What to eat with an upset stomach (plus 6 things to avoid)

Woman holding her stomach laying on her couch

An upset stomach is a nonmedical term describing a range of gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea. To relieve an upset stomach, here are four home remedies that have been shown to be helpful: peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, ginger and sports drinks. I'll also share six things that can make you feel worse.

Peppermint oil

For centuries, peppermint oil has been used to treat gastrointestinal ailments. Peppermint oil possesses antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunomodulating and anesthetic activities, all of which may help gut disorders. Peppermint oil can relax painful muscle contractions along your food pipe.

Peppermint helps relieve IBS symptoms

A 2011 study showed why peppermint might help people with irritable bowel syndrome. The compounds in peppermint actually activate an anti-pain channel in the colon. This channel may reduce the pain linked to eating some spicy foods like mustard or chili, according to researchers. 

Since then, multiple studies have confirmed peppermint oil to be a beneficial treatment for IBS. In a comprehensive meta-analysis published in 2019, peppermint oil was shown to be a safe and effective therapy for pain and global symptoms in adults with IBS.

Eucalyptus oil, found in vapor rub

Vapor rub contains ingredients that can provide a soothing effect if rubbed on a belly. It contains eucalyptus oil, which fights against bacteria, improves your immune system and reduces inflammation. It also contains menthol, camphor oil, and nutmeg oil which have been used to relieve pain. 


Herbal medicines are also effective for nausea. People have used ginger root to soothe troubled stomachs for the past 2,000 years. Various preclinical and clinical studies also support ginger's helpful properties. Ginger can also help nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, too.

Try ginger tea with lemon for a relaxing, comforting drink.

How ginger helps nausea and vomiting during pregnancy

Ginger is also a popular nondrug treatment for morning sickness. The available evidence suggests ginger is safe and effective for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. A randomized, controlled trial involving 291 women less than 16 weeks pregnant was undertaken in Australia. The study showed ginger in early pregnancy reduced symptoms of nausea and vomiting.

Sports drinks and noncaffeinated sodas

Vomiting and diarrhea with upset stomach can cause dehydration. Sports drinks with electrolytes are the best way to prevent dehydration. If you're having trouble keeping liquids down, try sucking on ice chips and taking small sips of water. You can also drink noncaffeinated sodas, such as Sprite, 7UP or ginger ale.

Take care to avoid caffeinated sodas, since caffeine can make your upset stomach worse. The carbonation from sodas inflates the stomach while increasing its internal pressure. Combining higher pressure and caffeine's effects makes acid reflux more likely.

Certain foods that make an upset stomach worse

Some people with chronic stomach discomfort are more sensitive to certain foods like dairy, spicy foods, soda, fried foods or alcohol. These foods can relax the muscle that keeps food from traveling backward, increase stomach acid production or keep the stomach full for too long.

  1. Caffeinated sodas: Soft drinks can worsen acid reflux symptoms due to caffeine content and carbonation.
  2. Dairy: Patients with lactose intolerance should avoid dairy products.
  3. Spicy foods: Too much spicy food can upset your stomach, leading to constipation or diarrhea.
  4. Fried foods: Fried foods are high in saturated fats, which take much longer to break down in the stomach and slow down digestion.
  5. Alcohol: Drinking excess amount of alcohol irritates your gut, which can cause stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
  6. Pain relievers: Ibuprofen, aspirin and antibiotics can increase feelings of nausea. 

Foods to avoid with IBS

Patients with irritable bowel syndrome may want to avoid certain foods that increase flatulence, especially beans, legumes, onions, celery, asparagus, cauliflower, raisins, apricots, prunes, brussels sprouts, wheat, pretzels and bagels.

7 tips to avoid indigestion for a sensitive stomach

Here are some tips to help you avoid indigestion or upset stomach.

  1. Eat slowly and ensure you are properly chewing your food.
  2. Consume smaller, more frequent meals.
  3. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
  4. Avoid late-night meals or snacks.
  5. Ensure your diet consists of soluble fiber.
  6. Identify specific triggers and remove them from your diet.
  7. Maintain a bland diet without excessive use of spices.

When to see your doctor for stomach pain

Stomach pain comes in various forms and might range from intermittent pain to dull abdominal aching, stabbing pains that remain constant. 

Alarming signs that suggest a more serious condition include:

  • Chronic or severe abdominal pain that makes it difficult to do normal activities
  • Evidence of gastrointestinal bleeding (vomiting up blood, blood in stool)
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Severe, ongoing diarrhea that lasts for more than two days
  • Nighttime diarrhea that keeps you from sleeping
Experiencing stomach issues?
Call 800.922.0000 to make a primary care appointment.

People who experience frequent stomach issues may have something more going on than just sensitivity. The best thing is to come in for screening, so your health care provider can rule out conditions such as peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome.