Highly unpleasant and downright incapacitating, nausea is one of the most common symptoms we experience when feeling sick. From pregnancy, viral infections, motion sickness and food poisoning to medicine side effects, more complex gastrointestinal problems such as appendicitis, gallstones or pancreatitis and even heart attack, stress or shock in the rarest of cases, nausea is somewhat of an ubiquitous symptom. Fortunately, most of the times, all it takes to ease and relieve it is eating the right foods.
The feeling of unease and the vomiting sensation accompanying nausea are not in themselves dangerous, but can become debilitating in cases of prolonged nausea, when they interfere with normal eating and drinking habits. It is important that we remember eating and drinking fluids are a pivotal part of recovery in general. Fortunately, the following foods and their drinkable variants are all wonderful choices for fighting even the most persistent types of nausea.
1) Ginger (Zingiber officinale). When ingested, ginger exerts a beneficial action on the digestive tract. Its absorbent, antispasmodic and antiemetic properties make it a great food for reducing nausea and relieving vomiting caused by food poisoning, indigestion, shock and stress, morning sickness, medicines, anesthesia, motion sickness and postoperative nausea. Moreover, its particular flavor, spicy and uniquely aromatic, helps soothe the stomach and the senses, contributing to further relief. Overall, its action is comparable to that of metoclopramid, one of the most commonly prescribed antiemetic medication (Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials).
Ginger can be consumed raw in root form, in powder form, grated or crushed. It can be boiled and added to broths or other vegetable dishes, infused to make tea, grated or ground and added to fruit juices, drinking water etc. Cooked ginger root as well as ginger tea (made from crushed ginger to which boiling water has been added) have a sharp, lemony flavor. However, because of its intense spicy flavor, it should be consumed in moderate amounts so as not to upset the stomach by irritating its lining. Also, despite its strong anti-inflammatory properties, the special compounds in ginger that give it its sharp taste may worsen hemorrhoids problems, so caution with regards to adequate doses is required. See 7 reasons not to eat ginger.
2) Peppermint (Mentha piperita or Mentha balsamea). Peppermint is best known for its refreshing flavor. Peppermint tea is widely recognized for its soothing effect on the stomach and cooling properties, being one of the few liquids we tolerate when sick. Fresh peppermint leaves can be added to drinking water or even lemonade to help combat nausea and vomiting, regardless of their causes, and help keep us hydrated.
Peppermint tea is another great option for fighting nausea because the hot water used to infuse the leaves helps them release important biologically active compounds with nausea-relieving properties. And because some people feel they can’t drink water when nauseated or throwing up because it makes them feel even worse, switching to lemon and peppermint flavored water or peppermint tea can help greatly.
Peppermint essential oil is not suited for consumption because of its potentially toxic nature (it concentrates pure essential oils from the plant), but can successfully be used in aromatherapy for treating a variety of conditions and symptoms, from nasal congestion to nausea. When nauseated, we often feel a strong repulsion for most smells, except minty ones such as the smell of peppermint. Adding a few drops of the essential oil to a diffuser to change the smell of the room or to a handkerchief or pillow to help soothe our senses can do wonders for our nausea.
3) Lemon (Citrus limon). Having nausea often means we can’t keep anything down which makes it difficult for us to eat and drink. Fortunately, our body responds well to fresh citrussy smells and flavors (as well as minty ones). Sucking on a slice of lemon can help revive our senses and momentarily ease our nausea. Flavoring water with a few slices of lemon can motivate us to drink enough liquids to stay well hydrated. Adding lemon juice to tea can improve its taste significantly and ease our nausea.
However, the acidic compounds in lemon and other citrus fruit are highly damaging to tooth enamel, causing it to wear away over time and leading to sensitive teeth. While lemon and lemon juice do help combat nausea, drinking lemon flavored water, tea or lemon juice every single day is bad for you (see the reasons why lemon water is bad for you).
4) Applesauce, apples and boiled white rice, toast, potatoes and bananas. These are all bland foods, meaning they have little or no flavor to them and, just as important, little or no smell. The last thing anyone dealing with nausea needs is to have to deal with strong odors or flavors from food. Applesauce is bland, but with a soft sweet flavor, perfect for giving a little energy boost to someone so nauseated they can’t stand the sight of food (provided, of course, it doesn’t have added sugar, artificial flavors, preservatives). Freshly grated apples have a sharp, healthy smell to them and give a little twist to boiled white rice, which is as bland as can be. Toast is a good option as well because there is nothing to it that can trigger nausea.
Potatoes and bananas are both good choices because they have a mild flavor, soft texture that doesn’t require the effort of chewing much and good amounts of potassium, an electrolyte that helps maintain fluid balance and regulates blood pressure. The trick is to choose well-ripened bananas (not sufficiently ripe ones may upset our stomach) and boil potatoes, not fry, roast or butter them, though a pinch of salt can help raise blood pressure a little. Any of these foods are safe options for anyone that can’t bear to look at food without feeling nauseated to the point of vomiting. Because eating is the first step to recovery.
5) Frozen fruit cubes. When nausea gets as worse as can be, we can turn to frozen fruits. Not only are they rich in much needed vitamins and dietary minerals, but they also help keep us hydrated and allow us to eat something without actually giving us the impression we are eating.
Choose several fruits of your liking: watermelon, raspberries, blackberries, pineapple, strawberries, kiwifruit etc. The juicier the the fruit, the better. Crush each fruit in a separate bowl until you get a juicy pulp mush. Fill each ice cube compartment with different crushed fruit pulp and juice and allow them to freeze. You can suck on the fruity ice cubes when you’re feeling too nauseated to eat or drink anything, or add a few fruit cubes to your drinking water to flavor it and help keep you hydrated, relieving nausea.
What I find also helps me when I have nausea is a cold fruit salad. I chop bananas, oranges, kiwifruit, grapes and apples into small pieces, sprinkle them with brown sugar and add freshly squeezed lime juice. I mix the fruits well so they get coated with the brown sugar and lime juice mix, then put them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to cool (it would take longer in the refrigerator). I honestly can’t feel the nausea when faced with such a refreshing option.
6) Coke. The phosphoric acid in sodas is great at fighting nausea, while the sugar in the drink raises blood sugar levels and boosts energy. While this is not the most orthodox nausea-relieving remedy, or the healthiest, it is surprisingly efficient. Whenever I go for a long car ride, I get motion sickness, I feel weak and extremely nauseated. I can’t eat anything, drink water or even talk without fearing I will throw up my very soul. For some time now, I carry a 250 ml coke bottle that I refrigerate in advance for two hours or so. When I’m starting to get nauseous, I drink a mouthful of it and keep doing so for the duration of the trip. In my case, it is more efficient than regular antiemetic medication.
Other tips for nausea
Fresh air and a good state of mind are also important, especially considering that stress, shock and depression can lead to nausea as well. So while nauseated, make the effort to open a window to get some fresh air in, put on some music you like, watch a good movie if you are feeling up to it and simply try not to focus on how nauseous you are feeling. Instead, focus on all the things you cannot wait to do once you’re feeling fine again. After all, our mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy.