Cramps and tummy aches are two issues women deal with on a regular basis due to hormone fluctuations and stress, but they can happen to both men and women if a stomach bug is a cause. Our digestive systems normally allow us to eat what we please, but at times they can seem quite demanding or uncooperative! When those times arrive, it’s important to give your tummy some special love. Eating foods that are hard-to-digest on an already testy tummy is bound to lead to hours of pain, misery, and can even lead to gut inflammation. It’s common knowledge to lay off the greasy and heavier foods when cramps and digestion take over, but what many people don’t know, however, is what to actually eat besides just broth and soup until it passes.
If you’re generally hungry or haven’t eaten in a few hours, it’s important to give your body whole foods however possible. Many of them contain certain vitamins and minerals that not only support your health but can also aid in the relief process too.
Here are some top picks to choose when you have cramps, along with why they work, and the best ways to enjoy them when you’re feeling under the weather.
1. Plain Rice
Rice is a top food to aid in digestion and is especially powerful at helping with cramps. It’s also one of the most popular grains for those with a gluten intolerance because it’s an anti-inflammatory grain, but is a terrific food for everyone. Rice contains high amounts of magnesium and potassium, which both relieve cramps and will reduce pain. Rice is also much lower in fiber than other grains. While fiber is a great thing, certain types can make digestive complications worse when your stomach isn’t at its working best.
Go for plain basmati rice (which is white but less refined than minute rice) or wild rice (which is a grass, not a grain) that are both easier than some other options like black or brown that contain more fiber. Rice is also high in resistant starch which means it can soak up toxins and whisk them out of the body—just what you need to get rid of a bug!
Mint is helpful in relieving a number of digestive complications, with cramps and nausea being two of the best. It reduces muscle spasms in the digestive tract and can help with the overall digestive process. This means it not only soothes, but also helps stagnant digestion that can occur during this time. Go for peppermint or spearmint leaves used in a smoothie or tea, tea bags, or even essential oils dropped in warm water for an instant tea.
3. Sweet or White Potatoes
Both sweet and white potatoes are both excellent sources of resistant starch that will help move things out of the body but also quiet down an upset tummy in the meantime. It’s important to cook them thoroughly and enjoy them plain without much seasoning so they don’t cause an upset. Potatoes are also high in magnesium and potassium to reduce cramps, along with vitamin B6 to reduce tension in the body that can make cramps and digestion issues worse. You may need to leave the fiber-rich peels off to make your potatoes even easier to digest.
Bananas are a great source of fuel when you’re not feeling well, but be sure you enjoy them slightly spotted because bright yellow ones can cause stomach cramps since they’re not quite ripe which makes them harder to break down (ripe bananas are also higher in enzymes which aid in digestion too). Slightly ripe bananas, will, however, keep things moving along without causing upset or pain. They also contain high amounts of magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B6 which are the top three nutrients to focus on when cramps arise.
5. Non-dairy Yogurt
Yogurt can be an excellent regulator in the body, though dairy can cause quite the upset for most people. However, yogurt’s bacteria is one of the most calming to the digestive tract and potent at reducing cramps, bloating, and aiding in digestion. It can also be more effective than some supplements or other fermented foods because the strains are different. To get the benefits of yogurt without the dairy, go for soy, coconut, or almond milk yogurt that doesn’t have added sweeteners.
What to Avoid:
Be sure you avoid foods high in fat during a time when your stomach is in pain. While fats do aid in digestion, they also take longer to digest than these foods above … not something you particularly want when your stomach isn’t up to par. Stick to mostly bland foods lower in fiber, but still whole-food based versus processed soups and crackers. Many fruits like papaya and strawberries can also be helpful, while ginger, lemon, and herbs like oregano can help fight bacteria and aid in digestion too. You can also add vegetable broth to any of these to drink hot, which will keep food moving through your system, provide the body with nutrients it needs to heal, and can also be soothing during a time of distress.
For further help, see some common FAQ in our Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for more information about plant-based eating for digestion.
What do you eat when you’re dealing with digestion issues and cramps?