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Diarrhea is loose, watery, and frequent stools. Diarrhea is considered chronic (long term) when you have had loose or frequent stools for more than 4 weeks. Many patients undergoing cancer treatment experience diarrhea.

Other reasons for diarrhea include:

  • Fecal impaction
  • Medications such as antibiotics
  • Partial intestinal obstruction
  • Poor diet
  • Surgery
  • Underlying infection, such as viruses, bacteria, or parasites

Identifying the cause is important in order to avoid future problems. Management is different for each individual.


What can you do to overcome the symptoms of diarrhea?


Drink plenty of liquids between meals to avoid dehydration. Water, broth, gelatin, ices, and sports drinks are all good choices.

Room temperature

Some people tolerate liquids at room temperature better than those served hot or cold.

Sugar-free foods

Avoid sugar-free foods when you have diarrhea. The sugar alcohols used to sweeten these foods, such as sorbitol and xylitol, can worsen diarrhea.

Dairy products

Do not consume dairy products when symptoms are most severe. Add low-fat or fat-free milk back into your diet slowly.

Small meals

Have small meals and snacks, rather than big meals.

Bland foods

It is recommended that you choose bland foods when you have diarrhea.

Good choices include:

  • Applesauce
  • Bananas
  • Canned soft fruits
  • Cooked hot cereals
  • Crackers
  • Eggs
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Pretzels
  • Smooth nut butters
  • Soup
  • Toast
  • White rice


Foods to avoid

Do not choose foods that are greasy, fried, or fatty. Do not add butter, oil, or other fats to your foods.

Certain foods tend to cause discomfort for many patients, including:

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Dried beans
  • Dried fruit
  • Fried or fatty meats
  • Greens
  • High-fiber breads
  • High-fiber cereals
  • Nuts
  • Onions
  • Raw fruits (except bananas and melon)
  • Raw vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Whole milk


Choose grains that contain less than 2 grams of fiber/serving.

Meats, chicken, and fish

Select lean meats, chicken, and fish.


Patients with diarrhea caused by antibiotics may benefit form adding yogurt to their diet.


When should you call your doctor?

Call your doctor if you:

  • Have mucus, blood, or pus in your stools
  • Have diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 to 3 days
  • Have not urinated in 12 hours
  • Have severe pain or abdominal cramping
  • Are vomiting and experiencing diarrhea at the same time
  • Have a chronic illness, such as diabetes
  • Have a high fever (more than 101º F)
  • Are pregnant
  • Experience rapid breathing, fever, or light-headedness
  • Have traveled to a foreign country and have diarrhea upon your return

Remember to:

  • Eat and drink whatever you think will work best for you
  • Wash your hands often
  • Eat and drink small portions, gradually increasing your diet as tolerated


References and recommended readings

Eating hints before, during, and after cancer treatment. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute Web site.https://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/eatinghints/page4%23diarrhea. Accessed June 5, 2013.

Mayo Clinic staff. Diarrhea. Mayo Clinic Web site. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diarrhea/DS00292. Accessed June 5, 2013.

US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Diarrhea. MedlinePlus Web site. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003126.htm. Updated January 26, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2013.

National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Eating hints. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/insides-eating-hints.pdf. NIH No. 11-2079. Published January 2011. Accessed June 5, 2013.

Nutrition Care Manual®. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Web site [by subscription]. www.nutritioncaremanual.org. Accessed June 5, 2013.

Review Date 6/13



Intended use

The low-fat diet is intended for use by individuals who have maldigestion or malabsorption of fat, such as small bowel resection, pancreatic disease, gastroparesis, fatty liver, or gallstones. The low-fat diet restricts fat intake to 40–60 grams (g) of fat/day by limiting high-fat food and beverage sources.

Note: This version of the low-fat diet is not intended for individuals with heart disease (access the therapeutic lifestyle changes [TLC] diet at http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/114/1/82.full.pdf). Further, this is not an optimal approach for weight loss, because calorically dense, low-fat alternatives such as sugar are not restricted.

While this diet is nutritionally adequate according to the Recommended Dietary Allowances, individuals may require supplementation of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, or high-calorie, low-fat supplements because of the nature of their disease.


Reading labels

The Nutrition Facts panel lists the nutrition information about a product.  If you are unsure if a food fits into the “eat more of these” or “avoid” column, look at the “Total Fat” grams, located near the top of the panel. Make sure you adjust your serving size to the portion size listed at the top of the label.


Labeling terms




Fat free

Skim milk, salad dressing, and pudding


Low fat

Low-fat cheese

≤3 g fat

Extra lean

Extra-lean pork andbeef



Pork, beef, andpoultry


Less or reduced

Less-fat or reduced-fat salad dressing

25% less than the regular equivalent

Light or lite

Lite margarine or salad dressing

50% less than the regular equivalent


It is important to understand that while products that claim that they are lower in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat are healthier selections that may positively reduce the total fat content of a meal, this is not a direct indication that these foods are acceptable on a low-fat diet.


Low-fat diet by food groups

Food Group

Eat More of These

Avoid These Foods


• Skim or soy milk

•½% or 1% milk

•Fat-free yogurt

•Fat-free cheese

• 2% or whole milk



•Milk shakes



Limit=5–6 ounces (oz)/day


Guide to portions:

3 oz=deck of cards

1 oz=one index finger

One serving equals:

•1 oz extra lean or lean meat or deli meat

•1 oz fish

•1 oz skinless poultry

•Textured vegetable protein

•¼ cup (C) water-packed tuna or salmon

•1 egg

•1½ oz low-fat cheese

•Note: Textured vegetable protein that contains

• Bacon


•Luncheon meats

•Hot dogs


•Fish canned in oil

•Fried meats

•Convenience and fast-food meals

•Heavily marbled meats

•Regular cheese

•Regular cream cheese


• All are encouraged


• All are encouraged

• No fried vegetables



6–11 servings/day


*Grain choices must contain

One serving equals:

•1 slice whole-grain bread

•½ English muffin, bagel, or bun

•½ C rice or pasta

•½ C hot cereal

•¾ C cold cereal

•1 oz fat-free crackers or pretzels

•3 C fat-free popcorn

• Stuffing

•Regular chips

•Regular crackers

•Regular bars




•Baked goods

•Grilled, fried, or cheesy breads




Limit=3 servings/day

(includes fat added in cooking)


Guide to portions:

1 tablespoon (Tbsp)= thumb tip

One serving equals:

•1 teaspoon (tsp) regular or 2 tsp lite butter, margarine, or oil

•1 Tbsp regular or 2 Tbsp lite mayonnaise, cream cheese, or salad dressing

•⅛ avocado

•2 tsp peanut butter

•10 peanuts

•8 olives


• Fat-free hot chocolate

•Carnation® Instant Breakfast® made with skim milk







•Angel food cake

•Pudding made with skim milk


Discuss the use of alcohol, caffeine, and soda with your dietitian.


•Ice cream




•Regular cream-based soups


Sample menu




• 6 fluid oz (fl oz) orange juice

•¾ C Cheerios®

•8 fl oz skim milk

•½ banana

•1 scrambled egg

•1 slice toast

•1 egg

•1 tsp margarine


•Coffee or tea


• Whole-grain sandwich with 2 oz fat-free deli meat, tomato, lettuce, onion, mustard, and fat-free mayonnaise

•1 C skim milk

•1 C broth-based soup

•1 apple or 1 C cut-up  fruit

•1½ C mixed salad greens

•2 Tbsp lite salad dressing

•Coffee or tea


• 3 oz skinless, white meat chicken breast (baked)

•1 C skim milk

•1 piece corn on the cob

•1 C cooked vegetables

•1 whole-grain dinner roll

•1 tsp margarine

•1 C grapes or cut fruit

•Coffee or tea



References and recommended readings

American College of Gastroenterology. Digestive health tips. Available at: http://www.acg.gi.org/patients/healthtips.asp. Accessed October 8, 2012.

American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation [serial online]. 2006;114:82-96. Available at: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/114/1/82.full.pdf. Accessed October 8, 2012.

Andersson H, Isaksson B, S Sjögren B. Fat-reduced diet in the symptomatic treatment of small bowel disease: metabolic studies in patients with Crohn’s disease and in other patients subjected to ileal resection. Gut [serial online]. 1974;15:351-359. Available at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1412920/. Accessed October 8, 2012.

MedlinePlus. Chronic pancreatitis. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000221.htm. Accessed October 8, 2012.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). How is gastroparesis treated? Available at: https://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gastroparesis/%235. Accessed October 8, 2012.

Contributed by Sheryl Lozicki, RD, MBA

Updated by Nutrition411.com staff

Review Date 10/12



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8631 W. 3rd Street, Suite 815E
Los Angeles, CA 90048
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Fax: 310-858-2225

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