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Nutritional Management of Diarrhea in Children

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Nutritional Management of Diarrhea in Children

3 min read


Children are highly susceptible to various infectious diseases. Read this article to know more about the nutritional management of diarrhea in children.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At December 17, 2018
Reviewed AtAugust 17, 2022


Diarrhea is abnormal bowel movements leading to watery and loose stools. Children are more prone to diarrhea. It may probably be due to the lack of hygienic practices while eating. It is a common problem in children and can last for up to two days. This type is called acute diarrhea, which may be due to a bacterial infection. But if it exceeds two days, it is called chronic diarrhea and may pose serious health problems such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, etc.

What Are the Causes of Diarrhea?

  • Bacterial infections.

  • Viral infections.

  • Food intolerance (trouble in digesting food).

  • Food allergy.

  • Parasitic infections.

  • Drug allergy.

  • Intestinal diseases.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome.

  • Surgery on the stomach.

  • Traveling.

What Are the Symptoms of Diarrhea?

  • Cramping.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Nausea.

  • Bloating.

  • Fever.

  • Bloody stools.

  • Dehydration (loss of body fluids).

  • Incontinence.

Diarrhea is not a disease but is one of the signs of a serious disease.

How to Diagnose Diarrhea?

The signs and symptoms, physical examination, and lab tests can help diagnose diarrhea. The lab tests can be used to screen blood and urine. Other tests required are stool culture, imaging tests, tests for allergies, and sigmoidoscopy. The stool culture will help identify the abnormal parasite or bacteria in the digestive tract of the child. It is also used to check fat or blood in it. Imaging tests can help rule out structural problems. The sigmoidoscopy uses a sigmoidoscope (a flexible, lighted tube) inserted through the rectum to help visualize the inner part of the large intestine to identify the cause of diarrhea.

How to Manage Diarrhea in Children?

Plenty of Fluids:

  • There are cases of death reported due to diarrhea if the child is suffering and experiences extreme water leading to dehydration. In addition, there is a loss of various electrolytes such as sodium and potassium from the body. The children dehydrated who are able to drink can be provided with oral rehydration therapy to replenish the electrolyte loss.

  • The oral rehydration solution recommended by WHO (World Health Organization) contains sodium, chloride, potassium, glucose, and a base such as bicarbonate or citrate. The solution can be alternatively provided with water during the episode of diarrhea.

Feeding Is Essential: It is a myth that a child should not be fed during an episode of diarrhea. But nutritionist recommends feeding the children during active and convalescent phases of diarrhea. Usual food is better than no food at all. The feeding practice during diarrhea minimizes the adverse effects of nutritional impairment and promotes the renewal of the intestinal mucosa. The feeding process should be followed by rehydration with water and electrolytes.

Avoid Outside Food: Do not give your child any outside food since your child may be susceptible to contracting diarrhea due to various viruses and bacteria like Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, and Vibrio cholera. In such a case, it becomes necessary to provide your child with plenty of fluids to avoid symptoms like convulsions.

Avoid Sugary Foods:

  • Consuming high sugar foods can aggravate the condition of diarrhea and make it even worse. Hence, it becomes essential to consume a balanced diet that is cooked under hygienic conditions to replenish all nutrients lost during diarrhea.

  • A severely dehydrated child might even need to be given intravenous fluids in the hospital.

  • Avoid giving your child candies, chocolates, and lactose-rich foods like milk if they are allergic to lactose. Instead, give your child soy milk or almond milk.

Avoiding Spicy Foods: Children consuming spicy foods might cause diarrhea as spicy foods trigger the gut. Hence, do not feed your child foods rich in spices with a lot of chilies.

Breast Milk

  • An infant with diarrhea needs to be fed breast milk from time to time as breast milk would provide the infant with essential nutrients and hydrate the infant well.

  • There should be an alternate provision of rehydration and breast milk to the child for better recovery from the condition.

  • Do not feed the infant any other food before the age of six months as the gut of the infant is not very well developed, and it may cause symptoms like diarrhea.

  • If the child is in the weaning stage, the mother has to take care that the quality of the food provided contains the essential amino acids for the maintenance and growth of the infants.

Fruit Popsicles: You can make a kiwi popsicle as it tastes lovely. Popsicles are a healthier version of candies your kid will enjoy consuming as they are natural and without sugar. It will replenish the extra water lost during diarrhea.

Probiotics: Sometimes, your child contracts diarrhea due to a lack of good gut flora. Hence, it becomes essential to replace the bad gut flora with good gut flora as it will help eradicate the harmful bacteria in your child’s gut and prevent as well as treat diarrhea. Buttermilk is a good source of probiotics, which is good for gut health as it fills your child’s gut with good bacteria and strengthens immunity.

Food Preparation: Nutrients in food is a concern. However, the acceptability, digestibility, and consistency of the food also matter. Providing the child with a watery soup or bulk food should be avoided. Water soups can be provided as adjuncts to fluid and electrolytes, but not as a complete diet as the nutrient levels in this food are too low.


The child should be monitored by the mother for proper food intake, willingness to eat, discomfort, and activity, in addition to tracking the frequency of the stools. This helps to assess the child’s progress from the condition. Adequate fluid and electrolyte administration can help replace the lost fluid from diarrhea. However, if the condition worsens, antibiotics, antidiarrheal drugs, and antimicrobial therapy can be administered. The identification of symptoms and seeking help from the healthcare provider at the earliest would help improve the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Is Diarrhea in Children Managed?

Diarrhea in children is managed by oral rehydration solution with water, salts, and glucose. In addition to that, add semi-solid foods and a low-fiber diet for children. Supplemental treatment of Zinc tablet 20 mg for 10 to 14 days can give better outcomes.


Which Vitamin Is Most Important in the Case of Diarrhea?

The most important nutrient management in diarrhea is vitamin A and zinc. Adding foods to the diet which is high in potassium, such as apricots, ripe bananas, potatoes, fish, and meat is highly beneficial. Children with diarrhea require micronutrient supplementation for 15 to 30 days based on the duration of diarrhea.


What Is the Diet for Diarrhea in Children?

Diet for a child with diarrhea includes:
- Cooked eggs.
- Bananas and other fruits.
- Bread products.
- Cereals.
- Pasta or white rice.


Does Potassium Help Overcome Diarrhea?

Potassium is one of the important minerals in our body. Potassium is highly lost during diarrhea. Because of this, our body feels weak. Eating foods high in potassium, such as ripe bananas, apricot, potatoes, fish, and meat, can help to overcome the weakness.


What Are the Guidelines of WHO for Pediatrics?

The WHO guidelines for diarrhea in children include,
- Giving plenty of water to the child.
- Providing proper sanitation.
- Handwashing.
- Teaching personal hygiene.
- Breastfeeding for the first six months.
- Health education.
- Getting Rotavirus vaccination.


Can Fiber Help With Diarrhea?

Adding fiber to the diet is the best way to treat diarrhea. Fiber helps to solidify loose and watery stools and thus helps to treat diarrhea.


What Is the Best Antibiotic for Diarrhea in Children?

The best anti diarrhea medicine for children is Azithromycin (40 mg/ml, 0.25 ml/kg/day). Along with rehydration, a Zinc tablet (20 mg) per day, and dietary counseling is also beneficial.


What Is the Best Antibiotic for Diarrhea?

The first line of antibiotics to treat diarrhea is Azithromycin for a single dose of 500 mg. Fluoroquinolones and Rifaximin are used to treat non-dysenteric diarrhea.


Is Diarrhea Caused by Bacteria or Viruses?

Viral diarrhea is identified by watery stool without blood or mucus. Whereas bacterial diarrhea is accompanied by mucus and blood with severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.


What Are the Dos and Don’ts of Diarrhea?

- Do not eat fruits and vegetables that can cause gas.
- Do not have alcohol, caffeinated and carbonated drinks.
- Avoid dairy products.
- Drink water more often.
- Eat semisolid and low-fiber foods.
- Eat pasta or white rice.


Is Diarrhea a Serious Condition?

Diarrhea is considered serious when it is bloody and continues for more than two days without any improvement in symptoms. This results in excessive dehydration causing excessive thirst, dizziness, dry mouth, dark-colored urine, weakness, and severe abdominal pain.


Does Prebiotics Help With Diarrhea?

Prebiotics are used for prevention and as a treatment for diarrhea. Prebiotics are not suitable for everyone; sometimes, they aggravate irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
Quadros Krystel Godfrey Lavina
Quadros Krystel Godfrey Lavina



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