When you have viral gastroenteritis, certain foods and drinks may help keep you nourished and soothe your stomach. These can include ice chips, clear broths, and bland foods like bananas.
Scientifically, the stomach flu is known as viral gastroenteritis. It is a highly contagious infection that affects your stomach and intestines.
Norovirus — the most common stomach flu virus — results in 19–21 million cases yearly in the United States.
The primary symptoms of the stomach flu include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping, and abdominal pain.
If you have stomach flu, some foods and beverages may help settle your stomach, prevent further complications, and help you bounce back faster.
Here are 17 foods and drinks for when you have the stomach flu.
1. Ice chips
The most common complication of the stomach flu is dehydration.
When you have the stomach flu, keeping anything down, including water and other liquids can be difficult. Though hydration is crucial when you have this virus, drinking too much at once may worsen nausea and vomiting.
Sucking on ice chips is a great place to start because it prevents you from consuming liquids too quickly. This may help you keep fluids down and stay better hydrated in the early stages of the stomach flu.
Summary: Ice chips help you take in water slowly, which your body may tolerate better in the early stages of the stomach flu.
2. Clear liquids
Diarrhea and vomiting are the main symptoms of the stomach flu. They can quickly lead to dehydration if you do not replace lost fluids.
Clear liquids mainly contain water, while some also have sugar. They are usually easier to digest than drinks like orange juice and milk, which are not considered clear liquids.
Clear liquids include:
- oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte
- herbal or decaffeinated teas
- clear fruit juices, such as apple, cranberry, and grape juice
- sports drinks
- coconut water
Remember that fruit juices and sports drinks can be very high in sugar, so avoiding drinking too many of these beverages at once is important. Also, avoid giving them to infants and young children without professional guidance since they may worsen diarrhea.
Summary: Clear liquids are easily digested and help replenish fluids lost due to diarrhea and vomiting.
3. Electrolyte beverages
Electrolytes are a group of electrically charged minerals that aid critical bodily functions, such as blood pressure regulation and muscle contraction.
Replacing lost fluids and electrolytes is the cornerstone of stomach flu treatment.
At the first onset of diarrhea and vomiting, health professionals often recommend oral rehydration solutions, especially for infants and children. These contain water, sugar, and electrolytes in specific proportions that are easy to digest.
Sports drinks are another option to help replenish fluids and electrolytes, but they are typically higher in sugar. Researchers suggest they may be as effective as oral rehydration solutions for treating adult dehydration.
Summary: Electrolyte beverages provide fluids and replenish important minerals lost while you have the stomach flu.
4. Peppermint tea
Peppermint tea may help relieve stomach flu symptoms. Just the smell of peppermint may reduce nausea.
In one study including 26 people who experienced nausea after surgery, smelling peppermint oil while doing deep breathing exercises relieved nausea in 58% of participants.
While studies on peppermint tea’s benefits for stomach flu are lacking, there is little to lose by trying it. At the very least, peppermint tea is a potential source of much-needed fluids when you have stomach flu.
Summary: Several studies suggest that smelling peppermint may alleviate nausea, though more research is needed on peppermint and the stomach flu specifically.
Ginger is commonly used to alleviate nausea, a primary stomach flu symptom.
Suggested read: Electrolyte water: Benefits and myths
Though research on ginger for nausea from the stomach flu specifically is lacking, studies have found that ginger helped reduce nausea due to pregnancy, cancer treatment, and motion sickness.
Ginger is available fresh, as a spice, or as an ingredient in teas, ginger ale, and candies.
Concentrated amounts of ginger can be found in syrups, capsules, and tinctures. However, it may be best to avoid concentrated sources because ginger may cause diarrhea in high doses.
Instead, try grating fresh ginger root into a soup or brewing it as tea to relieve nausea if you have the stomach flu potentially.
Summary: Many studies support using ginger to reduce nausea, but more research is needed on using this herb to reduce nausea from the stomach flu specifically.
6. Broth-based soups
The American College of Gastroenterology recommends broth and broth-based soups as a first choice if you’re experiencing diarrhea and transitioning back to eating.
Broth-based soups have a very high water content, which can help with hydration during the stomach flu.
They’re also an excellent source of sodium, an electrolyte that can quickly become depleted with frequent vomiting and diarrhea.
For example, 1 cup (240 mL) of a standard chicken-noodle soup is about 90% water and provides roughly 32% of the daily value for sodium.
Summary: During the stomach flu, broth-based soups are an ideal transition to solid foods, providing plenty of fluids and electrolytes.
7–10. Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast
Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are the foundation of the BRAT diet.
