What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a temporary health problem. However, it's sometimes linked to complex disorders. Be that as it may, we're going to show you how to treat it with a good diet.
What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez in 03 August, 2021.

Last update: 03 August, 2021

Diarrhea is a problem that affects millions of people each year, but what should you eat if you have diarrhea.

In most cases, it’s a transitory symptom that subsides after 1 or 2 days. However, when there’s an underlying pathology, it can increase over time, making it difficult to manage.

For this reason, it’s essential to know which foods to eat and which to avoid while suffering from diarrhea. This prevents dehydration, negative changes in the intestinal microbiota and the intestine suffering excessively.

Dairy products

Dairy foods should be avoided during the diarrhea process, as they can increase the frequency and severity of bowel movements. It’s a good idea not only to eliminate these products from the diet during the acute stage, but also for a few days afterwards. This advice is even more important in the case of people who have lactose intolerance.

Keep in mind that diarrhea can negatively affect the production of lactase, the enzyme that metabolizes milk sugar. If you don’t digest this nutrient well, you may experience intestinal discomfort and pain.

However, there’s one exception within dairy products, and that is yogurt. This product is recommended, because the levels of lactose it contains are very low and it has a high concentration of probiotic bacteria. According to a study published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, these microorganisms are capable of preventing and improving diarrheal processes.

Do not eat fatty foods during diarrhea

Products that contain a large amount of fat can cause an increase in intestinal contractions, aggravating the processes of diarrhea. In this sense, we recommend lean foods that are easy to digest.

Food to avoid include fast food, fatty cuts of meat, sauces, fried and battered food, pre-cooked food, and ultra-processed food. Keep in mind that many also have trans-type fatty acids. These nutrients have been shown to increase the level of inflammation in the body.

However, a certain amount of quality fats is necessary in the diet, especially if there’s an intestinal pathology of inflammatory origin. It’s important that unsaturated lipids are included in the diet, such as those of the omega 3 series. To ensure this, consuming a small daily amount of extra virgin olive oil is enough.

Fried foods and fast food that should not be eaten in diarrhea.
Unhealthy fats, fried foods, and ultra-processed foods shouldn’t be part of the diet of a person with diarrhea.

Artificial sweeteners when suffering from diarrhea

In recent years there has been a great debate regarding the use of artificial sweeteners as a substitute for sugar. These additives are capable of generating an impact on the intestinal microbiota, reducing its diversity. This is evidenced by research published in the journal Nutrients.

This alteration might not only affect the absorption and digestion capacity of the nutrients, but it could also lead to the appearance of diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Furthermore, altering the profile of the microbiota could be linked to the development of inflammatory intestinal pathologies.

It must be borne in mind that the group of artificial sweeteners is very broad and heterogeneous. Some of them seem not to be metabolizable at the intestinal level. However, there are still many gray areas here.

As a general rule, foods that contain artificial sweeteners – ones to avoid if you have diarrhea are the following:

  • Foods labeled as light
  • Candy and gum without sugar
  • Sweetener substitutes for powdered sugar or in liquid form

Gases

Some food increases intestinal gas production. Legumes stand out among them, as they contain a large amount of fiber. This substance ferments in the digestive tract, which causes flatulence.

For this reason, during intestinal changes, it’s advisable to avoid products such as chickpeas, lentils, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and onions. Instead, these vegetables can be replaced by green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and beans.

Likewise, it’s possible to find some fruits that also have this property, ones that aren’t suitable to consume during an episode of diarrhea. These include pears, plums, and dried fruits.

Can you drink alcohol and caffeine if you have diarrhea?

Both alcohol and caffeine are capable of altering intestinal motility, which is why they could aggravate cases of diarrhea. Even alcohol poisoning could generate this problem, due to an alteration in the reabsorption of water in the digestive tract. Special care must be taken, as diarrhea associated with excessive alcohol consumption is related to an increased risk of developing colon cancer.

On the other hand, caffeine also causes an increase in the speed of intestinal transit, something not recommended when suffering episodes of diarrhea. This substance isn’t harmful to health under normal conditions, but you should avoid it when you have digestive disorders. It’s also important to avoid carbonated drinks.

You also have to be careful with spicy foods. These have an irritant character, so they’re able to stimulate the motility of the digestive tract. According to a study published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences, capsaicin from spices could bind to certain receptors in the intestine, causing diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Foods with microbiological risk

You need to take extreme hygiene measures when it comes to eating foods that have a microbiological risk. This is the case with raw fish.

You should always cook the foods present in the diet well to treat diarrhea. Furthermore, hygiene measures must be taken to the extreme: washing hands before eating and handling food, rubbing fruits and vegetables under running water, and cleaning and disinfecting work surfaces.

Don’t eat FODMAP food in diarrhea

Diarrhea can be caused by an inflammatory bowel disease. In this case, it may be a good idea to suppress the consumption of all those products that contain FODMAPs. These compounds are fermentable at an intestinal level, but not digestible, so they can cause an increase in gas production.

According to a study published in Gut, removing them from the diet reduces diarrhea and discomfort in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. However, they should also be suppressed during acute outbreaks of infectious diarrhea.

Normally, FODMAPs are found in some fruits with skin, in dairy products, in honey, in crucifers and in whole grains. Therefore, it’s necessary to propose a diet based on the contribution of quality proteins and fats, with low fiber content.

FODMAP diet.
Although the FODMAP diet has shown benefits for treating some pathologies, it isn’t recommended with diarrhea.

Hydration

Finally, it must be borne in mind that during diarrhea episodes it’s crucial to maintain a good state of hydration. Consumption of fluids on a regular basis, especially water, is key. In the most severe cases, you can even include physiological saline.

A state of dehydration negatively affects health, endangering the life of the patient. For this reason, you shouldn’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink liquids.

Eating to fight diarrhea

Diarrhea is usually transient. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary to take care of your diet to control it, reducing its duration. In this sense, it’s good to have an easily digestible diet.

It’s essential to avoid eating toxic substances when you have diarrhea, as well as irritating compounds that can increase intestinal motility. An increase in the speed of transit causes less reabsorption of fluid in the large intestine.

Finally, if the diarrhea persists, it’s best to consult a specialist. In these cases, diagnostic tests will have to be carried out to explore if there is an underlying pathology that’s causing the problem.

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