Self-conscious about diarrhea, people may say they have the “trots” or the “runs.” Call it what you like, diarrhea is a common and uncomfortable disorder of the digestive tract where the stools are watery and the need to “go” occurs at least three times a day. The disorder can be classified as either acute or chronic.
Acute diarrhea typically lasts a day or two and often resolves on its own. The cause is often unknown, though frequently it is due to bacteria or toxins transmitted by food. Or it may be due to a viral infection like the rotavirus or norovirus. Conversely, chronic diarrhea is long-lasting and can be a sign of a variety of conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or food intolerances.
No matter the cause, diarrhea can very quickly result in dehydration. A clear liquid diet lets the bowel rest while replacing fluids. Water, broth, and unsweetened lukewarm coffee and tea should be consumed throughout the day, and you should drink an additional cup of water after every loose bowel movement. If diarrhea lasts longer than a day, consider replacing electrolytes with coconut water or sports drinks. If tolerated, tomato juice provides both potassium and sodium - two important electrolytes.
The BRAT Diet (an acronym for Bananas, white Rice, Applesauce, and Toast) is a standard protocol for dealing with diarrhea because the foods are easy to digest. The rice should be freshly cooked because refrigeration changes the nature of the starch and makes it harder to digest. Though BRAT is a good starting point, the goal is to return to a more varied nutrient-dense diet as soon as possible. Other bland easy to digest foods include canned fruit, hot cereals, cooked carrots, freshly boiled potatoes or pasta, and poached or canned chicken. If tolerated, plain yogurt or kefir can help to heal the intestinal lining.
During a bout of diarrhea, avoid foods which are highly spiced, fatty or fried. Steer clear of fruit seeds, skins and stringy fibers. Bean and legumes, raw vegetables and vegetables with a lot of fiber (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, corn, cabbage, peas) should also be avoided.
If diarrhea lasts more than three days or is accompanied by a high fever, you should seek the advice of a health professional. Diarrhea that comes and goes may be a reason to seek the advice of a registered dietitian who specializes in gut health.
Nancy Teeter is a SaddleBrooke resident. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, she is an expert at helping people make healthy lifestyle changes to improve health and reduce the risk of disease.