How to Take Care of Your Gut Health During Food Poisoning
Food poisoning sucks.
There's truly no other way to put it. And while it may be inevitable that you may experience this in your lifetime, there are ways that you can build more resiliency in the case of exposure, AND things you can do to help recovery move along faster.
In this article, we're going to be covering some "best practices" for preventing food poisoning, and what you can do in case you do get food poisoning.
Best Practices to Prevent Food Poisoning
Before we get into how you can better support your body in recovery from food poisoning, I wanted to cover some things to consider in terms of prevention. While there's no surefire way to prevent food poisoning from ever happening to you (because unfortunately, these things do happen) it's definitely worthwhile to help your body become more resilient in case you DO have exposure to a foodborne pathogen.
Here are a few things you can consider to support your gut:
Support a Resilient Gut Microbiome
This is a great practice to get behind, always, but in the case of foodborne illness — a resilient microbiome is important. A compromised microbiome that may already have imbalances (such as lacking beneficial strains, or overgrowth in pathogenic strains), might be more susceptible to bugs that cause food poisoning!
Some quick tips to support a healthy microbiome:
Eat at least 6 cups of vegetables and fruit on a daily basis
Incorporate prebiotic and probiotic foods daily (you can read more about that here)
Make diversity (especially in plant foods), your #1 priority (the more variety in plant foods = the more access your gut bugs have to fiber and polyphenols!)
Be mindful of pro-inflammatory foods like: alcohol, caffeine, highly refined vegetable oils and sugar, highly refined grains, etc.
You can find more about how to support a healthy, resilient microbiome in this article that I wrote, here.
Support Your Stomach Acid
Stomach acid is one of the body's first lines of defense against pathogens in the food and beverages we ingest. Its super-acidity is meant to neutralize pathogens as we're exposed to them, so we don't get sick!
While your traveling, it can be helpful to bring in some tools to make sure your stomach acid levels are up to snuff:
Try digestive bitters. This is an herbal supplement (usually an alcohol-based tincture), that is helpful in stimulating gastric juice secretions, like the production and secretion of stomach acid! See my favourite brand in my Beginner's Guide to Gut Healing.
Betaine HCl with Pepsin, is a supplemental form of hydrochloric acid, which helps increase acidity in the stomach (versus stimulating the stomach to secrete more of its own, like in the case of bitters). Note: This supplement is NOT safe to use for folks who have ulcers, gastritis, H. Pylori, etc. (It's always recommended to consult with a physician or practitioner prior to taking supplements).
If traveling, make sure you wash your hands + food (with a clean source of water)
This may or may not be necessary to state here — but I figured I'd include it regardless of its redundancy! This is a simple, effective way to reduce your risk of contracting food-borne illness.
Make sure if you're washing produce that you're eating the skin of (or isn't peelable, like in the case of lettuce), that you're washing it in a clean source of water. A lot of foodborne illness is sourced from water contamination via fresh produce!
If traveling, be mindful of water sources and common sources of foodborne illness
Some of the most common places that foodborne illness comes from tends to be contaminated water (in the form of drinking water and ice is a big one!) and raw food sources (this undercooked meat, fresh produce, raw fish, etc.). It's best practice while traveling to be mindful of this, and avoid your exposure to them as much as possible.
How to take care of your gut if you DO get sick:
Alright, so let's dig into what you could do if you DO get sick while you're out and about (I truly hope this doesn't happen to you, and that you're reading this preemptively!).
Although balancing your gut microbiome and optimizing digestion can somewhat reduce your risk of foodborne illness, it can still happen.
If you get sick, here are a few ways to recover faster:
Sip on bone broth with turmeric
This is a great way to replenish key nutrients that are often lost while ill: vitamins, minerals, and essential electrolytes like sodium. Bone broth also contains healing compounds like gelatin and collagen, which support the integrity of the intestinal lining (supporting the gut lining is really important, as upwards of 70% of our immune system lives there!). Turmeric is a great addition, to help bring down any inflammation caused by the infection.
Supplement with a high dose probiotics 100+ billion CFU
High-dose probiotics can provide the body with beneficial strains that support healthy immunity, produce healing SCFA's, and a healthy intestinal lining, AND crowd out pathogenic species.
They can be helpful to provide the body with both transient and colonizing strains to help rebalance the microbiome after a bout of food poisoning.
Supplement with L-glutamine to support your intestinal lining
L-glutamine is a nutrient that is used by the intestinal lining for fuel and is important for its health and integrity. If the gut lining becomes compromised due to an infection (like food poisoning!), this can be really helpful to supplement with.
It may also be helpful if you experience diarrhea as a result of food-borne illness.
Sip on chamomile tea
Chamomile is an anti-spasmodic herb, which can help to relax muscles in the GI tract, lessening the occurrence of spasms. It may be helpful in reducing the instance of vomiting and diarrhea, as caused by food poisoning.
It's also a great way to re-hydrate, plus get the added bonus of the herb itself!
White rice cooked in turmeric (and/or bone broth)
Simple starches are easy to digest and are low in fiber. It's generally tolerated well by folks who experience flu-like symptoms, such as diarrhea or vomiting. Adding in nutrients like turmeric to aid with inflammation, and/or bone broth for added nutrients, protein, and minerals, can be really supportive during and after food poisoning.
Reduce veggies for a day or two, blend up fibrous foods
It's probably best to stick to foods that are low in fiber, and easy to digest. Bland foods (like white rice mentioned above, toast, applesauce, etc.), tend to be best tolerated for those experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Vegetables and fruit that are high in fiber (especially insoluble fiber), can increase transit time — which we don't want in the case of diarrhea!
More fiber-heavy produce can be incorporated after the more serious symptoms have subsided, to provide the body with much-needed nutrients like vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and antioxidants.
Did you have food poisoning in your past?
One last thing I wanted to mention here was this: post-infectious IBS is s real thing! Some folks who struggle with ongoing digestive symptoms like IBS, can trace back the onset of their symptoms to a time they got sick while traveling.
If you've been struggling with digestive symptoms since about of travelers diarrhea/food poisoning, and want to get a better idea of what's contributing to your symptoms (perhaps your microbiome hasn't had the chance to bounce back post-infection), then I'd definitely recommend checking out Gut Reset Program and Gut Rehab Intensive, where we can investigate further to see what could be going on in your gut, post-infection!