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What is nausea?
Nausea is the unpleasant and sometimes debilitating sensation of feeling like you need to vomit. It’s surprisingly common, with 50% of adults experiencing it at some point each year (1).
First described in relation to seasickness, the term “nausea” comes from the Greek word “naus,” which means ship.
What causes nausea?
Nausea begins in the brain, where emotional, cognitive, or chemical triggers may stimulate your nervous system. This causes your stomach muscles to work in an irregular way, making you feel nauseous.
Many factors can trigger this process, such as:
- gut conditions
- cancer treatment
- hormone disorders
- food allergies and intolerances
Though eating can be challenging when you feel nauseous, foods and drinks are important for hydration. They help replace lost electrolytes and help your stomach settle.
Here are the 14 best foods and drinks for when you’re feeling nauseous.
What to eat when nauseous
Ginger originates in Southeast Asia and has a long history of use as a remedy for stomach problems in traditional and folk medicines (2).
It contains bioactive compounds, such as gingerol, paradol, and shogaol. Experts theorize that these compounds interact with your central nervous system and stomach to improve nausea symptoms (2).
Several small studies have shown that eating ginger may reduce nausea caused by motion sickness, surgery, and chemotherapy, though some results have been contradictory (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
Additionally, ginger may be a safe and effective treatment for morning sickness during pregnancy (7, 8, 9).
Though there is no consensus on the amount of ginger necessary to achieve therapeutic effects, most studies use the equivalent of 0.5-1.5 grams of dried ginger root per day.
Ginger is commonly consumed as a tea, in ginger biscuits, as crystallized ginger, or in ginger beer or ale. It’s also available in capsule form.
However, some products may not contain significant quantities of ginger, minimizing their effect on nausea.
Consuming 0.5-1.5 grams of ginger root per day has been found to be effective at treating nausea due to motion sickness, surgery, chemotherapy, and pregnancy. However, study results have been mixed.
How to peel ginger
2. Water and clear beverages
When you’re nauseous, you may not feel like eating at all. However, drinking fluids and staying hydrated is crucial, especially if you have been vomiting or have a fever.
Water is always a good source of hydration, but if you have been throwing up or experiencing diarrhea, you may also need to replace lost electrolytes.
Some of the best drinks to fight dehydration and nausea include (10, 11):
- oral rehydration solutions
- sports drinks
- soda water or flavored sodas
- iced tea
- clear juices
- coconut water
Very sweet, caffeinated, or dairy-based beverages may worsen your nausea, so it may be best to avoid them.
You may tolerate sipping cold drinks throughout the day better than drinking a lot at once, especially if you have been vomiting.
It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re feeling nauseous. You can sip clear, cold beverages like water, oral rehydration solutions, iced tea, juice, sports drinks, and coconut water throughout the day.
3-5. Crackers, pretzels, and toast
Dry foods such as crackers, pretzels, toast, and cereals are often recommended to people experiencing nausea. In fact, one study found that almost 90% of gynecologists recommend soda crackers to women with morning sickness (12, 13).
It’s not clear why people tolerate dry, plain foods when they’re nauseous, and no scientific research on the topic exists.
However, it’s known that people feel more nauseous on an empty stomach and react poorly to strong-smelling foods (12).
That’s why it’s best to avoid preparing and cooking food when you’re not feeling well, as the sight and smell of food could trigger nausea.
Crackers, pretzels, toast, and cereals are quick meal fixes that require little to no preparation, have no strong odor, and may help settle your empty, upset stomach (12).
An empty stomach and strong-smelling foods can trigger or worsen nausea. Crackers and other plain, dry foods may help settle your stomach.
6. Cold foods
When you’re not feeling well, you may tolerate cold foods better than warm dishes. That’s because they generally don’t have strong odors, which may trigger nausea (12).
Aversion to odor is particularly common during pregnancy. One study found that women with severe morning sickness were more likely to feel nauseous after smelling cooked foods (14).
Some good choices of cold foods include Jell-O, ice cream, chilled fruits, yogurt, custard, and frozen ice pops.
If your nausea makes it difficult to keep food down, simply sucking on an ice cube may help. This is also a good way to slowly replenish your fluids.
Food smells can trigger nausea. Cold foods that produce less odor like ice pops, Jell-O, chilled fruits, and ice cream are often better tolerated.
Chicken broth and chicken soup are common home remedies for everything from headaches to colds to fevers.
Fluids are often better tolerated than solid food when you’re nauseous. That’s why broths and soups may be a good first step toward eating again. They also provide hydration and electrolytes, which are particularly important if you have been vomiting or have a fever.
One cup (240 ml) of chicken broth contains 40% of the daily value (DV) for sodium, less than 1% of the DV for potassium, and 3% of the DV for niacin (15).
If you’re feeling up to it, including chicken or vegetables in your broth provides additional calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals to give your body back some energy.
Additionally, if your nausea is caused by congestion or a cold, hot broth can help provide relief from symptoms (16).
Broths and soups provide hydration and electrolytes. They are a good first step toward eating more solid foods again when you’re nauseous or have been vomiting.
When you’re nauseous, it can be difficult to eat significant quantities of food.
That’s why it’s important that the foods you do manage to eat are nutritious and provide energy to help your body stay strong and recover. This is particularly true if your nausea is due to a chronic condition and you’re trying to maintain weight.
Bananas are a nutritious, energy-dense snack. They’re easy to eat even when you’re sick.
Plus, bananas help replace the potassium that may be lost if you have been vomiting or have had diarrhea (17).
