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Foods for an upset stomach

The 12 best foods for an upset stomach

Almost everyone gets an upset stomach from time to time. These 12 foods can help settle your stomach and get you feeling better in no time.

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This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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Last updated on January 23, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on January 8, 2023.

Almost everyone gets an upset stomach from time to time. Common symptoms include nausea, indigestion, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.

There are many potential reasons for an upset stomach, and treatments vary depending on the underlying cause. Thankfully, various foods can settle an upset stomach and help you feel better faster.

Here are the 12 best foods for an upset stomach.

1. Ginger can relieve nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of an upset stomach.

Ginger, a fragrant edible root with bright yellow flesh, is a common natural remedy for these symptoms.

People can enjoy ginger raw, cooked, steeped in hot water, or as a supplement. It is effective in all forms.

It is a common natural remedy for morning sickness, a type of nausea and vomiting that can occur during pregnancy.

A review of 6 studies, including over 500 pregnant people, found that taking 1 gram of ginger daily was associated with five times less nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

Ginger is also helpful for those undergoing chemotherapy or significant surgery since these treatments can cause severe nausea and vomiting.

Taking 1 gram of ginger daily before undergoing chemo or surgery can significantly reduce the severity of these symptoms.

Some people even use ginger as a natural remedy for motion sickness. It can help reduce the intensity of nausea symptoms and the speed of recovery time.

How this works is not entirely understood, but it’s hypothesized that ginger regulates nervous system signaling in the stomach and speeds up the rate at which the stomach empties, thereby reducing nausea and vomiting.

Ginger is typically safe, but heartburn, stomach pain, and diarrhea can occur at doses above 5 grams daily.

Summary: Ginger can help reduce nausea and vomiting, especially when associated with pregnancy, surgery, chemotherapy, or motion sickness.

2. Chamomile may reduce vomiting and soothe intestinal discomfort

Chamomile, an herbal plant with small white flowers, is a traditional remedy for upset stomachs. People can brew dried chamomile into a tea or take it orally as a supplement.

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Historically, people have used chamomile for treating various intestinal troubles, including gas, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Yet despite its widespread use, only a limited number of studies support its effectiveness for digestive complaints.

One small study found that chamomile supplements reduced the severity of vomiting after chemotherapy treatments, but it’s unclear whether it would have the same effects on other types of vomiting.

An animal study found that chamomile extracts relieved diarrhea in mice by reducing intestinal spasms and decreasing the amount of water secreted into the stool. Still, more research is needed to see if this applies to humans.

Chamomile is also commonly used in herbal supplements that relieve indigestion, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and colic in babies.

However, since chamomile is one of many other herbs in these formulas, it’s difficult to know whether the beneficial effects are from chamomile or a combination of the other herbs.

Although the gut-soothing effects of chamomile are widely recognized, research has not yet shown how it helps to relieve stomach upset.

Summary: Chamomile is a commonly used remedy for stomach and intestinal discomfort, but more research is needed to understand how it works.

3. Peppermint may relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

For some people, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, causes stomach upsets. IBS is a chronic gut disorder that can cause stomach pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

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While IBS can be difficult to manage, studies show that peppermint may help reduce these uncomfortable symptoms.

Taking peppermint oil capsules daily for at least two weeks can significantly reduce stomach pain, gas, and diarrhea in adults with IBS.

Researchers believe that peppermint oil works by relaxing muscles in the digestive tract, reducing the severity of intestinal spasms that can cause pain and diarrhea.

While the research is promising, additional studies must determine whether peppermint leaf or peppermint tea has the same therapeutic effects.

Peppermint is safe for most people, but caution is advised for those with severe reflux, Hiatal hernias, kidney stones or liver, and gallbladder disorders, as it may worsen these conditions.

Summary: Peppermint, especially when consumed as peppermint oil, may help reduce stomach pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea for those with irritable bowel syndrome.

4. Licorice can reduce indigestion and may help prevent stomach ulcers

Licorice is a popular remedy for indigestion and may also prevent painful stomach ulcers.

Traditionally, people consumed licorice root whole. Today, it is available as a supplement called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).

DGL is preferential over regular licorice root because it no longer contains glycyrrhizin, a naturally occurring chemical in licorice that can cause fluid imbalances, high blood pressure, and low potassium levels when consumed in large quantities.

Animal and test-tube studies show that DGL soothes stomach pain and discomfort by decreasing inflammation of the stomach lining and increasing mucus production to protect the tissues from stomach acid.

This may be especially helpful for people experiencing an upset stomach caused by excessive stomach acid or acid reflux.

DGL supplements may also help relieve stomach pain and indigestion from stomach ulcers caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria known as H. pylori.

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Several studies have shown that DGL supplements can eliminate H. pylori overgrowth, reducing symptoms and even promoting the healing of stomach ulcers.

Overall, licorice is a soothing herb for the intestinal tract and can help reduce inflammation and infections that may contribute to an upset stomach.

Summary: Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root (DGL) can help relieve stomach pain and indigestion caused by ulcers or acid reflux.

5. Flaxseed relieves constipation and stomach pain

Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is a tiny, fibrous seed that can help regulate bowel movements and relieve constipation and abdominal pain.

Clinically, chronic constipation is fewer than three bowel movements per week. It can accompany abdominal pain and discomfort.

Flaxseed, either as ground flaxseed meal or flaxseed oil, may relieve uncomfortable symptoms of constipation.

Constipated adults who took about one ounce (4 ml) of flaxseed oil per day for two weeks had more bowel movements and better stool consistency than they did beforehand.

Another study found that those who ate flaxseed muffins daily had 30% more bowel movements each week than when they were not consuming the flax muffins.

Animal studies have found additional benefits of flaxseed, including preventing stomach ulcers and reducing intestinal spasms. However, studies are yet to replicate these findings in humans.

Summary: Ground flaxseed meal and oil can help regulate bowel movements and relieve human constipation. Animal studies suggest they may also prevent stomach ulcers and intestinal spasms, but more research is needed.

6. Papaya can improve digestion and may be effective for ulcers and parasites

Papaya, also known as pawpaw, is a sweet, orange-fleshed tropical fruit that some use as a natural remedy for indigestion.

Papaya contains papain, a powerful enzyme that breaks down proteins in food, making it easier to digest and absorb.

Some people do not produce enough natural enzymes to fully digest their food, so consuming additional enzymes, like papain, may help relieve their symptoms of indigestion.

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There has not been much research on papain’s benefits, but at least one study found that regularly taking papaya concentrate reduced constipation and bloating in adults.

Papaya is also common in some West African countries as a traditional remedy for stomach ulcers. A limited number of animal studies support these claims, but more human research is needed.

Finally, papaya seeds may also help eliminate intestinal parasites, which can live in the gut and cause severe abdominal discomfort and malnutrition.

Several studies have shown that the seeds have antiparasitic properties and can increase the number of parasites passed in children’s stools.

Summary: Papaya concentrate may help relieve constipation, bloating, and stomach ulcers, while the seeds may help eliminate intestinal parasites.

7. Green bananas help relieve diarrhea

An upset stomach from an infection or food poisoning often occurs with diarrhea.

Interestingly, several studies have found that giving cooked, green bananas to children with diarrhea can help reduce the amount, severity, and duration of episodes.

One study found that adding cooked, green bananas were nearly four times more effective at eliminating diarrhea than a rice-based diet alone.

The powerful antidiarrheal effects of green bananas are due to a particular type of fiber they contain, known as resistant starch.

Humans cannot digest resistant starch, which continues through the digestive tract to the colon, the final portion of the intestines.

Once in the colon, gut bacteria ferment the starch to produce short-chain fatty acids, stimulating the bowels to absorb more water and firm up the stools.

While these results are impressive, more studies are necessary to see if green bananas have the same antidiarrheal effects in adults.

Additionally, since resistant starches are converted to sugars as a banana ripens, it’s unclear whether ripe bananas contain enough resistant starch to have the same effects.

Summary: An upset stomach can sometimes accompany diarrhea. Green bananas contain a fiber called resistant starch, which effectively relieves this type of diarrhea in children. More research is needed on adults.

8. Pectin supplements can prevent diarrhea and dysbiosis

When a stomach bug or foodborne illness causes diarrhea, pectin supplements can help speed up recovery.

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Pectin is a type of plant fiber present in high quantities in apples and citrus fruits. It is available in an isolated form as a food product or supplement.

Humans cannot digest pectin, so it stays within the intestinal tract, which is very effective at firming stools and preventing diarrhea.

