Diarrhea: a spontaneous and ever fluid companion
Even though nobody wants to talk, or even think about it, diarrhea often rears its ugly little head during travel. This is because your gut is likely not accustomed to the spices or richness of the new foods you will be trying in other countries. Even slight changes in your sleeping pattern, environment, and activity level can be enough to trigger the onset of diarrhea.
As a clinical dietitian, I work with children who have cancer and suffer from chronic diarrhea as a side effect of the chemotherapy treatments. In my experience, white starchy foods have been the most helpful in alleviating this symptom.
- Mashed potatoes (no peels), soda crackers, white rice, Italian or French bread/toast, and pasta are some excellent examples of beneficial starchy foods to eat when you have diarrhea.
- Another top gun for this trip disruptor is soluble fiber. Many people think fiber is not good for you when you have diarrhea, but soluble fiber is very helpful. It forms a gel with the water in your intestines and bulks things up. Oatmeal and oat bran, along with the insides of beans, peas, and many fruits are great sources of soluble fiber.
- Because your body loses lots of water when you have diarrhea, be sure to stay fully hydrated with drinks that contain electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium. Coconut water or sports drinks are excellent restorative beverages.
Another very common complaint during travel is the inverse to diarrhea: constipation. The main contributors to this uncomfortable condition include changes in food patterns and composition, dehydration, lack of sleep, and a decrease in activity level. All of these things tend to occur while exploring the world, thus the reason for such a high frequency of this problem with travel.
In the hospital, I also work with a lot of people who deal with constipation as a side effect of their pain medications. While we have all heard that prune juice is a good cure, I most commonly recommend fruit nectar (specifically, apricot, peach, or pear nectar) since it tastes so much better and can be just as effective. These fruits are helpful because they contain high amounts of sorbitol, a natural laxative. So, if you are traveling and experience constipation, be sure to eat these three fruits or drink their juices whenever possible.
Just like with diarrhea, fiber can also be your wingman for combating constipation. However, to fight this enemy you need to consume insoluble fiber rather than soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is the indigestible part of foods, such as the seeds in berries, skin on fruit, vegetables, and beans, the chewy part of celery, or the husk on whole grains and brown rice.
- Tip: If you are eating high amounts of foods that help alleviate diarrhea, and you do not have diarrhea, there is a good chance you may become constipated. To avoid this problem, be sure to balance foods from both areas under when your gut is working normally.
Queasiness or general stomach upset is often experienced during travel because our sense of balance and equilibrium is disrupted as unusual motion is detected by the eyes and ears. This is most commonly referred to as motion sickness. Studies have shown ginger to be as effective as prescription drugs in relieving mild to moderate nausea and cold sweats related to motion sickness.
- Try any of the following: gingersnaps, gingerbread, ginger ale, ginger tea or ginger candies. In many Asian countries, you may be able to find pickled ginger or raw ginger to gnaw on when you need a quick stomach stabilizer.
You can find most or all of the foods mentioned in this blog during your travel experience with People to People Student Ambassador Program.
Happy, healthy, and safe travels!
April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES
[Image Credits – Oatmeal Toast: www. feedingmyenthusiasms.blogspot.com ; Chewy Celery: www.mongoldude.com; Ginger Tea and Biscuits: www.1001recipe.com]