Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Nutritional management of diarrhea

Diarrhea is frequent, loose and watery bowel movements. It occurs when waste matter passes quickly through the bowel before your body has a chance to absorb the water from it. Diarrhea may cause dehydration — a lack of water in your system. Thus, it is very important when you have diarrhea to drink a lot of fluids, especially water. Drink liquids that are at room temperature — not hot or icy. If you have a sudden, short-term attack of diarrhea, the National Cancer Institute recommends taking nothing but clear liquids for the next 12 to 14 hours to allow your bowel rest and to replace the important fluids lost during the incidence of diarrhea. Discuss any difficulties with diarrhea with your physician or registered dietitian.

The following are good food choices if you have diarrhea:

  • Yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Rice, noodles and potatoes.
  • Farina or cream of wheat
  • Eggs (cooked until the whites are solid, not fried)
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • White bread
  • Canned, peeled fruits and well-cooked vegetables
  • Skinned chicken or turkey, lean beef and fish (broiled or baked, not fried)

Try to avoid the following:

  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Raw vegetables
  • Fruit seeds, skins and stringy fibers.
  • Vegetables with a lot of fiber such as broccoli, corn, dried beans, cabbage, peas and cauliflower

Some people need to avoid milk and dairy products when they have diarrhea, because they may not tolerate the lactose contained in these products.