One study found that 82% of sick children taking daily pectin supplements recovered from their diarrhea within four days, compared to only 23% of children not taking pectin supplements.

Pectin also relieves stomach upset by promoting the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

Sometimes, people develop uncomfortable symptoms of gas, bloating, or abdominal pain due to an imbalance of bacteria in their intestines.

This can happen for various reasons but is especially common after gut infections, after taking antibiotics, or during periods of high stress.

Pectin supplements can help rebalance the gut and reduce these symptoms by increasing the growth of good bacteria and reducing the growth of harmful ones.

While pectin supplements are effective at relieving diarrhea and promoting a healthy balance of gut bacteria, it’s unknown whether natural foods rich in pectin would have the same benefits.

Summary: Pectin, a type of plant fiber found in apples and citrus fruits, may help shorten the duration of diarrhea and promote healthy gut bacteria when taken as a supplement.

9. Low-FODMAP foods may reduce gas, bloating, and diarrhea

Some people have trouble digesting carbohydrates known as FODMAPs: Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.

Undigested FODMAPs enter the colon, where gut bacteria ferment them, creating excessive gas and bloating. They also attract water, which triggers diarrhea.

Many people with digestive troubles, especially IBS, find that avoiding foods with high levels of FODMAPs can help relieve their gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

A review of 10 randomized controlled studies found that low-FODMAP diets relieved these symptoms in 50–80% of people with IBS.

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While not all people with digestive issues have trouble digesting FODMAPs, working with a nutritionist may help determine whether any of them are causing problems.

Summary: Some people have trouble digesting fermentable carbohydrates known as FODMAPs, and feel better when consuming a low-FODMAP diet.

10. Probiotic-rich foods can regulate bowel movements

Sometimes an upset stomach can result from dysbiosis, an imbalance in the type or number of bacteria in your gut.

Eating foods rich in probiotics, the bacteria that are good for your gut, may help correct this imbalance and reduce symptoms of gas, bloating, or irregular bowel movements.

Probiotic-containing foods that benefit gut health include:

Other foods that contain probiotics include miso, natto, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, but more research is needed to determine how they affect gut health.

Summary: Probiotic-rich foods, especially fermented dairy products, may help regulate bowel movements and relieve constipation and diarrhea.

11. Bland carbohydrates may be more tolerable

Bland carbohydrates like rice, oatmeal, crackers, and toast may help people with upset stomachs.

While people commonly recommend these foods, there is little evidence to show that they help relieve symptoms.

However, many people report that these foods are easier to keep down when you’re not feeling well.

While bland carbohydrates may be more palatable during an illness, it’s essential to expand your diet as soon as possible. Restricting your diet too much may keep you from getting enough of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to heal.

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Summary: Many people with an upset stomach find bland carbohydrates easier to tolerate than other foods, but there is little evidence to show that they relieve symptoms.

12. Clear liquids with electrolytes can prevent dehydration

When vomiting or diarrhea accompanies an upset stomach, it’s easy to dehydrate.

Vomiting and diarrhea cause your body to lose electrolytes, the minerals that maintain fluid balance and keep your nervous system functioning correctly.

A person can often treat mild dehydration and electrolyte losses by drinking clear liquids and eating foods that naturally contain electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium.

Water, fruit juice, coconut water, sports drinks, broths, and saltine crackers are great ways to restore fluid loss and electrolyte imbalances associated with mild dehydration.

If dehydration is severe, drinking a rehydration solution containing an ideal ratio of water, sugars and electrolytes may be necessary.

Summary: Drinking enough fluids and replenishing lost electrolytes is important for anyone suffering from vomiting or diarrhea.

Summary

Many foods can help relieve an upset stomach.

Herbs and spices like ginger, chamomile, mint, and licorice have natural stomach-soothing properties, while fruits like papaya and green bananas can improve digestion.

Avoiding high-FODMAP foods helps some people eliminate gas, bloating, and diarrhea, while probiotic foods like yogurt and kefir can help regulate bowel movements.

When vomiting or diarrhea accompanies an upset stomach, hydrate and replenish electrolytes. You may also find bland carbohydrates easier to keep down.

While it’s very common to experience an upset stomach sometimes, eating these foods can help you feel better and get on the road to recovery.

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