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

Start simple until you're hydrated and seeing signs of recovery
tea and toast when not feeling well

Struggling to keep anything down — or in? If you’ve been hit by the stomach flu — otherwise known as viral gastroenteritis (and an entirely different beast from the common flu, or influenza)  — you probably won’t feel like eating or drinking much.

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But if you’re looking to find out what you can try to stomach with a stomach flu, you certainly know it’s not the best idea to toss back a plate of chili-cheese nachos. 

For some clearer direction family physician Laura Lipold, MD, sorts out a few less obvious do’s and don’ts to get you through until you’re back on your feet again. 

Avoid these when you have the flu

  • Skip your daily coffee: Avoid your cup of joe and favorite caffeinated soda (this includes cola beverages) for a one week. Caffeine contracts your intestines, which can make diarrhea worse, Dr. Lipold notes.
  • Avoid alcohol altogether: Alcoholic beverages act as a diuretic and can aggravate your stomach even more.
  • Don’t eat hard-to-digest foods: When you have the stomach flu steer clear of fatty, greasy, spicy and acidic foods. Dairy and tomato-based dishes are also tough on a sick gut.
  • Never force yourself to eat: If you don’t feel like eating, don’t push your body. “Try to focus on recovering, rest and staying hydrated,” Dr. Lipold says.
  • Avoid juices: Apple, orange, or any other juices won’t do you much good.

Eat, drink and do these with the flu

Drink plenty of clear liquids

Wait until 2 hours have passed since your last episode of vomiting. Start with small frequent sips. Water, clear soda (stir it well to release more carbonation), herbal decaffeinated tea, broth or over-the-counter electrolyte replacements are great ways to avoid dehydration when you have a stomach flu with frequent diarrhea or vomiting.

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“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 says. “You may turn to the common ginger ale fix but again, stir or let it sit on the counter in an open container until the carbonation evaporates.”

Eat complex carbohydrates

Potatoes and whole grains (think rice and toast) are your best choices to help replace nutrients you may have lost while vomiting or too many trips to the bathroom. Try lean meats without too much spice or condiments, which can upset your stomach more (think chicken and fish).

Suck on ice chips

If you can’t keep anything else down, ice chips will help give you the hydration you likely need little by little over a longer time, but it may be better tolerated by your stomach, Dr. Lipold says.

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See your physician

“If you haven’t been able to keep liquids down for 24 hours, show signs of dehydration, are vomiting blood, have abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea or a fever above 102 F — it’s time to visit your doctor,” Dr. Lipold says.

“You may have another illness which may need to be treated right away,” she adds. “And since some symptoms like diarrhea could potentially be a sign of COVID-19, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider.”

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