Stomach bug – the importance of eating
Got a stomach bug and can’t face the thought of food? Think it will only add to the dodgy tum? Well, it all depends on what you opt for; yes, a big greasy option will most likely make you feel a bit queasy! However, it’s crucial to keep hydrated and supply your body with the essential nutrients it needs in order to help support your immune system, keep your energy levels up and fight off the invading bug.
What exactly is a stomach bug?
Most of you probably remember being told by a parent “Oh no, I think you’ve caught a bug!” Whilst feeling slightly sorry for yourself, you no doubt took the pros with the cons and happily accepted a day off school. But what was actually going on inside your body?
“You’ve caught a bug,” usually implies that bacteria or a virus has invaded your body. Sounds nasty, doesn’t it? Well yes, it isn’t ideal and whilst there, these invaders can make you feel quite ill. But, all going well, your immune system should be ready to put up a good fight and you should hopefully be able to return to normal fairly quickly.
Stomach bugs are very often caused by viruses and common culprits include norovirus and rotavirus. Generally, these pesky pathogens cause irritation and inflammation of the lining of your stomach, also known as gastritis, which can give rise to symptoms such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. As your immune system works hard to fight off the virus, you can also experience a fever and aching muscles and joints, which are also common symptoms of other types of viruses too, such as the flu virus.
Luckily, unlike some other viruses, those which cause a tummy bug can often be eradicated fairly quickly and many people experience a ’24 hour bug,’ by which time your immune system has shunned the invader and your symptoms start to ease.
How is food poisoning different?
Food poisoning is usually the result of eating food contaminated with bacteria. There are many reasons why food can become infected but improper storage, cooking and handling methods are among some of the main risk factors.
Don’t underestimate food poisoning; it’s a nasty situation and can really make you very ill – often much more so than a regular stomach bug. Food poisoning shares some common symptoms with a typical stomach bug but often more extreme including; stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, weakness and headache. In some cases food poisoning can result in more severe symptoms such as; acute diarrhoea lasting for several days (this puts you at severe risk of dehydration), a very high temperature as a result of fever (over 38⁰C) or your cognitive functions could even be affected. If any of these symptoms appear it is important to seek medical advice immediately.
What foods are traditionally recommended for a tummy bug?
For many years the BRAT diet was a go-to when people were ill. The BRAT diet is a bland-food diet though to be perfect for when someone had a stomach bug or food poisoning. I outline the BRAT framework below:
B – Bananas: Bananas are high in electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium, which we risk losing during episodes of sickness and diarrhoea. Bananas also contain soluble fibre which can absorb water; this helps to firm up loose stools.
R – Rice: Rice is a bland food and is relatively low in insoluble fibre (especially the white variety) and so is therefore fairly gentle on the bowels.
A – Apples and apple sauce: Apples contain a soluble fibre component called pectin. Pectin can absorb many times its weight in water and can therefore help to stiffen up your stools. Be careful of added sugar in any sauces though, as this could potentially aggravate your symptoms. As an alternative, try some fresh apple with the skin removed.
T – Toast: Toast is a bland food unlikely to contribute to any further upset. As bread is processed it contains little fibre which means it is generally well-tolerated by a sensitive tum. Wholemeal bread may also be an option for you – it contains slightly more fibre but is still classed as a ‘binding’ food, meaning it can help to absorb any excess liquid in the gut and move along any lurking nasties! Oatcakes are another alternative to bread; they’re gentle on the system, good for providing some sustainable energy and are a nice gluten-free option.
However, in more recent years the BRAT diet has become less popular, as it’s pretty restrictive and doesn’t necessarily include the most nutritious and beneficial foods – especially over long periods of time.
Here I give you the lowdown on how I think you should approach a stomach bug and what foods to include where.
How does this fit in with the foods I would recommend?
Although food is often the last thought on your mind, it is still important to fuel your body appropriately whilst fighting an infection.
Below I outline the five foods you should try eating (preferably in this order) if you’re feeling sorry for yourself and have a stomach bug.
Forget the food – number one on my list is liquids. If you’ve been making several trips to the toilet as a result of sickness or diarrhoea you are instantly at a much greater risk of becoming dehydrated. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming drinking water will make your diarrhoea worse, you will definitely need some H2O goodness to help you get back to fighting fit!
Try sipping very small amounts of water at a time or suck on an ice cube to ease you in gently (especially if you still fear there’s a chance you’ll vomit it straight back up). If all is going well, try adding in a rehydration sachet such as our Balance Mineral Drink or coconut water which is rich in naturally occurring electrolytes.
During the very early, tentative stages (when you’re not quite ready for munching on solids just yet) try incorporating some ginger into your regime. Try some ginger tea bags or simply grate some fresh ginger into some hot water with lemon and sip on this. Candied ginger is also an option which you can suck on, just watch out for the sugar content. Ginger is an anti-spasmodic and considered very good for soothing unsettled tums – there’s even some research to back up its use1.
Ok, so there is a time and a place for BRAT – I’m not ruling out these foods completely. After the vomiting has tailed off and you’ve been able to keep liquids down, you can give them a try. My advice is start with very small bites and don’t eat too much at once.
4. Homemade soup
As soon as you are sure the BRAT foods are going down ok it’s time to move swiftly on – don’t feel you have to restrict yourself to BRAT foods for days on end – you need some nutrients! You can slowly begin to concentrate on introducing some of your essential macronutrients including complex carbohydrates and protein. By slowly I also mean sensibly. Food choices are critical at this stage as the nausea could easily make a hasty return.
Also, by slowly introducing some sources of insoluble fibre you can gently prompt your bowels to move and get rid of any remaining traces of pathogens! Chicken is a lean meat which allows you to benefit from some protein and not too much fat which could risk bogging down your system. Protein is required for repair and recovery processes around the body, just what you need after fighting off an infection. Chicken soup is assumed to be helpful for those suffering with an illness, and has been used traditionally in this way. Instead, why not try making some homemade soup packed with warm, cooked vegetables and wholegrain rice. Opt for short-grain rice which is less abrasive, soaks up more water and is easier to chew. Pearl barley or red lentils are also other good options. They’re nutritious, gentle in the system and high in fibre.
Finally, try seasoning your soup with a little herb infused sea salt such as Herbamare and, together with the chicken and vegetables, you will end up with a broth rich in vitamins, minerals and electrolytes; all of which your body will be crying out for!
A good few days after the diarrhoea and sickness have passed, it can be useful to introduce some probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurts or sauerkraut. Good quality yoghurts such as Greek yoghurt often contain good levels of gut-friendly bacteria. Check the label where the bacteria should be listed and while you’re there check for sugar too, this should be avoided or it could encourage further bacterial imbalance.
5. Pre- or probiotic foods
Try taking these in combination with some Molkosan® too, as it is rich in L+ lactic acid it helps to support the growth of these beneficial strains of bacteria. Get the balance back quick! Good quality probiotic supplements can also give you an added boost if you feel you’re taking that little bit longer to return to your old self – your good bacteria can really take a hit after an infection and it can often take a while for the balance of bacteria in your gut to return to normal again.
I hope this puts you in good stead for making a speedy recovery! Don’t feel you have to be restricted to very bland foods for too long and remember: liquids, liquids, liquids! Hydration is key, good luck!
Blog originally published on 14/09/16, updated on 14/01/19