Keep Your Belly in Check

Tips for maintaining a healthy gut while traveling this summer

You’re traveling in a new country, trying unique, exotic foods, and excited to learn about the local culture and cuisine. And then your stomach starts to rumble. Oh no, you think. Where’s the nearest bathroom?

Travel tummy, also referred to as travelers’ diarrhea, is a problem countless people face while on the road. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that anywhere from 30% to 70% of travelers have experienced it at some point in time.  

Travelers’ diarrhea is an all-encompassing term that can refer to anything from an upset stomach and excess gas to bloating and diarrhea. It often occurs as a result of changes to one’s diet or contaminated food and drinks.

Luckily, there are countless ways you can combat travel tummy while on the road this summer and fall, while maintaining a healthy gut.

Watch your water. When in a new city, it can often be difficult to ascertain how safe the drinking water is. Err on the side of caution by sticking to filtered or bottled water. If you’re traveling in an area without bottled water, or are avoiding the use of plastic bottles, only drink water that’s been boiled for at least three minutes or treated with iodine tablets. You should also avoid water in other forms, such as ice cubes or fresh juices.

Wash your hands often. We’re more susceptible to germ exposure while traveling; think about all of the surfaces you touch at local museums and tourist attractions, not to mention when you take local transportation. Carry hand sanitizer with you and wash your hands before every meal. One that contains at least 60% alcohol is best.

Avoid raw foods. Although it can be tempting to indulge in a city’s unique dishes, avoid any meat, fish or shellfish that’s served raw or undercooked, as these are prime culprits for contamination. You should also avoid unpasteurized dairy products.

Eat fresh (not stagnant) food. This means avoiding buffets and street carts with food that’s been sitting out for hours. Try to only eat food that’s been freshly prepared and comes served piping hot or properly refrigerated.

Prevent constipation by eating healthy, fiber-rich snacks. Days on end of eating rich, indulgent foods might not give you diarrhea, but it could make you constipated. Try to keep your bowel movements regular by eating snacks between meals that are high in fiber and probiotics, like fruits, veggies, yogurt and granola. And remember to stay hydrated! Strive for eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, or more if you’re engaging in strenuous activities like hiking and swimming.

Bring certain over-the-counter medications with you on your trip. It’s always wise to bring indigestion- and diarrhea-alleviating meds with you in the event that you get an upset stomach. If you’re traveling in an area with a particularly high risk for travelers’ diarrhea (such as Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, Central America and South America), you can consider taking them preventatively, which can decrease your chances of travelers’ diarrhea by up to 50%, according to the CDC.

Armed with these tips, you’ll be able to rest assured knowing that your trip will be focused on exploring and enjoying a new culture—not running to the bathroom.

Learn more about gastroenterology services available at Inova. Call 703.799.1688.

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