Health professionals recommend these bland foods for stomach complaints because they’re gentle.
Remember that the BRAT diet alone will not give your body all the nutrients it needs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children return to their usual age-appropriate diets as soon as they are rehydrated.
Suggested read: The 12 best foods for an upset stomach
Nonetheless, bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are safe options when queasy from the stomach flu.
Summary: Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are safe foods to try while sick with the stomach flu.
11–13. Dry cereal, crackers, and pretzels
Dry foods like cereal, plain crackers, and pretzels are safe options to avoid triggering nausea and vomiting during the stomach flu.
Since they’re free of spices, low in fat, and low in fiber, they’re gentle on your stomach.
They’re also made up of simple carbs, which your body quickly and easily digests.
What’s more, these refined grains are often fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, which may help you get closer to meeting your daily nutrient needs while you have the stomach flu.
Summary: Your body may better tolerate dry cereal, crackers, and pretzels during the stomach flu since they’re easy to digest, free of spices, and low in fat and fiber.
14. Plain potatoes
Bland foods like plain, boiled potatoes are great options for stomach flu.
Plain potatoes are soft, low in fat, and made up of easily digestible starches. They’re also loaded with potassium, one of the primary electrolytes lost from vomiting and diarrhea.
Just 1 medium potato, or 167 grams (g), provides about 12% of the daily value for potassium.
Avoid adding high-fat toppings like butter, cheese, and sour cream. These can worsen diarrhea. Instead, consider seasoning your potatoes with a dash of salt because sodium can become depleted during the stomach flu.
Summary: Plain potatoes are easily digested and rich in potassium, an important electrolyte that can become depleted during the stomach flu.
Eggs are a nutritious choice when you have the stomach flu.
Eggs are easy on your stomach when prepared with minimal added fat, dairy, and spices.
They’re also an excellent source of protein, with 6 g per large egg, and provide other nutrients, like B vitamins and selenium, a mineral important for your immune system.
Avoid frying eggs in oil, butter, or lard, as high amounts of fat may worsen your diarrhea.
Summary: Eggs are easy on your stomach and rich in protein and other nutrients, making them a great option when you have stomach flu.
16. Low-fat poultry and meat
Your body may better tolerate lean poultry and meats than high-fat options when you have the stomach flu. Lean choices include:
- skinless, white-meat cuts of chicken and turkey
- extra-lean ground chicken, turkey, and beef
- low-fat cold cuts (lunch meat), such as chicken, turkey, and ham
- extra-lean cuts of beef, such as top sirloin and eye of round steak
- pork chops with the fat trimmed off
Avoid frying the meat and instead opt for baking, roasting, or grilling to help keep the fat content low and prevent making your upset stomach worse.
Suggested read: 12 foods that may help with muscle cramps
Summary: Low-fat poultry and meat are recommended over high-fat options since they may be better tolerated during the stomach flu.
When you have stomach flu, replenishing fluids is a top priority.
Beverages aren’t the only option for hydration. Many fruits are 80–90% water. The following are some of the fruits highest in water:
Fruits also provide abundant vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and vitamins A and C.
However, many whole fruits are high in fiber, making them difficult to digest. Cooked fruits like applesauce may be easier to tolerate.
Summary: Eating fruit can help replenish fluids when you have stomach flu, which is a top priority. Cooked fruits may be easier on your stomach than raw fruits.
Food and drinks to avoid when you have the stomach flu
Some foods and beverages may worsen nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other stomach flu symptoms. Consider avoiding the following:
- Caffeinated beverages: Caffeine can impair sleep quality, hindering recovery. Coffee stimulates digestion and may worsen diarrhea.
- High-fat and fried foods: High-fat foods are more difficult to digest and may lead to diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
- Spicy foods: Spicy foods may trigger nausea and vomiting in some people.
- Sugary foods and beverages: High amounts of sugar may worsen diarrhea, especially in children.
- Milk and milk products: When sick with the stomach flu, some people have issues digesting lactose, a sugar in milk and milk products. This side effect can sometimes last up to a month or more.
Summary: Caffeine, dairy, overly sweet, spicy, or fatty foods and drinks may worsen stomach flu symptoms.
When you have the stomach flu, keeping down foods and beverages can be difficult.
Ice chips, clear liquids, and electrolyte beverages are good places to start. They can help you replenish fluids and electrolytes.
Until you can tolerate your usual diet, bland options like soups, refined grains, and plain potatoes are safer choices. Eggs, unsweetened applesauce, and low-fat poultry may be easier to digest.
Allowing your body to rest, staying hydrated, and trying some foods on this list may help you recover more quickly when you have the stomach flu.