Stomach bug - what should you eat?
Got a stomach bug and can’t face the thought of food? Think it will only add to the dodgy tum? Well in some cases, yes – but it all depends on what you opt for; yes, a big greasy option will most likely make you feel a bit queasy! But it’s crucial to keep hydrated and supply your body with the nutrients it needs, and keep your energy levels up.
You need all the energy you can get to fuel your immune system in order to fight off the invading bugs making you sick, right? Your immune system certainly can’t function properly if you’re running on empty... So, what should you be eating?
What 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 is ready to put up a good fight and you are able to return to normal fairly quickly.
Stomach bugs are very often caused by viruses and common examples of the 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 as these are common symptoms of the influenza virus.
Luckily, unlike other viruses, viruses causing 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 method are among 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.
However, 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. We 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 – Applesauce: Applesauce contains 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 though as this can aggravate your symptoms. As an alternative try some fresh apple with the skin removed.
- T – Toast: Toast is a bland food and as it is processed it contains little fibre. It is classed as a ‘binding’ food which absorbs excess liquid in the gut.
However, in more recent years the BRAT diet isn’t quite so popular, it’s pretty restrictive and not necessarily the most nutritious and beneficial foods to include – especially over long periods of time.
We give you the lowdown on how we think you should approach a stomach bug and what foods to include where.
The foods I 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 eat (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 and 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 need some H2O goodness! Try sipping very small amounts 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 or coconut water which is rich in naturally occurring electrolytes
During the very early, tentative stages (not quite ready for munching on solids just yet) try incorporating some ginger into your regime. Try some ginger tea bags or simple grate some fresh ginger into some hot water 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 very good for soothing unsettled tums
Ok, so there is a time and a place for BRAT – we aren’t ruling it out 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. Chicken & rice 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 introduce some of your essential macronutrients; complex carbohydrates and protein. By slowly we also mean sensibly. Food choices are critical at this stage as the nausea could easily make a hasty return. Try making some homemade soup packed with warm, cooked vegetables and wholegrain rice. 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! The chicken is a lean meat which allows you to benefit from some protein. Protein is required for any repair and recovery around the body, just what you need after fighting off an infection. Finally, season your soup with herb infused sea salt 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 yoghurt. 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. Try taking 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!
We 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!