The “I’m about to puke” feeling is one of the worst feelings, right? We’ve all been there: the aching belly, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
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And when we feel sick to our stomach, we hear our parents (or grandparents) in our head saying, “Have some crackers and ginger ale!”
But is there any proof that those work? Family medicine physician Matthew Goldman, MD, offers five tips for how to feel better when your stomach is in the pits.
1. Reach for the ginger — skip the ale
Studies have shown that ginger root is effective at alleviating nausea and vomiting. What’s more, ginger has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor and antiulcer effects.
However, reaching for the fizzy drink may not be the best way to get ginger in your system because:
- It’s a fake! Ginger ale may not contain natural ginger. It could be an artificial flavoring.
- Too little ginger: If it does have real ginger, it may not have enough to offer significant relief.
- Too much sweetness: “Most commercial-brand ginger ales have at least 10 teaspoons of sugar,” says Dr. Goldman. “If a person has bloating, gas or indigestion, the carbonation and sugar may make it worse. Even diet ginger ale can be harmful because our bodies may not digest artificial sugars as well.”
Dr. Goldman suggests reading labels to ensure you’re getting less sugar and enough real ginger. Your best bet? Ginger root from the grocery store. Peel it and mix with decaf tea or warm water.
He advises having ginger in small amounts throughout the day – no need to get gluttonous about it. Other ginger options available in the natural foods aisle of your grocery store or at a natural foods store include:
- Ginger candies or lollipops (preferably low-sugar).
- Ginger tea.
- Foods that contain ginger (like low-sugar gingersnap cookies).
- Powdered ginger.
2. Snack on saltines for an upset stomach
“When your stomach doesn’t feel quite right, seek out low-fat, bland and slightly salty foods,” Dr. Goldman says. “You’ll see the best results when you eat smaller portions throughout the day.”
Bland foods like saltine crackers pass easily through the stomach, and there is evidence to suggest that they:
- Soak up some of the irritation-causing acid that sits in an empty stomach.
- Prevent acid being released in the stomach (heavier foods tend to cause more acid production).
- Are less likely to trigger nausea because they are odorless.
- Contain salt to help replace lost electrolytes.
“You don’t have to rely only on saltines, however,” Dr. Goldman suggests. “There are lots of bland foods that can bring you relief.”
These tummy soothers include small portions of:
- Clear soup
- Boiled starches like potatoes and vegetables
- Graham crackers
- Wheat toast
3. Take in fluids, especially if you’re vomiting or have diarrhea
Fluids are important when you have a stomachache, especially if you need to replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Choose clear liquids in small amounts.
“Often, a straw can help deliver just the right amount. Take lots of sips during the day,” says Dr. Goldman. “Carbonation may be helpful unless you’re experiencing bloating. If you are, then skip carbonated beverages altogether.”
Dr. Goldman also suggests oral electrolyte solutions rather than sports drinks. They have electrolyte concentrations that more closely resemble what our bodies need, including minerals like potassium and magnesium.
“Sports drinks are designed to replace what we lose from sweat, but that’s a different scenario than what happens when you’ve had vomiting or diarrhea,” he says. “Plus, sports drinks tend to have a higher sugar content, which may feed bad gut bacteria.”
4. Know what you shouldn’t nosh
“There is evidence that patients with an upset stomach feel worse after eating certain foods,” says Dr. Goldman. “These foods aren’t just gas-producing – they can increase nausea, bloating, vomiting and/or diarrhea as well.”
He recommends avoiding foods that are:
- Spicy or smelly, such as pizza, onions and salsa.
- High in fat, such as fried chicken, sausage, bacon and roast beef.
- Acidic, such as coffee, orange juice, tomato juice and alcohol.
- Sweet, such as sodas and sports drinks.
5. Give tummy troubles some time (but not too much time)
Give your body a few days to recover from stomach woes. If it’s a stomach virus, it will pass on its own. Similarly, stress, motion sickness or something you consumed (like food, medicine or alcohol) could be causing your symptoms — but these too shall pass.
However, Dr. Goldman points out that it’s never a bad idea to reach out to your provider if you’re concerned. And definitely call your doctor if you:
- Can’t stop vomiting.
- See blood in your vomit.
- Have no appetite.
- Are losing weight.
- Notice other changes in your bowel movements.
- Have difficulty swallowing.
- Have any questions or concerns.