Eat to beat gastro and diarrhoea

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 10 October 2012.
Tagged: diarrhoea, guides, health, healthy eating, special diets, tips

Eat to beat gastro and diarrhoea
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A clear fluid diet is the best form of treatment for gastro and tummy upsets. It is the "lightest" type of diet, designed to place as little strain as possible on the digestive tract. It is NOT nutritionally adequate and should be followed only for a strictly limited time e.g. two or three days but no more than a week.

A clear fluid diet is useful for:

  • Anyone with a dose of gastroenteritis or diarrhoea
  • Anyone recovering from an operation for a few days
  • Anyone doing bowel prep washout before a colonoscopy or bowel procedure.

If you're not well after three days on a clear fluid diet and can't keep anything down or food passes straight through your bowels, you need to seek medical advice. Dehydration can quickly become an issue, especially with children.

Foods allowed

  • Clear broth - try our Beef broth recipe below
  • Weak black tea (may be sweetened with a little sugar or honey) with a slice of lemon
  • Flat lemonade or other non-cola soft drink, diluted 1 part plus 4 parts safe water
  • Diluted cordial, made up with 1 part cordial plus 4 parts water
  • Jelly
  • Rehydration solutions and ice-blocks e.g. Gastrolyte or Hydralyte are excellent and can be purchased from pharmacies. These electrolyte and glucose replacement liquids are good for children who are sick.


The lactose (sugar) of milk is poorly absorbed when the digestive system is damaged or upset, as in gastroenteritis. Keep off milk , yoghurt, cutard, ice-cream and other milk-based dairy products for four to seven days after resuming food. Hard yellow cheese and butter have almost no lactose. 

Fruit juice
The high content of fruit sugars can sometime worsen any diarrhoea and delay recovery. If that's all you have, dilute it down with water.

Avoid it completely - white wine is not a clear fluid!

Transition to your normal diet

After two to three days on clear fluids, introduce light, bland food, such as:

  • Unbuttered toast
  • Plain crackers or rusks
  • Boiled rice
  • Steamed chicken or fish
  • Soup (no cream)
  • Stewed, canned or pureed apples or pears or other soft fruit - sometimes applesauce in a jar is readily available and makes a handy food when sick
  • Boiled or mashed potato (no milk)

Clear beef broth

500g gravy beef or chuck steak
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
few sprigs parsley
2 1/2 litres (10 cups) water
whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

Trim any fat from the beef and dice into large chunks. Place in a large saucepan with onion, celery, parsnip, carrot and parsley. Add water, pepper and salt, if used. Bring to the boil, removing any scum from the surface.

When almost boiling, reduce heat, cover and leave to simmer for 1 hour or until beef is tender. Strain through a colander and serve. Store remaining broth in the refrigerator; reheat as needed. Makes 4-6 serves.

BRAT - a useful acronym

A diet based on Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast (BRAT) – originally used to treat children with diarrhoea - can provide an easy-to-remember diarrhoea first aid treatment. However you MUST add fluids to this. Fluid loss and the consequent dehydration caused is one of the more dangerous aspects of diarrhoeal illnesses. Rehydration solutions such as Gastrolyte or Hydralyte or diluted fruit juice (4 parts water to 1 part juice) are a great way to replace the lost electrolytes and fluid.

Some important things to remember

If you’re dealing with a child with diarrhoea, the advice from Sydney Children’s Hospital is clear. If your child is under 6 months or your child will not take fluids, keeps vomiting, has a high fever or there is blood or mucous in their stools, then take them straight to your doctor or hospital.

To read more about the BRAT diet, see my post Q: I’ve heard my 20-something, backpacking children speak of the BRAT diet for gastro.  What is it?