Guide to Diarrhea Diet
In North America, diarrhea is one of the most common child illnesses, and it is associated with nearly 1 in 10 of all hospital admissions of children younger than 5 years of age. Although both diarrhea and gastroenteritis in children can safely be managed at home, through proper dietary and nutritional care, always contact your doctor or health care provider in the case of infants.
Diet For Diarrhea
The typical dietary treatment plan for diarrhea and gastroenteritis is (1) replenishment of lost fluids and calories, followed by (2) a relatively bland diet (eg. BRAT diet). Naturally, not all symptoms of diarrhea and gastroenteritis will respond in the same way to this basic diet plan, and medical assistance may be necessary, especially for small children. However, in many cases, this dietary approach should help the patient recover reasonably quickly.
Replacement of Lost Fluids
The key aspect of home management of diarrhea and gastroenteritis is the need to administer increased volumes of appropriate fluids. Such fluid intake helps to regulate electrolyte imbalance, and prevent further fluid losses, vital to prevent dehydration which is a serious condition in babies and young children. When diarrhea starts, a commercially available oral-rehydration solution can be given at home. These ORS products are available at the supermarket or pharmacy and you do not need a prescription.
[Alternatively, make your own rehydration preparation by adding 1 tsp salt and 8 tsp sugar to 1 liter of boiled water. Drink about 1 liter of this mixture every 2 hours.]
Also acceptable are food-based fluids (e.g., cereals or gruels) or other plain fluids. Dehydration is the most serious direct effect of diarrhea, but nutritional complications may occur when nutritional management is not appropriate. So an appropriate diet should be administered as quickly as circumstances permit – typically after about 24 hours.
Bland Diet For Diarrhea
One option is the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) which is a traditional short-term diet plan used to manage diarrhea and gastroenteritis, after about 24 hours has passed when vomiting has stopped. BRAT-type foods provide a combination of bland, low dietary fiber foods which provide energy without gastric irritation. Bananas contain potassium, to control the body’s fluid balance, boiled rice and toast provide low-fiber carbohydrate that doesn’t irritate the bowel. Applesauce supposedly cleanses the digestive system. Keep your child’s diet bland until such time the diarrhea is better.
Infants With Diarrhea
Breast-fed infants may continue nursing on demand. In the case of bottle-fed infants, regular lactose-free, or lactose-reduced formulas should be administered immediately upon rehydration in amounts sufficient to satisfy energy and nutrient requirements. If lactose intolerance occurs, appropriate therapy includes temporary reduction or removal of lactose from the diet.
Older Children With Diarrhea
Older children who are accustomed to receiving semi-solid or solid foods may continue to eat their usual diet foods during diarrhea, so long as these are bland. Cereal-milk and cereal-legume diets are fine. Other recommended foods include starches (e.g., rice, potatoes, noodles, crackers, and bananas), cereals (eg. rice, wheat, and oat cereals), soup, yogurt, and cooked vegetables or fruits.
Diarrhea Diet: Foods to Avoid
Foods to be avoided in the aftermath of diarrhea include foods high in simple sugars, which may worsen the diarrhea by osmotic effects. For example, soft drinks, undiluted apple juice, Jell-O, and presweetened cereals should be avoided. Also, fried or fatty foods may not be tolerated because of their tendency to delay stomach emptying. Lastly, avoid spicy as well as high-fiber foods. Generally speaking, maintain a bland diet until symptoms of diarrhea or gastroenteritis have passed.