17 Foods and Drinks for When the Stomach Flu Strikes
By Makayla Meixner
Scientifically, the stomach flu is known as viral gastroenteritis, a highly contagious infection that affects your stomach and intestines.
Norovirus — the most common stomach flu virus — results in 19–21 million cases each year in the U.S. alone (1Trusted Source).
The primary symptoms of the stomach flu include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping and abdominal pain (2).
Fortunately, some foods and beverages may help settle your stomach, prevent further complications, and help you bounce back faster.
Here are 17 foods and drinks for when you have the stomach flu.
1. Ice Chips
The most common complication of the stomach flu is dehydration (3).
When the virus strikes you, it can be difficult to keep anything down, including water and other liquids.
Though hydration is crucial when faced with this illness, drinking too much at once may worsen nausea and vomiting.
Sucking on ice chips is a great place to start, as it prevents you from consuming liquids too quickly. This may help you keep fluids down and stay better hydrated in the early stages of the stomach flu (4Trusted Source).
SUMMARYIce chips help you take in water slowly, which your body may tolerate better in the early stages of the stomach flu.
2. Clear Liquids
Diarrhea and vomiting are the main symptoms of the stomach flu. They can quickly lead to dehydration if lost fluids aren't replaced (5Trusted Source).
Clear liquids are mainly composed of water and carbs, making them easy to digest. Some options are:
- decaffeinated teas
- clear fruit juices, such as apple, cranberry, and grape juice
- sports drinks
- coconut water
- oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte
Keep in mind that fruit juices and sports drinks can be very high in sugar, so it's important to not drink too much of these beverages at once. Plus, avoid giving them to infants and young children without professional guidance, as they may worsen diarrhea (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7).
Clear liquids are easily digested and help replenish fluids lost due to diarrhea and vomiting.
3. Electrolyte Beverages
Replacing lost fluids and electrolytes is the cornerstone of stomach flu treatment (10Trusted Source).
At the first onset of diarrhea and vomiting, health professionals often recommend oral rehydration solutions, especially for infants and children. These contain water, sugar, and electrolytes in specific proportions that are easy to digest (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
Sports drinks are another option to help replenish fluids and electrolytes but are typically higher in sugar.
Researchers suggest that they may be just as effective as oral rehydration solutions at treating dehydration in adults (14Trusted Source).
Electrolyte beverages provide fluids and replenish important minerals lost during the stomach flu.
4. Peppermint Tea
In one study in 26 people who experienced nausea after surgery, smelling peppermint oil while doing deep breathing exercises relieved nausea in 58% of participants (16Trusted Source).
While studies on the benefits of peppermint tea for stomach flu specifically are lacking, there is little to lose by trying it. At the very least, peppermint tea is a potential source of much-needed fluids when you're sick.
Several studies suggest that smelling peppermint may alleviate nausea, though more research is needed on peppermint and the stomach flu specifically.
Though research on ginger for nausea during the stomach flu specifically is lacking, several studies have found that ginger helped reduce nausea due to pregnancy, cancer treatment, and motion sickness (19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
Ginger is available fresh, as a spice, or as an ingredient in teas, ginger ale, and candies. Meanwhile, concentrated amounts of this spice can be found in syrups, capsules, and tinctures (22Trusted Source).
However, it may be best to avoid concentrated sources, as ginger may cause diarrhea when taken in high doses (23Trusted Source).
Instead, try freshly grating ginger root into a soup or brewing it in tea to potentially relieve nausea during the stomach flu.
Many studies support using ginger to reduce nausea, but more research is needed on using this herb to reduce nausea during the stomach flu specifically.
6. Broth-Based Soups
Broth-based soups have a very high water content, which can help with hydration during a bout of stomach flu.
They're also an excellent source of sodium, an electrolyte that can quickly become depleted with frequent vomiting and diarrhea.
For example, 1 cup (240 ml) of a standard chicken-noodle soup is about 90% percent water and provides roughly 50% of the Daily Value (DV ) for sodium (25).
During the stomach flu, broth-based soups are an ideal transition to solid foods, as they provide plenty of fluids and electrolytes.
