Dietary guidelines for Diarrhea

Q.1 My two year old daughter is suffering from gastroenteritis since yesterday. Could you advice me on what is safe to give and what should be avoided in this condition.

A.1.Gastroenteritis is usually due to a viral or bacterial infection that inflames the lining of the stomach and intestine. The infection may be acquired from contaminated food or water or it may be spread among people who are in close contact with each. The symptoms of gastroenteritis are nausea and vomiting, cramping abdominal pain, fever headache and diarrhea – passing of watery stools more than 3-4 times in a day.

The greatest danger that we need to guard against is dehydration, specially in children below 5 years as well as in the elderly. Therefore giving plenty of fluid is the most important step. If your child is vomiting and unable to retain the fluids you are giving then you need to get medical help immediately.

If the infection is due to a virus it will subside in 48 – 72 hours. If you don’t see an improvement in the condition by 36 hours please consult your doctor.

A lot of salts as well as fluid is lost from the body and also plenty of energy is required at this time. Make sure your child gets rest. The home made dehydration preparation is to be made as follows - in 1 liter of water dissolve 4-5 level teaspoons of sugar and ¾ level teaspoon of salt. The juice of ½ a lemon may be added to this, if desired. Besides this commercially available packets of electrolytes are available which may be given. Your child may take only a few sips at a time but this can be repeated at half hour intervals through out the day. Other citric juices like orange juice and mango must not be given as they aggravate the condition. During this time fat intake must be strictly controlled as it is difficult to digest and absorb and increases the diarrhea. Milk given at this time must be skimmed of cream (cream removed) as much as possible. It is better to reduce milk intake and I would advice you to purchase arrowroot powder and prepare a thin porridge or kanji with it. ¼ Cup of this may be mixed with ¼ cup of milk and sugar and given.

Curds or butter milk is very useful in the treatment of most diarrheas as it contains bacteria which can fight the infection causing organisms in the stomach and intestines. Dilute the curds with a little water, add sugar and salt or only salt and allow your child to take sips of this at frequent intervals. Curd rice at lunch and dinner is the best food for meal times. Only a whole amount may not be tolerated at one time so feed a quarter cup of curd rice wait for 30 minutes then give another ¼ cup.

Besides this arrowroot, Marie biscuit, salt biscuits, rusk, toast and jam or honey and iddli and sugar are good snacks and must be given at frequent intervals. Oats porridge and rice kanji are ideal for meals. Apples are the best fruit to give in this condition. Soft boiled potato and boiled eggs may be given. Baked or grilled chicken or fish and thin dal are permitted. Spicy and oily curries or food must be strictly avoided. Raw vegetables and nuts, papads and pickles must be avoided.

The above advice is applicable for all age groups of people suffering from this condition. No food can heal gastroenteritis so if there is no improvement after the first day get medical help at the earliest.

B complex and C vitamins are essential at this time so please give supplements of this at the onset of the condition and continue for at least one to two weeks.

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