Diarrhea is when you have loose and watery bowel movements (stools). This occurs when a bacteria, virus, or other irritant causes the natural rhythm of your gut to become overactive. Food and fluids pass too quickly through the gut, preventing the absorption of water and minerals.
Since what you eat and drink plays such a big role in your gut health, knowing how to recognize potential food triggers may be helpful.
Foods and Drinks to Avoid That Can Cause Diarrhea
Everyone is different. What might trigger diarrhea for one person could be fine for another. Here are some of the food groups and drinks that can trigger or worsen diarrhea for some people1:
Fried, greasy, and fatty foods – Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats can cause diarrhea or make symptoms worse. The extra fat is broken down in the colon (large intestine), which causes the release of extra fluids that cause a bout of diarrhea.
Spicy foods – Spicy food is one of the more common culprits of diarrhea and stomach pain. Capsaicin, which gives peppers their spicy taste, can be an irritant for some people2.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners – Fructose is a sugar that occurs naturally in fruits (fresh fruits and fruit juices). Since the body can only digest small amounts of fructose at a time, eating too much fructose-containing foods at one time can cause diarrhea1. Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and fructose can irritate the digestive system1,3. Keep an eye out for these ingredients on product packaging.
Caffeine – Caffeine stimulates your digestive system as well as your mind. If you think that caffeine may be triggering your diarrhea, try to limit how much caffeine you consume in foods (chocolate) and drinks (coffee, tea, and sodas)1.
Lactose-containing foods – Milk, cheese, cream, and other dairy products are known to cause diarrhea for people with lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant, consider LACTAID® products or non-dairy alternatives.
While these foods may trigger diarrhea, it is also a good idea to avoid these foods if you are already experiencing diarrhea symptoms.
Other Food Triggers for Diarrhea
Food may trigger diarrhea, a symptom of food poisoning, if it gets contaminated with a virus or bacteria4. Food sensitivities and food intolerances can also trigger diarrhea.
If you eat or drink contaminated food or water, you could contract gastroenteritis—and, with it, diarrhea. Gastroenteritis leads to the stomach and intestines becoming inflamed and is usually caused by a virus or bacterial toxin5.
Your gut may become sensitive to certain foods (food sensitivities) when the beneficial bacteria in your gut are not balanced6. Food intolerances happen when your body cannot properly digest (break down) certain foods or food ingredients6. Gluten and lactose intolerances are two common examples of food intolerances6.
How to Avoid Food That Triggers Diarrhea
If your system happens to be prone to diarrhea, there are several tactics you can use to keep your digestive system on track. Keeping a food diary to identify problem foods, or eating smaller portions, can help7,8.
Keep a Food Diary
If you have diarrhea that may have been caused by eating a certain food, you can try to identify the food item by keeping a diary of what you eat every day, and cross-reference it when the symptom occurs. Here are some food diary tips7,8:
Write down absolutely everything you eat or drink, including condiments, seasoning (if possible), and all liquids. Also record the amount you eat or drink and the timing of your bowel movements.
Note your stress levels on each given day. You might be surprised by its impact.
Look for patterns and identify your problem foods and fluids.
Think long-term. You may need to document this information in your diary for several weeks before you notice any patterns. Discuss your findings with your healthcare professional.
Break Down Problem Meals
You may have discovered that eating a meal with multiple components (pasta with tomato sauce, for example) triggers diarrhea—but you won't necessarily know which ingredient is the culprit. Using this example, you could try to eat pasta without tomato sauce and vice versa. Apply this same thinking to all sorts of meals.
Following an elimination diet with the guidance of a healthcare provider or dietician can also help you determine trigger foods that cause diarrhea6.
Use IMODIUM® for Diarrhea Relief
Looking for an effective diarrhea medicine? Try IMODIUM®.
IMODIUM® products contain an active ingredient called loperamide, which works to help relieve diarrhea and restore the digestive system to its normal rhythm. Your diarrhea symptoms may resolve more quickly with IMODIUM products than they will by letting the diarrhea run its course. If symptoms persist for more than two days or get worse, stop use and consult your healthcare professional.
To prevent future bouts of diarrhea, paying attention to what you eat may help your digestive system.