7–10. Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast
Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are the foundation of the BRAT diet.
Health professionals commonly recommend these bland foods for stomach complaints, as they're gentle on your stomach.
Keep in mind that the BRAT diet alone will not provide your body with all the nutrients it needs.
Nonetheless, bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are safe options to start with when queasy from the stomach flu.
Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are safe foods to try while sick with the stomach flu.
11–13. Dry Cereal, Crackers and Pretzels
Since they're free of spices, low in fat, and low in fiber, they're gentle on your tummy.
What's more, these refined grains are often fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, which may help you get closer to meeting your daily nutrient needs while ill (31Trusted Source).
Dry cereal, crackers, and pretzels may be better tolerated during the stomach flu, as they're easy to digest, free of spices and low in fat and fiber.
14. Plain Potatoes
Bland foods like plain potatoes are great options when you have the stomach flu.
Plain potatoes are soft, low in fat, and made up of easily digestible starches. They're also loaded with potassium, which is one of the primary electrolytes lost during vomiting and diarrhea (32Trusted Source).
Avoid adding high-fat toppings, such as butter, cheese, and sour cream, as they can worsen diarrhea. Instead, consider seasoning your potatoes with a dash of salt, as sodium can become depleted during the stomach flu.
Plain potatoes are easily digested and rich in potassium, an important electrolyte that can become depleted during the stomach flu.
Eggs are a nutritious choice when you're ill with the stomach flu.
When prepared with minimal added fat, dairy, and spices, eggs are easy on your stomach.
They're also an excellent source of protein, with 6 grams per large egg, and provide other nutrients, like B vitamins and selenium, which is a mineral that's important for your immune system (34, 35Trusted Source).
Avoid frying eggs in oil, butter, or lard, as high amounts of fat may worsen your diarrhea (36).
Eggs are easy on your stomach and rich in protein and other nutrients, making them a great option when you're sick with the stomach flu.
16. Low-Fat Poultry and Meat
Lean poultry and meats may be better tolerated than high-fat options when you have the stomach flu. Lean choices include:
- skinless, white meat cuts of chicken and turkey
- extra-lean ground chicken, turkey, and beef
- low-fat cold cuts (lunch meat), such as chicken, turkey, and ham
- extra-lean cuts of beef, such as top sirloin and eye of round steak
- pork chops with the fat trimmed off
Avoid frying the meat and instead opt for baking, roasting, or grilling to help keep the fat content low and prevent further aggravating your upset stomach.
Low-fat poultry and meat are recommended over high-fat options, as they may be better tolerated during the stomach flu.
When hit with the stomach flu, replenishing fluids is a top priority.
Fruits also provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and vitamins A and C (41Trusted Source).
Eating fruit can help replenish fluids when you have the stomach flu, which is a top priority.
Food and Drinks to Avoid
Some foods and beverages may worsen nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other stomach flu symptoms. Consider avoiding the following:
- Caffeinated beverages. Caffeine can impair sleep quality, which may hinder recovery. Also, coffee stimulates your digestion and may worsen diarrhea (42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source).
- High-fat and fried foods. High-fat foods are more difficult to digest and may lead to diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting (29Trusted Source, 44Trusted Source).
- Spicy foods. Spicy foods may trigger nausea and vomiting in some people (29Trusted Source).
- Milk and milk products. When sick with the stomach flu, some people have issues digesting lactose, a protein in milk and milk products (46Trusted Source).
Caffeine, dairy, and overly sweet, spicy, or fatty foods and drinks may aggravate stomach flu symptoms.
The Bottom Line
When faced with the stomach flu, it can be difficult to keep food and beverages down.
Ice chips, clear liquids, and electrolyte beverages are good places to start, as they can help replenish fluids and electrolytes.
Until you're able to tolerate your usual diet, bland options like soups, refined grains, and plain potatoes are safe. Eggs, fruit, and low-fat poultry may also be easier to digest.
Allowing your body to rest, staying hydrated, and trying some of the foods on this list may help you recover more quickly when the stomach flu strikes.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>