5 foods that help fight diarrhea – and 5 foods to stay away from

If you have diarrhea, it may be best not to drink milk, experts say. Audrey Popov / Getty Images

Chances are at some point in your life you’ve experienced diarrhea.

Just how common is it? Well, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation’s latest statistics, over-the-counter retail sales for diarrhea medications and remedies were $50 million in 2008 – nearly double what it was in 2003.

Diarrhea is unpleasant, to say the least, but it’s a digestive problem that can be helped by tweaking your diet.

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“First, it’s important to address the underlying cause of the loose bowel movements,” Andrea D’Ambrosio, registered dietitian with Dietetic Directions and spokesperson with Dietitians of Canada, says. “For example, some people are sensitive to certain types of foods like lactose or gluten and may experience loose bowels from consumption. However, others experience ‘acute’ or short-term diarrhea when taking certain medications or undergoing cancer treatment, surgery or even a very anxiety-producing situation.”

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So if relief from diarrhea is what you’re looking for, D’Ambrosio offers up a list of five foods that can help with diarrhea management, as well as five foods to steer clear of.

Foods that help

1. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is an example of a food containing soluble fibre and may be helpful in managing diarrhea, D’Ambrosio says.

“Soluble fibre is a type of fibre that works by attracting water and turns it into a gel during digestion,” she explains. “This slows the digestion process and can help adding bulk to bowel movements.”

2. Psyllium husks

Another type of soluble fibre, psyllium husks can also help with diarrhea.

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“It is imperative to increase water with soluble fibre to ensure that you don’t alternate to constipation since the fibre needs water to absorb to move through the digestive tract,” D’Ambrosio explains.

3. White rice

White rice is a common food that is generally well tolerated for those with diarrhea.

“The reason is because it is low fibre, which helps in not promoting bowel movements,” she says. “This allows the bowels to form instead of promoting them to move.”

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For example, brown rice would be higher in insoluble fibre, D’Ambrosio points out, which helps food pass more quickly through the stomach.

4. Bananas

One serving of banana is actually half a banana, D’Ambrosio explains, and they are a good source of soluble fibre.

“However, it is important to address the underlying cause of the diarrhea,” she says. “For example, if an individual has fructose malabsorption, consuming a whole banana or an over-ripe banana could worsen diarrhea.”

Bananas are also a great source of potassium, she says, which is an electrolyte that needs to get replaced when you’re dealing with loose bowel movements.

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5. Broth-based soups

These types of soups are helpful for replenishing the losses of salt and potassium from loose bowels, D’Ambrosio says.

“They are generally well-tolerated by the body and can help in maintaining electrolyte balance which can shift with changes in hydration and output of liquid.”

Foods that may not help

1. Fatty or greasy foods

For some people, greasy foods worsen diarrhea, D’Ambrosio says.

Avoid fried foods, or foods high in fat like bacon, sausage, pizza and pastries which may worsen symptoms.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine acts as a bowel stimulant and may aggravate diarrhea in some, she says.

3. Milk

If someone has underlying lactose intolerance, they will need to determine how much they are able to tolerate without symptoms, D’Ambrosio says.

“For many with lactose intolerance, yogurt and cheese are easier to tolerate because they have lower amount of lactose.”

4. Sorbitol or sugar-free foods

“If an individual has sugar-free candies or gums or certain ‘diet products,’ the sorbitol or xylitol ingredients can act as laxatives and can worsen diarrhea,” according to D’Ambrosio.

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5. Bran

If you have diarrhea, you will want to minimize the amount of insoluble fibre, which adds bulk to the stools and promotes movement, D’Ambrosio says.

When to see your doctor

“It is important to note these foods will not cause diarrhea for every individual,” D’Ambrosio warns. “Which is why it’s important to address with your doctor how often you have been experiencing loose bows and when it occurs.”

It’s especially important to address with your doctor if the diarrhea is happening on a regular basis, she adds.

“It is important to discover the underlying cause for your diarrhea and to know that each individual may have different triggers and foods that help.”

If left untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration and possibly malnutrition, D’Ambrosio says.


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