Locations:
Search IconSearch
February 2, 2024/Living Healthy/Primary Care

What To Eat, Drink and Avoid When You Have the Stomach Flu

Start slowly with clear fluids, and then move to bland, easy-to-digest foods

Teacup of tea and plate of toast

When the stomach flu hits, you know how miserable it can be to try to eat anything. But even if you feel like a zombie, you are, in fact, still human. And humans need food and fluids to recover.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But when you’re in the throes of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea from the stomach flu, food may be the last thing on your mind. After all, it can be tough to imagine getting anything down when you’ve seen it coming back up so recently. And that’s OK.

“If you’re down with a stomach bug and don’t feel like eating yet, don’t push it,” family physician Laura Lipold, MD, says. “Try to focus first on recovering, resting and staying hydrated.” Food can come later.

But what should you drink and eat when you have the stomach flu? And when? And what will make matters worse? Dr. Lipold shares advice to get you back on your feet again.

Start with hydration

The stomach flu — otherwise known as viral gastroenteritis — is an entirely different beast from the common flu, or influenza. Influenza is a respiratory virus. It comes with symptoms like coughs, fevers and a runny or stuffy nose.

The stomach flu is the one that has you reaching for the bucket or running to the bathroom.

And the biggest problem with the stomach flu is that vomiting and diarrhea deplete your body’s fluids. That leaves you at risk for dehydration, which can really complicate things. So, when the stomach flu hits, food isn’t your first concern. Keeping up your fluids is.

“Severe dehydration could mean a trip to the hospital to receive IV fluids. So, it’s important to try to stay hydrated if you can,” Dr. Lipold shares.

Wait until about two hours have passed since your last episode of vomiting, and start with small, frequent sips so as not to overwhelm your belly. Dr. Lipold suggests:

  • Water or ice chips.
  • Herbal decaffeinated tea. (Ginger tea or peppermint tea can be especially soothing for an upset stomach.)
  • Broth.
  • Electrolyte drinks and powders.

What to eat when you have the flu

For most people, it’ll take several hours after you’ve finished vomiting before food seems even remotely appealing.

But after things begin to settle down, your body will start giving you a gentle nudge that it’s feeding time again.

Wait until you’re able to keep down fluids before trying to eat foods. And even then, you’ll want to tread slowly and be thoughtful about how you begin to refuel. The right foods can help your body recover. The wrong ones can cause cramping and stomach pain or send you racing back to the bathroom all over again.

“I always advise people to eat only when they feel up to it when they have the stomach flu and even then, stick to small meals and snacks at first,” Dr. Lipold says. “If you’re still actively vomiting or having a hard time keeping down clear fluids, it’s not the time to try to eat yet.”

She shares some examples of easy-on-the-belly foods for when you’re fighting the stomach flu.

Complex carbohydrates

Some of the best foods for the stomach flu are foods that are soft, bland and easy to digest. When you’re coming off a bout of nausea and diarrhea, your belly will be happiest if it doesn’t have to work too hard.

That’s when the BRAT diet comes into play. BRAT stands for:

  • Bananas.
  • Rice.
  • Applesauce.
  • Toast.

The BRAT diet may not be the most exciting or enticing menu perhaps. But mild and easy on the belly? Absolutely.

That’s because these foods are good sources of complex carbohydrates, which are gentle on your stomach and some of the best choices to start to replace nutrients you lost in your (many) trips to the bathroom.

“Complex carbohydrates digest slowly into your bloodstream, so they can help your body recover without putting too much effort on your taxed GI system,” Dr. Lipold explains. “They also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs.”

In addition to the BRAT diet, other complex carbs for stomach flu recovery include:

  • Potatoes.
  • Whole-grain products, like bread, cereal and pasta (without sauce).
  • Quinoa.
  • Brown rice.
  • Oatmeal.
  • Apples.
  • Butternut squash or acorn squash.
  • Grits.

Advertisement

Watery foods

Foods that have high water content can also help as you start to recover from the stomach flu. They’ll also help rehydrate you at the same time. Try foods like:

  • Jell-O®.
  • Popsicles.
  • Watermelon.

Ginger

Ginger can help ease the way that food travels through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which can help calm your vomiting reflex.

Some good sources of ginger for stomach flu relief include:

  • Ginger tea.
  • Ginger chews and candies (look for low-sugar options).
  • Ginger-infused snacks and cookies.
  • Powered ginger to sprinkle in a drink or on food.

What about the famous ginger ale fix? Not likely to help.

“Many people stand by ginger ale as a remedy for nausea, but in truth, it doesn’t contain enough real ginger to actually settle your stomach any better than other clear liquids,” Dr. Lipold reports. “And the carbonation can make bloating, gas and indigestion worse.”

Foods to avoid

What you don’t eat can be as important as what you do eat when you have the stomach flu. Some foods can be too much for your already overworked belly.

While you’re recovering, you’ll want to avoid foods that burden your GI tract. That includes things like:

  • Coffee.
  • Carbonated beverages, including soda.
  • Alcohol.
  • Juice.
  • Spicy or highly seasoned foods.
  • Fatty foods.
  • Greasy foods.
  • Acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus fruits.
  • Dairy products.
  • Sugary foods and drinks.

When to seek medical care

Prolonged nausea and vomiting can take a big toll on your body. Talk with a healthcare provider if you:

  • Can’t keep down liquids for 24 hours.
  • Show signs of dehydration, like headaches, muscle cramps, dizziness, lightheadedness or dark-colored urine.
  • Are vomiting blood.
  • Have severe stomach pain.
  • Have bloody diarrhea.
  • Have a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius).

The best way to recover from the stomach flu is with plenty of rest and plenty of liquids. Eat when you can, and take it easy. Your body has been through a lot.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Assorted whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables and nuts
June 21, 2024/Nutrition
Eating for Energy: Foods That Fight Fatigue

What’s on your plate can either help power you through your day or put you in nap mode

Person standing in front of oversized nutrition label, reading it
June 19, 2024/Nutrition
What Can You Learn From a Nutrition Label?

Information on serving size, calories and nutrients can help you make healthy choices

Piles of sugar alcohol
June 17, 2024/Nutrition
What You Should Know About Sugar Alcohols

Often labeled as ‘diabetes-friendly’ or ‘calorie-free,’ these sugar substitutes warrant caution

Person prepping mason jars with meals
June 14, 2024/Nutrition
Should You Eat the Same Thing Every Day? Learn the Pros and Cons

Repeating your meals can help simplify meal planning and counting calories, but it could also lead to boredom and nutritional deficiencies

Person looking in fridge, filled with salad, milk, berries, veggies, juice
June 12, 2024/Wellness
Power Up: 10 Ways To Boost Your Energy Naturally

Making certain food and lifestyle choices can help keep your battery full

Person in bathroom holding stomach and hand over mouth
June 10, 2024/Digestive
Why Am I Throwing Up? And When To See a Doctor

The stomach flu, food poisoning and motion sickness can make you vomit and may result in dehydration

Shirataki Miracle noodles on chopsticks and in red bowl
May 20, 2024/Nutrition
4 Reasons To Give Shirataki (Miracle) Noodles a Try

Fiber-rich shirataki noodles may improve blood sugar, aid in digestion and help with weight loss

Assorted healthy foods spread out over a table and cutting boards
May 20, 2024/Digestive
What To Eat When You Have Diverticular Disease

Reducing inflammation is key when you’re in a flare-up, but so is having a preventive nutritional plan in place when you’re not

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad