The frequent bowel movements in diarrhea can really make you feel uncomfortable.
Thankfully, it is usually feasible to manage occasional bouts of the illness at home, and a crucial aspect of that is staying hydrated along with diet management.
Causes of diarrhea
“Diarrhea is characterized by abnormally loose or watery stools,” says Dr Soumita Biswas, chief nutritionist, Aster RV Hospital, Bangalore. “Most cases of diarrhea are due to bacteria, viruses or parasites. Digestive system disorders can also cause chronic diarrhea. Symptoms may also include abdominal cramps, bloating, weight loss and body aches.”
According to Dr Rahul Tambe, senior consultant, internal medicine, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, eating the right foods during a bout of diarrhea is most important because certain foods can aggravate the condition while others can support the healing process. “Proper nutrition can help solidify stools, restore vital nutrients lost due to frequent bowel movements, and maintain hydration and electrolyte balance,” he says.
Dr M Wali, senior consultant, department of medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, says it should be kept in mind who the food is being given to — say, a child or an adult.
• Boiled rice water: Dr Wali says that boiled rice water helps to bind the stool and even deal with dehydration. Salt is added because it compensates for the sodium loss in the body, helping in quick recovery. “Boiled rice water is given when one loses a lot of water and is unable to consume plain water,” he adds.
• Bananas: “Bananas are high in pectin and proteins, which make them a herbal constipating agent,” says Dr Wali. He adds that they help to smoothen the walls of the stomach and neutralize acidity, which happens because of the irritation in intestines due to diarrhea. Such neutralization is important because otherwise the person will continue to vomit, further complicating the situation. “Loss of sodium and potassium during diarrhea can lead to cramps and intestine distension, and as bananas are rich in potassium, they help to provide motility,” he adds.
• Boiled or steamed potatoes: Dr Tambe points out that potatoes — without any added butter or spices — are a good source of starchy carbohydrates and can be gentle on the stomach.
• Soups: Dr Wali says soups should be consumed as a substitute for roti at home. “Dehydrated individuals tolerate soups very well and they are easily digested,” he adds. Vegetable, makai (corn), mushroom and chicken soups are some of his recommendations. He points out that broths, which are a modification of soup, are very good for rehydration. “Neglect in not giving watery fluids makes an individual reach the hospital because of dehydration,” Dr Wali adds. “If we start giving ORS and liquids with salt, the chances of a patient recovering at home increase.”
• Eggs: “Eggs are rich in protein, have a binding effect on stools and are not heavy on the stomach — this makes them suitable,” he says. But eggs could cause stomach ache among children, so buttermilk can be given to them.
Dr Rahul Tambe suggests avoiding spicy, greasy foods and dairy products (except yogurt with live cultures) as they might exacerbate diarrhea. Drinking plenty of fluids is essential to prevent dehydration. If symptoms persist or are severe, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional.