A nasty case of food poisoning is usually followed by two things: swearing off everything you ate in the past 24 hours, and then worrying about putting anything else in your mouth (for fear it'll quickly come back out again).
The road to recovery isn’t paved with starvation, though, so we asked Margarita Rohr, MD, an internist at NYU Langone Medical Center, about what you should be consuming -- and what might be a gamble.
Disclaimer: Obviously, if you've got food poisoning, your first step shouldn't be to ask "what can I eat?" -- seek medical help, then worry about whether you can still consume mac & cheese.
The BRAT diet
After food poisoning, you need nutrients, so the key is to find foods that will nourish you, while keeping your stomach from freaking out. According to Dr. Rohr, that means eating the BRAT diet. “BRAT” is a mnemonic device to help you remember what foods you can stomach. Spoiler: the regimen is also known as the “bland diet.”
The disclaimer here is that not all doctors agree, says Dr. Rohr: "There isn't a lot of scientific evidence to back up this method (some doctors suggest resuming a normal diet immediately afterwards), but it is still often recommended." It's one strategy you can try to see how it goes for you, and the whole point of following this advice is to get you back on your A-game, eating the delicious foods you actually like without fear.
B is for Bananas
"The most important thing to do during and after food poisoning is to maintain hydration and replace electrolytes," says Dr. Rohr. Electrolytes are the magic ingredients in the Gatorade you're chugging in hopes of curing a hangover. Potassium and sodium are the main ones your body needs, and they work together to help your body retain water for optimal hydration. Dr. Rohr specifically recommends bananas, saltines, and some broth -- potassium, sodium, and water, all in one sub-par (but therapeutic) meal.
R is for Rice
You know how we always tell you to choose whole grains, and how you keep feeling a tinge of guilt when you get normal, delicious white rice with your Thai curry while your friend across the table asks for brown? (The brown rice costs a dollar more, so that's an excuse, right?!) Food poisoning is your free pass to forget about the brown rice! It's pretty high in fiber, which is usually super healthy, but harder for your stomach to digest, so it's white rice all the way. Dr. Rohr says that you can also substitute pasta here, provided it's sauceless. Sorry.
A is for Applesauce
If you can't do an apple a day, maybe a cup of applesauce can keep the doctor from having to come back? Same story with the fiber here -- applesauce contains less fiber than whole apples, which usually makes apples a better choice, but not when you're dealing with an upset stomach. Basically, feed yourself like a baby. With applesauce, you're getting something that's good for you in the easiest-to-digest way possible. Plus, applesauce contains pectin, and that can help with diarrhea (which you're no doubt intimately familiar with at this point).
T is for Toast
White toast, as well as saltines, as Dr. Rohr suggests, are among the simplest foods for your stomach to handle. If you've come down with food poisoning because you were being adventurous with the food experiences while traveling, what you can eat "all depends on location, how remote your destination is, and what kind of food is available," says Dr. Rohr. "In most countries, you will have access to carbs."
Take a probiotic
If you end up taking antibiotics for whatever you have, not only do they (hopefully) kill the bug, but they also wipe out the good bacteria residing in your body. Dr. Rohr also recommends taking a probiotic supplement to get the healthy bacteria to repopulate your digestive tract, which will help get your stomach back to normal function.
Avoid: spicy food
You may assume that the tears that come to your eyes and the burning sensation through your sinuses upon ingesting some strong curry or wasabi must be good thing -- delicious foods are bad for you and painful foods are healthy, right? Not really: while spicy foods may help to clear your sinuses, there's a time and place for everything, and this isn't it. In the case of food poisoning, spicy foods can irritate your stomach, which is the last thing you want. Hold the Tabasco.
Avoid: fried food and heavy sauces
Dr. Rohr tells us that "foods that are heavier are not as easily digested and may temporarily worsen symptoms." Noooo! Not worsened symptoms! You have a free pass for the white bread, but not for the French fries. Take what you can get.
Even if you're one of the lucky lactose-tolerant folks who enjoys the lattes and the ice cream, dairy is still not your stomach's favorite substance to encounter coming down the esophagus. "Some bacteria and viruses distort, shorten, and damage the villi that line the intestine," Dr. Rohr told us. (The villi are those little finger-like things that can look like something else if you're thinking in the wrong direction.) "They help with digestion, so after food poising it may be more difficult to digest some food, and especially dairy."
Avoid: what made you sick in the first place
"I always recommend drinking bottled water and avoiding raw meats and fish," Dr. Rohr advises. Trying to rehydrate with water from who-knows-where and attempting to enjoy ceviche from a street cart in Peru are just not going to be safe bets at this point, though. "In general," says Dr. Rohr, "I offer the following advice to travelers: wash hands before eating, use hand sanitizer if you don't have access to a sink. Avoid unpasteurized fruit juices and unpasteurized milk and milk products. Eat food that is fully cooked and served hot, and avoid tap water and ice." If you don't follow these tips, just know that you'll likely have to start reading from the top in no time.