed fruit or veggies
It may look like baby food, but when you have an upset stomach, pureed fruit or vegetables can be just what you need, according to Neumann. That way, you’re getting some fiber without making your digestive tract have to work hard to break it down. If you’re suffering from a stomach bug, fruits or veggies with vitamin C (like guava, kiwi, papaya, and broccoli) can help give your immune system a much-needed boost.
8. Non-dairy yogurt
Non-dairy yogurts (like by Coconut Cult, GT’s, or Coyo) are also on Neumann’s sick day food list. These plant-based yogurts contain probiotics, which help restore balance in the gut by upping the number of good gut bacteria.
What to avoid
1. Fiber-rich foods
Fiber is an important nutrient that virtually everyone should eat more of, but when you’re experiencing diarrhea, Harlow says it should be put on the backburner. Simply put, your stomach just isn’t up to doing the work to break down fiber-rich foods right now. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds until you’re feeling better.
This may hurt to hear, but both dietitians say drinking coffee isn’t going to do you any favors right now. “Coffee can increase the production of stomach acid and increase gastric motility, which could possibly make diarrhea worse,” Harlow says. Just think how good that cup of joe will taste once you can actually enjoy it.
3. Carbonated drinks
If a can of ginger ale is all that sounds good to you, both RDs say to go for it because hydration is super important right now, but they also say carbonated drinks may not be the best way to go if you can help it. This is because carbonation can increase gas and could cause even more stomach pain.
Neumann recommends saving your chocolate stash for when you’re feeling better. This is because sugar can be irritating to the gut. Milk chocolate in particular tends to be high in sugar, which could make diarrhea worse.
5. Foods high in sugar or fat
According to Neumann, right now your stomach is not strong enough to properly digest foods high in sugar or fat. That means you want to avoid foods like burgers, fries, or sugary desserts until you’re feeling better. “Unfortunately, many packaged foods have ingredient labels with a laundry list of chemicals that could be making your digestive issues worse,” she adds.
Remember, when you have an upset stomach but want to attempt to eat something, it’s best to start with foods that are easy to digest before working your way up to more fibrous foods. And don’t forget to stay hydrated too. Soon, you’ll be back to feeling great and will be able to enjoy whatever you want. After recovering, chances are that it will taste even better too. Hey, at least there’s a silver lining.