Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian
When you are sick with a stomach virus, the last thing you probably want to think about is food. However, if you are losing food and fluids through vomiting or diarrhea, it is especially important to work to rehydrate yourself. Food is important, too, but as the second step after fluids.
If you are suffering from vomiting or diarrhea, that means you are losing not only fluids but also key nutrients like the electrolytes sodium and potassium. While we normally get these electrolytes in our regular diets, when you are sick, you are not able to eat your usual diet. Your body often cannot digest normal foods when it is compromised with a stomach virus. If you try to eat those hard-to-digest fats, dairy products, whole grains and even some proteins, your body will likely respond with a worsening of symptoms, thus causing further nutrient losses.
A good rule-of-thumb is to keep your intake as clear fluids for at least the first 24 hours of your sickness. This will help your digestive tract to heal most effectively, without needing to focus energy on trying to digest regular foods. Clear liquids are most easily digested and help to rehydrate you. Examples of items on a clear liquid diet include: water, ginger ale, caffeine-free tea, sports drinks, jello, clear chicken or vegetable broth and fruit flavored (pulp-free) popsicles. Look for natural versions when possible. Gatorade makes a great tasting G series natural thirst quencher with sea salts to provide electrolytes. Hansen’s makes a natural ginger ale cane soda that contains real Chinese ginger root – sure to help your queasy tummy! Chamomile tea with honey makes another soothing beverage. Also, try making your own popsicles with apple juice or grape juice, too. As you begin to feel better, you can slowly introduce easy-to-digest regular foods back into your diet. Avoid high fiber foods, high fat foods and dairy products for at least a couple days since they tend to be the most challenging for your body to digest. Continue to avoid caffeine, as it can dehydrate you. In addition to the clear liquids you have been trying, try foods like bananas, applesauce, white rice (try combining with chicken broth for a little boost), dry cereal like Cheerios, toast, oatmeal, cooked carrots or chicken noodle soup. Once your body is digesting foods like these well, you can transition back to a regular diet.
As you return to normal, it is good to consider the ways to prevent getting sick next time. While we cannot avoid getting sick all the time, we can certainly be proactive to keep ourselves as well as we can. Examples include staying well hydrated, washing hands well and often, eating a well-balanced diet with possibly a multivitamin, staying physically active and maybe even taking a probiotic supplement for good immunity and digestive health.
It is no fun to be sick, but with a few good nutrition steps, you should be back on your feet soon and ready to build back good immunity!