You've probably heard of the super-bland B.R.A.T. Diet (it stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast), prescribed for decades for stomach bugs that lead to diarrhea — it's mild, easily digested and while it won't get rid of your virus or bacterial infection any faster, it's a way of getting some nutrients while you're running to the restroom with the runs, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
But diarrhea is obviously not the only symptom people attribute to their stomach. "Everyone uses 'stomach ache' when what's wrong might not be in their stomach at all," says Tamara Duker Freuman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., author of The Bloated Belly Whisperer: See Results Within a Week and Tame Digestive Distress Once and for All.
Your stomach is located on the top left of your abdomen, under your rib cage, says Freuman. But needing to run to the bathroom (as well as it's opposite, constipation) means something's going on in your intestines, she says, which are lower down. Bloating can be either in your stomach or your intestines (people say they're bloated when they're full of gas, for instance), whereas heartburn, nausea or belching is more likely to be true tummy trouble.
Why the anatomy refresher? "We want to be really careful with G.I. symptoms: There are so many different conditions, and for some people, eating makes things better, and for others that's not so," says Freuman. What you eat specifically also depends on what's going on with you, as well as how often you eat — or, crucially, whether to eat at all. "Putting more food into a system isn't going to make most people with abdominal pain feel better. If the G.I. tract is overfull to begin with, or you have gas taking up space and volume, eating isn't going to make you feel better," and might make you feel worse. If it's an ulcer causing your pain, however, eating a small meal of something soft and not acidic could be soothing.
In short, says Freuman, it's really hard to generalize about what you should eat — it really depends on what's going on with you. That's why it is worth spending some of your brain power on figuring out what foods you can tolerate and which to avoid, she says. For instance, if you have a lactose intolerance issue, taking your enzyme tablets before you eat the ice cream is much wiser than trying to address the cramping, pain, bloating and nausea afterwards. "It's a lot easier to prevent than fix G.I. upset, and that's especially true if the problem is in your intestines," she says. And of course, if you suspect the cause of your G.I. problems isn't dietary, see a gastroenterologist to get to the root of the issue.
All that said, below are some snacks and drinks that may help you with your uneasy gut, depending on what's causing your issue.
Coming off a round of antibiotics can leave your midsection feeling touch-and-go, because antibiotics, while killing the bacteria that was making you sick, also kill some of the "good" bacteria that balance your intestinal microbiome. "Kefir is a probiotic-rich, fermented milk drink that you can drink on its own or add to smoothies or other recipes, and it has a tart and tangy flavor, and a thin consistency," says Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O., C.D.N., NASM-CPT, Good Housekeeping's resident dietitian. "It provides a healthy dose of diverse probiotics, which can help balance the gut microbiome. It's also been shown to support a healthy immune system and suppress viral infections." This may alleviate some discomfort and help you feel better. Look for varieties that are low in sugar, as options with higher sugar may exacerbate symptoms.
If you’re sticking to a bland diet or experiencing symptoms like diarrhea, raw vegetables can be difficult to digest. But plain boiled vegetables, specifically ones like green beans, may be easier for your system to process, and they'll provide a dose of nutrients your body needs to function well and fight off what's plaguing you, Sassos says. Folks with ulcers also do better with softer food, says Freuman. "A cooked diet is better than the raw stuff," she says.
One of the B.R.A.T foods, "applesauce is an awesome aid to get your stomach back in working order," says Jessica Stamm, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in California. It's easy to digest but still delivers important nutrients like pectin (a type of fiber) and potassium, a mineral that functions as an electrolyte to help keep fluid levels balanced.
Cooked carrots are a great way to boost nutrition and flavor when your menu is limited. "Cooking vegetables like carrots or spinach makes them easier to digest, and they're perfect in egg scrambles or broth-based soups," Stamm says.
