Tummy troubles due to overindulging, stress, or a nasty bug can strike at any given moment. It’s uncomfortable enough dealing with bowel issues, but darting to the nearest bathroom every few hours (okay, sometimes even minutes!) can be annoying, if not downright embarrassing.
As an overall rule, it’s best to stick with bland foods when your digestive system is off, says Jaclyn London, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. Most people know to steer clear of triggers like dairy, sugar, fatty treats, and alcohol but the synthetic sugars found in ultra-processed foods (they often end with “-ol,” like sorbitol and xylitol) can also spell trouble.
Here are some snacks and drinks that may heal an uneasy gut and bring you back to your “regular” state:
“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.” The end result: Stool with some extra bulk.
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 plus 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 minimumof 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.