Diarrhea and Nutrition

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Diarrhea and Nutrition

Using Diet To Treat Digestive Disorders
Diarrhea and Nutrition
Diarrhea and Nutrition
The relationship between nutrition and diarrhea has been recognized since antiquity. It is a complex interaction that may express itself in one of three ways.
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Diarrhea and Nutrition

The relationship between nutrition and diarrhea has been recognized since antiquity. It is a multifaceted relationship. For example:
  • Food may be responsible for the diarrhea.
  • Complications, for example, dehydration or malabsorption, may result from diarrhea.
  • Nutritional management, for example, hydration and diet, can help to treat or prevent diarrhea.
  • Eating contaminated food or water may cause infectious diarrhea.
Some foods cause diarrhea if the intestines do not break them down. For example, people with low or absent levels of lactase, the intestinal enzyme that breaks down lactose, will experience diarrhea if they ingest too much of this sugar found in dairy products. Milk, ice cream and soft cheeses have high lactose content. The undigested lactose draws water into the colon and makes stool loose and watery.
Other foods that may cause diarrhea by the same water-drawing action (called osmotic diarrhea) include apple juice or pear juice, or apples and pears eaten in abundance; and sugar-free candies or gum made with sorbitol or mannitol.
At the first sign of diarrhea, make sure you are drinking sufficient amounts of fluid to avoid dehydration. If the color of your urine is dark yellow, this indicates that you are not drinking enough. After professional consultation, parents may be directed to give electrolyte solutions to their infants or young children. Older children and adults should consider adding a little salt and sugar to water or using sports drinks as part of fluid maintenance.
Keep your diet simple. In the early stages of diarrhea, avoid whole grains, most fresh fruits (bananas are okay), vegetables and milk. Rice and rice cereals are usually easy to digest. Add baked or broiled lean chicken, meat or fish as you begin to feel better. Slowly reintroduce foods that you normally eat.


Last updated January 07, 2009

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