What to Eat and Drink During and After the Stomach Flu

This year, almost 19 million Americans will be sidelined by gastroenteritis, commonly called the stomach flu. Here's how to bounce back.

Sick young woman eating soup

While people often refer to symptoms like nausea, cramping, vomiting and diarrhea as the stomach flu or a stomach bug, the official term is gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines, often caused by different viruses. When the stomach flu strikes, food might be the last thing on your mind. But choosing the right foods and fluids can settle a queasy tummy and help speed your recovery.

Expert and Abbott research scientist Jennifer Williams, MPH, answers your questions about what to eat when you have the stomach flu.

Q: Why is nutrition so important when you have the stomach flu?

JW: Between nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the stomach flu can cause you to lose lots of nutrients and fluids quickly. This can lead to dehydration, making you feel lethargic, or giving you a headache and making you feel even worse. By rehydrating with the right fluids and choosing the best foods for stomach flu recovery, you can replenish those losses and recover faster.

Infographic: How to identify signs of dehydration

Q: Who is most susceptible to dehydration?

JW: Adult bodies are 60 to 65 percent water, so dehydration is an issue for anyone with the stomach flu. But it's an even bigger concern for babies and small children because their bodies contain an even greater percentage of water than adults — about 70 to 75 percent — and they can't always tell you if they're feeling thirsty or dehydrated. Older adults are also more prone to dehydration since they may be taking medicines that are dehydrating, might forget to drink enough or they might limit their fluid intake to cut down on trips to the bathroom.

Q: What is the best strategy to combat flu-related dehydration?

JW: Start with small sips of simple fluids like water, unsweetened hot or iced tea, coconut water or an oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte®. When choosing an oral rehydration solution, look for one that contains sodium, potassium, and chloride, which are the main electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Because these electrolytes help the brain send signals to muscles and nerves, replacing them along with lost fluids can help you feel better faster. Pedialyte has an optimal balance of sugar and electrolytes to combat dehydration during the stomach flu.

Q: For people who are wondering what to eat when they have the stomach flu, what are the best foods for recovery?

JW: This can be hard, because when you're feeling sick, sometimes the last thing you want to think about is eating. But eating can help replenish your energy and what you've lost. The best foods for stomach flu recovery are the ones that can provide your body with what it's missing and are easy to digest during recovery.

  • Salty crackers: The salt helps replace lost sodium and chloride, plus they're great for nausea.

  • Broth-based soups: The salt is good here too and nothing like chicken or chicken noodle soup to settle an upset stomach.

  • Rice: Bland foods like rice, toast, dry cereal and pasta deliver carbs for energy but are easy to digest.

  • Eggs: The protein in eggs provides important nutrition to the body and may be easier on the stomach than red meat or chicken.

Q: Are there any foods and drinks to avoid with the stomach flu?

JW: Too much sugar pulls excess water into the gut, which can make diarrhea worse, so avoid sugary foods and drinks like cookies, soda, juice and sports drinks. Foods that are high in fat or fiber can be difficult to digest, and spicy foods can be very irritating to your digestive system, so I'd steer clear of those until you're back on your feet. Because the body loses important calories and nutrients via diarrhea and vomiting, eating healthy foods and rehydrating is key to recovery from the stomach flu.

If you are experiencing symptoms of the stomach flu or have concerns about the flu and dehydration always consult your healthcare provider.*

*Note: This column is for general educational and informational purposes only. The information and the opinions of the author expressed do not constitute medical advice. Speak to a medical professional if you need personal health advice.

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How Hydration Can Help with Getting Over the Flu

How Hydration Can Help with Getting Over the Flu

When it comes to influenza or more commonly called the "flu," you're probably all set with throat lozenges and your favorite blanket — but what about hydration? Whether it's you or your children tackling the flu this winter, Abbott research scientist Jennifer Williams, MPH explains that hydration is an important part of recovery. Williams specializes in pediatric nutrition and says that learning how to stay hydrated during illness can not only help ease the symptoms of the flu but can also help get you on the road to recovery. That's true of both influenza and the stomach flu, which, despite its name, actually has nothing to do with the flu. The "stomach flu," aka gastroenteritis, actually refers to an inflammation in the gastrointestinal or GI tract and is typically caused by viruses or bacteria. The most common cause is norovirus, which spreads through contaminated water, food and unwashed hands. "The influenza can come with sky-high fevers that drain the water in your body and cause you to sweat out the rest," explains Abbott director of scientific affairs and infectious disease, Norman Moore, PhD, "And, nausea during the stomach flu can make it difficult to consume food or drink, in addition to vomiting and diarrhea that can drain your body of vital fluid and electrolytes." If you experience the onset of influenza-like symptoms, visit your doctor to be tested and treated right away to help lessen the severity and duration of your illness.

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