What to Eat on an Upset Stomach

Maybe it was a raucous night out with too much to drink or an oddly tasting (now you know why) meat dish at a new restaurant. Perhaps you succumbed to the latest stomach bug – care of your jamhanded preschooler. Or maybe you’re making your way through several weeks of intense morning sickness (nature’s rather cruel joke, isn’t it?). Whatever the case, you’ve been bent over the porcelain throne for the better part of the last few hours – or stuck sitting on it. Alternatively, you’re in agony and wish to any and all forms of Providence that you could simply throw up already to get some relief. When the worst of the drama is over or you realize it’s probably not going to hit a crescendo, so to speak, you realize you feel weak and maybe a little shaky. It’s a sensation, you imagine, akin to having your insides cleaned out with a turbo suction engine. Nothing is left, and it’s starting to feel funky. Especially if it’s been a longer haul than the hours since last night’s questionable dinner, you know you need to eat or at least drink. But what exactly?

I’d venture to say most of us grew up with CW’s rule of thumb. Generally, that meant something like 7Up, saltines, rice, or dry toast. Having gone Primal, however, the massive sugar spike plan doesn’t sound very soothing. (To be honest, there’s something about even writing this list that induces a stomach ache.) That said, you’re not exactly in the mood to chow down on a turkey leg or assemble a raw vegetable salad. Where exactly does that leave us Primal types when down for the count? I’m sure others will offer their own tried and true ideas, but let me offer a few suggestions for what to eat when nausea has taken over your day and is taunting your best laid Primal plans.

A big, fat nothing for the acute phase

This goes without saying perhaps, but our mothers were right on this point. Don’t bother eating if you’re in the throes of losing your lunch – from either end. Wait until things calm themselves. Your body needs the rest. If even a sip of water unleashes another bout, you’re probably doing more harm than good. (The exception here is a case of extended illness, which puts you at risk for dehydration. If you can’t keep a small amount of water down after a full 24-hour period, it might be time to at least call the doctor. It’s definitely the case if you’re taking care of a sick seedling.)

Once the worst is over…. (Keep in mind that you might not be 100% “done” in the bathroom at this point, but the reactions aren’t instantaneous anymore. In other words, fluids and food are retained long enough for your body to garner some nutrients and hydration benefit.

First fluid

This one’s easy of course. Water (preferably filtered). Small sips just like Mom suggested.

Subsequent fluids and first foods…

If the coast is generally clear and you’re keeping a tablespoon of regular water down, try moving on to a few more therapeutic, restorative options.

Simple carbonated water (if you’re feeling gassy)

If you’re feeling like you have a lot of air in your stomach (sometimes the case after vomiting illnesses), try a bit at a time. Actual mineral water might be a bit harder on a sensitive stomach than merely carbonated water, but it can begin to replenish your body if you can handle it.

Ginger tea or powdered ginger in water

Pregnant women hear this recommendation for morning sickness, but it works for other brands of nausea as well. While a ginger containing tea might taste better, using the actual ground powder or steeped shavings will likely be more effective. If a hot liquid sounds unpalatable to you, add some ginger to a room temperature glass of regular or carbonated water. (Consider it a much better option than ginger ale soda which generally contains no or next to no actual ginger and will shoot your glucose levels through the roof.)

Water with bitters

Yes, good old bitters. There’s more to them than your father’s traditional cocktail. Certain cultures (including many countries in Europe) use them medicinally to aid digestion and soothe a sour stomach. I’d recommend them if you’re feeling a bit rough from a too heavy/too large meal.

Bone broth

When you’re ready to graduate from water (a milestone that has you singing praises), consider holding off on solids if you have a stock of – well – stock in your freezer or refrigerator. I’m not talking about the sodium and preservative filled canned soups. We always keep a few containers of homemade broth on hand for cooking and the occasional under the weather days. It can help rehydrate you while giving your body a manageable boost of lost minerals and protein. Once you’re ready to try solids, add some shredded meat and a few cooked veggies to make a more hearty soup.


Your digestive system has been put through the wringer. If it’s an illness or food poisoning that has gotten the better of you, your beneficial bacteria could likely use some reinforcements. If you like yogurt and feel you’re up for it, try it. (Just avoid the sugar laden varieties.) If you’re a kombucha fan, you might enjoy the double benefit of carbonation and probiotic. Not everyone enjoys the taste, however, even on their best days. If you’re not a fan, don’t try to force it down when you’re already nauseous. Go with what sounds good to you at the time.

When you’re ready to take the plunge into solid foods again, soft or cooked foods are generally easier on the stomach.

Soft fruits and veggies

Avocado, maybe flavored with a pinch of sea salt, can give you a wallop of healthy fats and other nutrients, but there’s no reason to steer away from other veggies and fruits. After a full day’s worth of shouting groceries, you’ve probably depleted your glycogen stores. Although I wouldn’t suggest anyone hurl themselves over a fructose cliff, there’s little reason to avoid them entirely. If it’s what your body wants to eat, heed its wisdom. Intuitive eating, after all, has its place.

Soft meats and eggs

At some point you’re ready for some real, stick-to-your-bones kind of food to feed your now growling empty stomach. This is the kind of fare that will really get you moving and feeling like yourself again when you’re ready for it. You’ll lose the last of that awful shakiness and enjoy a steady stream of Primal energy. Nonetheless, when you’re trying to get past lingering nausea, the last thing you want to do is gnaw and chew yourself to fatigue. Scrambled eggs or soft, mild tasting fish (like tilapia) are favorites of mine, but moist poultry or tender cuts of meat can do the trick as well. Eat and rejoice your return to the land of the living.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Be sure to add your own advice and suggestions for what to eat on an upset stomach. Happy Groundhog Day!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!