Now's the time to lean in to your love for white rice. "You may be wired to go for whole grain, high fiber options when it comes to carbs — but trust me when I say that gentle is best when your tummy is uneasy," Stamm says. Since it's low in fiber, white rice is easy to digest, and its starchy quality may help turn loose stools into firmer ones.
Getting a bit of protein is important, even when you're feeling icky, but reach for things like chicken or fish, which are easier to digest and prepared plainly compared to fattier red meat. "Unseasoned proteins can be a good addition to your plain white rice or a baked sweet potato," Stamm says.
"Bananas are great because they're easy to digest and considered non-irritating for the stomach and upper gastrointestinal tract," says Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., co-founder of Appetite for Health. The high-fiber fruit not only keeps the system regular and aids in recovering from diarrhea, but the vitamin B6 also reduces bloating caused by fluid retention and the magnesium helps to relax muscles.
While it may seem counterintuitive, keeping your belly empty when feeling queasy can create more nausea because there's nothing in the system to absorb stomach acid. Upton suggests nibbling on white toast or soda crackers every few hours since the starches from these simple carbohydrates "lack fiber, protein and fat — all of which slow digestion and sit in your stomach longer."
Upton's top two choices belong to the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and dry toast) diet, "the clinical diet plan registered dietitians use when patients have acute diarrhea or nausea."
"High-fat sources of protein like processed or red meats and fried food can cause reflux — especially if you’re consuming large amounts late at night," London says. "Eggs are an easier-to-digest alternative and an easy way to meet your protein needs without getting too full, too fast." She recommends scrambling them with a drizzle of cooking oil or butter for a light dinner when you need something simple.
Adding whole grains can both soothe tummy ailments and prevent any future intestinal issues. "Soluble fiber from oats draws water into your digestive tract and moves food through your body," London says. Aim to hit at least 25 to 35 grams of total fiber per day, but don't overdo it. "Both hunger and overeating can make nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, and gas even worse," she adds.
Prebiotic foods — produce, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds — can help "fuel" friendly gut bacteria in your GI tract, London explains. By stimulating that "microbiota," prebiotics boost intestinal immunity and prevent inflammation, diarrhea, and other GI problems, according to 2013 research by the Institute of Food Technologists. Stock up on tomatoes, chicory, onions, asparagus, and wheat for the best benefits.
Foods that are rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium also reduce belly bloat by balancing out sodium. Plus, research has linked diets high in these nutrients with smaller waists in those genetically predisposed to carrying weight in their midsections. Add yams, avocados, oranges and spinach to your repertoire to help bust bloating.
"Ginger tea, ginger supplements, ginger lozenges — ginger has been shown in some studies to help alleviate nausea and vomiting," Upton says. "In fact, it is often recommended for morning sickness and for chemotherapy-induced nausea."
Just one word of caution: "While it's safe for adults, ginger should not be used to treat a child's gastrointestinal illness," she adds.
Upset tummies often result from getting a little backed up. And since dehydration frequently causes constipation, sipping unsweetened beverages like tea, sparkling H2O and the occasional diet soda can keep everything moving along. Most people need a minimum of eight cups per day.
If you know your tummy troubles stem from constipation, London also recommends drinking a cup of joe first thing in the morning. Research has shown that caffeine plus coffee's plant-based antioxidants can help you stay regular. Avoid caffeinated beverages if you're sensitive, or feeling nausea or reflux unrelated to constipation. (Coffee, however, is not a good idea for people for whom acid upsets their stomach, says Freuman.)
Foods to Avoid
You may be craving comfort foods, but we're not advising you to eat french fries when your tummy hurts. Just like some foods can help with stomach upset, there are also certain foods that may make things worse. Steer clear of these foods when you have an upset stomach:
Sugary/artificially sweetened foods
High fiber foods like kale, beans and a lots of popcorn. "These are bulky, coarse fibrous foods that take up a lot of space, and in genreal these are the most likely to provoke the G.I. system," says Freuman.
You Might Also Like