We all know the feeling … you’ve been hit with a stomach bug and you’re craving something to settle your stomach, but you know eating only saltines all day is not the healthiest option. If you’re my generation or older, you’ve likely been taught to eat the BRAT diet when you have an upset stomach (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) … but even that doesn’t seem too nutrient dense. So, what do you do? Force down a salad even though it makes your stomach turn, or stick to BRAT even though you know it’s a blood sugar roller coaster waiting to happen? I have a solution for you, in what I call the BERP diet … here’s what to eat with an upset stomach!
Why bland foods sound appealing with an upset stomach
Of course, there are many causes of an upset stomach, from recovering from food poisoning, to hormonal shifts, to a small virus or bug. The mechanisms of each are unique. But regardless of mechanism, when we’re dealing with an upset stomach, our digestive capacity is reduced and inflammation is likely increased. As such, we don’t want to put high demands on the digestive system by asking it to break down complex, hard-to-digest foods, like those rich in fiber or heavier, fattier foods.
The reason the BRAT diet became popular is that these foods are low in fat, easy to digest, and lower in fiber. That said, they’re also low in nutrients, and can deplete your energy further, so I’ve created the BERP diet to uplevel your nutrient intake without putting a strain on your digestive system.
What to eat with an upset stomach: the BERP diet
When you’re sick, here are a few foods to choose to nourish your body, help it recover, and not overstrain your digestive system. These foods to eat with an upset stomach are what I call the “BERP Diet” because of their first letters:
- Bone Broth: Bone broth is one of the easiest-to-digest proteins available, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is abundant in many helpful amino acids. Glutamine, for example, strengthens our immune cells and helps repair the gut lining, and glycine helps stimulate the appropriate digestive secretions and relax the muscles of the digestive system, making it easier to tolerate foods.
- Electrolytes: Especially if your variety of stomach upset comes with diarrhea or vomiting (but even if it doesn’t!), you’ll want to prioritize replenishing your electrolytes, which are depleted quickly with an abnormal loss of fluid. Their high potassium content is one reason bananas are effective on the BRAT diet, so feel free to include a banana as well, but an electrolyte supplement like Ultima Replenisher mixed in your water can be a tasty way to replenish potassium and other electrolytes, while helping you get down fluids. Plain water can be even more challenging for some when their stomach is upset, so if an electrolyte supplement helps, add it in! For more on electrolytes (including what they are and how to use them for workouts), see this post.
- Rice: Yes, I stole it from the BRAT diet. I don’t usually recommend loading up on white rice because of its relatively low nutrient content and relative likelihood to raise blood sugar, but it is an easy-to-digest, low-fiber (good in the case of stomach upset!) option that is comforting to many, so go ahead and include it as you’re recovering from an upset stomach.
- Pumpkin: When we got my first dog, Maverick, in 2016, he had some … ahem … nearly constant “stomach issues” (meaning, he had diarrhea almost all of the time), and canned pumpkin was a major contributor to his return to normalcy! Plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!) has a great blend of antioxidants and alkaline minerals to help nourish your body while not taxing the system. It has fiber in a format and amount that is helpful to return your digestive tract to normalcy, just like Maverick’s. Personally, I just eat it with a spoon – add a little cinnamon and sea salt and I love it. But you can also stir it into yogurt (I may recommend dairy-free yogurt like coconut yogurt if you have an upset stomach), oatmeal, smoothies, and more!
Other helpful things to eat with an upset stomach
- Eggs: When I originally created the BERP diet, eggs were the “E,” but because some people have intolerances to eggs, I’ve since swapped it out. That said, if you do not have an egg intolerance, eggs can be a very easy-to-digest complete protein, requiring a lot less digestive capacity than, say, a steak, but with a ton of nutrients to return your body to strength. Scramble up a few eggs, go light on the seasoning and hot sauce, and see if you can tolerate them – you may find yourself feeling better quickly!
- Ginger and ginger tea: Ginger has been widely studied as a digestive aid, helping with everything from nausea and vomiting to diarrhea to stomach pain. You can boil fresh ginger root in water to make a tea or purchase a ginger tea like this. There are also ginger chews, which taste amazing and work well, but do have added sugar, so enjoy in moderation.
- Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil (try for 100% organic oil, like this one) can be used in a diffuser, but I find it most effective when actually rubbed onto the abdomen. It is recommended to use a carrier oil, so follow the instructions on your bottle, but personally, I rub a small amount right into my skin. Again, this is not recommended and can burn your skin if done in excess, so proceed with caution!
- Probiotic-rich foods: As soon as you’ve “turned the corner,” I recommend adding in some probiotic-rich foods to strengthen the “friendly army” in your gut trying to return it to normal. Probiotic-rich foods have been shown in research to reduce the duration of diarrhea by about 24 hours, and help the body fight off infections. Kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, natto, and apple cider vinegar can be good options.
- Cracker substitutes: If you’re sick, do what you have to do! But if you know that “normal” saltines cause inflammation because of the gluten or lead you to not feel great for any other reason, I love turning to almond flour crackers like Simple Mills when sick.
What not to eat with an upset stomach
When you’re sick, it’s a great time to lay off of anything that causes inflammation or requires a lot of digestive capacity. Particularly, high-fiber foods, high-fat foods, added sugar, highly acidic foods, and alcohol can all inhibit recovery. Here’s what to avoid with an upset stomach:
- Veggies, especially raw ones. I know – this is the only time I recommend not having veggies! But with an upset stomach, a giant salad or a pile of raw vegetables is just too tough to digest. Stick to pureed or well-cooked vegetables, or (gasp!) even lay off completely for a day or two.
- Meat. For some, a bit of ground meat or deli turkey may be just fine, but in general, meat requires a lot of digestive capacity, so it’s a good time to reduce consumption.
- Cream sauces. They can give many people diarrhea even without a stomach bug, so layering them together often spells disaster. Stay clear of heavy, rich sauces.
- Alcohol, added sugar, fried food, and other inflammatory foods. When you’re sick, you’re already dealing with extra inflammation, so it helps to limit the additional inflammation from food. Do your best to reduce all of these categories until you feel better.
Now it’s your turn … What do you eat when you have an upset stomach? Will you remember the BERP diet for next time?