Just one medium-sized banana packs 105 calories, 27 grams of carbs, 9% of your daily potassium needs, and 25% of the DV for vitamin B6 (18).
Other soft, energy-dense foods include avocados, porridge, stewed fruits, mashed potatoes, and peanut butter.
Bananas are a good source of energy and vitamins when you’re nauseous and can help replace potassium lost due to vomiting or diarrhea.
Applesauce is a popular food for people with nausea or diarrhea. In fact, it’s part of the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
This diet used to be routinely recommended to people with upset stomachs, particularly children. Though it’s now considered overly restrictive, many people still find the foods it mentions helpful (19).
One study in people undergoing chemotherapy found that a light, bland diet including applesauce, cottage cheese, and vanilla ice cream resulted in improved food intake and less nausea and vomiting (20).
Applesauce is a good source of carbs and is gentle on your stomach.
Half a cup (122 grams) of unsweetened applesauce contains about 50 calories and 14 grams of carbs (21).
What’s more, it’s high in the dietary fiber pectin, which may be beneficial if you’re experiencing diarrhea in addition to feeling nauseous (22).
Applesauce is commonly eaten by people with nausea and diarrhea. It’s a good source of energy and carbs and usually well tolerated even when you’re not feeling well.
10-12. Rice, potatoes, and noodles
Starchy, plain foods like rice, potatoes, and noodles are good choices when you’re nauseous.
They’re easy to prepare and high in calories. They also help settle your stomach.
Bland, colorless, and odorless foods are often more easily tolerated by your body, as they trigger nausea to a lesser extent than strongly flavored foods.
Rice can be boiled or steamed and eaten plain or with light seasoning. It can also be eaten cold if hot foods are off-putting.
Alternatively, potatoes can be boiled, steamed, baked, or mashed with a little butter and milk for extra calories.
Finally, noodles can be boiled and eaten plain. They can also be added to a light broth or sauce to increase your fluid intake.
Bland, starchy foods are good choices when you’re nauseous. They are mild in taste and smell and provide a good source of calories and comfort.
13. Protein-rich meals
A few studies have investigated the effects of the macronutrient composition of meals on nausea.
One study in pregnant people found that protein-rich meals significantly reduced nausea symptoms, compared to carb- or fat-rich meals (23).
Also, as part of motion sickness research, people were given a protein- or carb-rich beverage before being spun in a rotating drum. The protein-rich drinks proved to be most effective at suppressing nausea symptoms (24).
Another study in people undergoing chemotherapy found that a combination of ginger and protein supplements reduced nausea (25).
It’s unclear why protein has this effect on nausea. The hypothesis is that it helps regulate stomach activity by increasing the release of the hormone gastrin (24).
Protein-rich meals are particularly important for people experiencing chronic nausea due to illness, as this macronutrient helps keep your body strong and reduces the risk of malnutrition.
Protein-rich meals are superior to high carb or high fat meals when it comes to reducing nausea. Protein may help regulate stomach activity by increasing gastrin secretion.
14. Herbal tea
Herbal tea is commonly used as a remedy for nausea. In fact, one study found that 21.7% of gynecologists recommend it to pregnant people experiencing nausea (13).
However, there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims. Research on specific compounds such as peppermint and chamomile has primarily been carried out in capsule or aromatherapy form.
For example, peppermint aromatherapy has been found to reduce nausea in people who had undergone open-heart surgery, while combined peppermint and lemon aromatherapy had the same effect in pregnant people (26, 27).
Despite a lack of scientific evidence, many people with nausea find that herbal teas are well tolerated.
Drinking a cup of peppermint tea or adding a slice of lemon to hot water may ease your nausea. Even if the herb itself may show no effect, the fluids aid hydration when you’re sick.
Though peppermint and chamomile have been found to reduce nausea in capsule or aromatherapy form, there is no scientific evidence that herbal teas reduce nausea. Nonetheless, many people find them soothing, and they provide hydration.
Other tips for treating nausea
Besides consuming certain foods and beverages, you can take other steps to relieve your nausea (12):
- Eat something small every 1-2 hours. Avoid skipping meals, since an empty stomach can worsen nausea.
- Eat and drink slowly and in small amounts. This allows you to relax during meals and take time to enjoy your food. You may also want to avoid consuming liquids and solids at the same time.
- Do not lie flat after eating. Avoid lying down for at least 30 minutes after eating, as this can put pressure on your stomach, making nausea worse.
- Avoid food preparation. The smell while cooking and preparing food can worsen nausea. If possible, avoid or shorten the time spent in the kitchen.
- Keep your mouth clean. Nausea and vomiting can leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth, which may prevent you from eating. Rinse and brush your teeth regularly and use sugar-free mints to keep feeling fresh.
In addition, avoid the following types of foods when you feel nauseous (12):
- fatty, greasy, or fried foods
- very sweet foods
- spicy foods
- foods with strong odors
You can take additional steps to treat nausea by avoiding certain foods; eating small, regular snacks or meals; consuming liquids and solids separately; avoiding food preparation; sitting up after eating; and keeping your mouth fresh and clean.
The bottom line
Nausea is a very unpleasant sensation that can make it difficult to eat, drink and keep down food. Those experiencing it seem to tolerate certain foods better than others, including bland rice, pasta, potatoes, salty crackers, and cold foods.
Other foods and beverages may even improve symptoms of nausea, such as ginger, certain teas, and protein-rich meals.
What’s most important when you’re not feeling well is to ensure proper hydration by drinking plenty of water and electrolyte-rich beverages.
By trying these foods, you can keep yourself nourished while you’re under the weather and in the long term.