What Not to Eat When Your Stomach Is Upset, and What to Eat Instead

How you fuel your body when you're feeling blah can make a difference.

A woman's hand holding a peeled banana ready to eat
Marija Kovac/Stocksy

At some point in your life, you will likely experience an upset stomach. Whether it's nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or other symptoms of a stomach bug, knowing what foods not to eat with an upset stomach and which ones to eat instead can help you recover faster.

Here are foods to avoid when your stomach hurts—and foods that can help settle an upset stomach.

Eating on an Upset Stomach

An upset stomach is a common problem that affects children and adults alike. Eating foods that do not agree with you can cause discomfort. So can food poisoning or a stomach bug.¹,²

Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Fortunately, symptoms usually resolve on their own and do not last long. However, if symptoms persist, it could be a sign of a long-term health condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or food intolerances.¹,²

If you are experiencing nausea or vomiting, it is best to wait before trying solid food. Instead, drink small amounts of clear liquids, such as water or electrolyte drinks, or suck on ice pops until nausea subsides.³

Once you're able to try solid foods, the last thing you want to do is eat something that makes you feel worse. Some foods can irritate the stomach, while others can help.

Foods to Avoid With an Upset Stomach

Knowing which foods to avoid can help minimize unpleasant symptoms and speed up recovery. Here are foods you want to avoid when your stomach is upset.

Dairy

Due to their high lactose content, foods like milk and cheese can be hard to digest. Additionally, an estimated 70% of people worldwide are deficient in lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose.⁴

Even if don't usually have difficulty digesting lactose, a stomach virus can cause a temporary lactase deficiency. You might have trouble digesting lactose for up to a month after you recover.⁵

Until you're feeling better, it's best to avoid milk and dairy products for a few days or opt for lactose-free milk.⁵

Soda

People experiencing stomach discomfort should avoid soda and choose water or low-sugar sports drinks instead.⁵

Carbonated sodas can lead to excess air in your stomach when consumed. This can lead to belching, gas, or bloating, making an upset stomach feel worse.⁶,⁷

Many carbonated beverages are also acidic. They can alter the acidity of your gastrointestinal tract, leading to poor digestion, heartburn, and reflux.⁸

Chocolate and Caffeine

Milk chocolate, in particular, contains lactose. Some people who are lactose intolerant may find that chocolate containing dairy triggers gas, bloating, and diarrhea.⁹

Studies suggest that ingredients like caffeine and cacao in chocolate can relax the lower esophageal sphincter. That's the muscular valve that prevents food and stomach acid from seeping up your esophagus.¹⁰

Caffeine found in chocolate, sodas, and energy drinks can also increase stomach acidity, causing heartburn or an upset stomach.¹¹

Although many people can tolerate chocolate in moderate amounts, it's best not to risk it while you are already experiencing stomach discomfort.

Fatty Foods

Foods high in fat are difficult to digest and can be hard on your stomach.

One review of studies suggests that foods high in fat can slow down digestion. It is also believed that fat can cause stomach bloating by increasing levels of the gut hormone cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK influences feelings of fullness and the length of time it takes food to move through your stomach.¹² During periods of bloating, fat can trigger symptoms of nausea, bloating, and fullness.¹³

An increase in CCK levels is also linked to the severity of nausea.¹³

Spices

If you are experiencing stomach pain or nausea, it's best to stick with bland foods. Foods in a bland diet should not be very spicy or highly seasoned, as they may make symptoms worse.¹⁴,¹⁵

One study found that capsaicin, an ingredient in peppers, can cause gastrointestinal upset in individuals with recurrent indigestion.¹⁶

Although spicy foods do not cause stomach ulcers as many experts once thought, they can irritate existing ulcers.¹⁷

Alcohol

Although it is unlikely that you'll be in the mood for a cocktail while battling a stomach bug, you should avoid alcohol. Alcohol can irritate your stomach. It also acts as a diuretic, meaning it causes frequent urination and dehydration.¹⁸

Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultra-processed foods are high in additives, fat, lactose, and sugar, which can aggravate existing gastrointestinal symptoms. Consuming over four servings a day of ultra-processed foods is linked to a greater risk of developing IBS, cancer, obesity, and high blood pressure.¹⁹

Although it can be difficult to avoid processed foods entirely, try to stick with whole or minimally processed foods.¹⁹

Acidic Foods

Acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomato sauce, and chili can lead to acid reflux. This includes fruit juices such as orange juice, and pineapple juice. Instead of citrus fruits, choose hydrating fruits such as watermelon, honeydew, or cantaloupe with lower acid content.²⁰

Foods to Eat With an Upset Stomach

When your stomach is upset, you want to consume bland, easy-to-digest foods until you recover. The best foods to eat with an upset stomach include:²¹, ²², ²³

  • Clear broth
  • Toast
  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Unseasoned chicken or turkey
  • Cooked carrots
  • White rice
  • Eggs
  • Applesauce
  • Gelatin

Other Ways to Soothe an Upset Stomach

If you have a stomach virus, focus on preventing dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. Getting enough rest can help your recovery.

Over-the-counter medications are also available to alleviate your symptoms. These include anti-diarrheal medications, antiemetics (to relieve nausea), and pain relievers. Prescription medications are also available to help you manage severe symptoms.²⁴, ²⁵

Conclusion

Dealing with an upset stomach can be challenging, especially if you have a busy life with ongoing family and work obligations. The good news is that a stomach ache can usually be treated at home and usually goes away within a day or two.

Opt for bland, easy-to-digest foods, and avoid foods high in fat, sugar, lactose, and spices to help you recover faster.

Additionally, you'll want to get enough rest and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. If you are experiencing severe symptoms that do not resolve with at-home treatment, call your healthcare provider to discuss the next steps to help you manage your symptoms.

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