3 tips about what to eat and drink when you have food poisoning

Every year, about 1 in 6 Americans get sick from a foodborne illness — also known as food poisoning — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 That’s 48 million people who may find themselves suffering through symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, stomach cramps, headaches — and in some cases muscle weakness and body aches.1,2

Harmful bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella can show up in any type of food. But they’re more likely to be found in raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and seafood. Raw and unwashed veggies such as sprouts or leafy greens and fruit can also carry bacteria and upset your stomach.3

Eating is usually the last thing on anyone’s mind when they’re fighting an upset stomach. But when you’re ready to eat, what can you eat to get back your strength?

Here are some tips on what to eat and drink after food poisioning.

1. Load up on liquids

Even if you can’t keep food down, it’s crucial to stay hydrated, no matter how bad your symptoms.

“Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to significant fluid loss, which can result in dehydration,” says Monisha Bhanote, M.D., a Florida-based physician specializing in integrative lifestyle medicine. And being dehydrated can make symptoms worse, notes Dr. Bhanote. If you go too long without fluids, you can get a headache or become dizzy and confused.4

While water is usually a good bet, you need to replace salt and electrolytes you’ve lost. So, choose electrolyte-rich liquids (such as broths or sports drinks) or an oral rehydration solution instead.5 When you do drink, take little sips. That will make it easier to keep liquids down.6 Stay away from coffee and other caffeinated drinks, as well as milk and other dairy drinks. You might find the lactose hard to digest after a bout of food poisoning.7 Also avoid overly sugary drinks. If you crave fruit juice, water it down and stick to clear juices like white grape or apple.5

2. Choose easy-to-digest foods

If you feel ready to eat again sooner, that’s fine, explains Whitney Stuart, a registered dietitian nutritionist and diabetes educator in Dallas.

“Start with easy-to-digest and soft foods, like scrambled eggs, almond butter on a banana, or peanut butter toast,” says Stuart. Pairing protein-rich foods such as nut butters with bananas or toast can help balance blood sugar and keep you feeling full longer, Stuart explains.

Of course, you can also eat stomach-soothing foods such as chicken soup or bone broth. Both contain gut-friendly glutamine, an extra source of protein and electrolytes, Stuart notes. You can either make your own (look for recipes online) or opt for a store-bought version.

Try the bland diet

The bland diet consists of simple vegetables (like spinach, carrots and beets), lean meat and low-diet diary products. It’s intended to lessen the stress on your digestive system by easing the breakdown of food.8 Talk with your provider to see if this path is the best course of action for your specific situation.2

3. Avoid certain foods and drinks

Some foods and drinks can make your symptoms worse or bring them back. According to Dr. Bhanote and Stuart, these include:

  • Overly spicy or greasy or high-fat foods, such as pizza or fried foods
  • Alcohol 
  • High-fiber foods that are harder to digest. “Don’t jump right back into raw veggies. Keep them cooked for the first few days,” says Stuart.

Having food poisoning can derail you for a day or so. If you think you have food poisoning that feels severe or if you need help on what to do next, call a provider for guidance on your specific situation. 2

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