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Updated 07 November 2013

Diet tips for travellers - part 2

Prevent nasty incidents that could make or break your holiday with these diet tips for when you've arrived in a foreign country.

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Prevent nasty incidents that could make or break your holiday with these diet tips for when you've arrived in a foreign country.

How to avoid gastroenteritis
A bout of gastro can knock you out and leave you feeling like a washed-out rag. When you're on holiday in a place you may only visit once in a lifetime, you cannot afford time off to get sick. Each day and hour is precious (especially considering the vast expense of plane tickets and accommodation) and most of us want to utilise time as efficiently as possible.

Illnesses like gastroenteritis (also referred to as Montezuma’s revenge, or Pharaoh’s curse, depending if you're in South America or Egypt), gastric 'flu or food poisoning, are debilitating, highly unpleasant and should be avoided at all costs.

Tips to prevent runny tummies

  • Never eat any raw or uncooked food. Stick to cooked porridge, commercial cereals, cooked meat, fish and vegetables and baked puddings. Avoid raw salads as they may also contain the organism that causes amoebic dysentery.
  • Never eat raw fruit unless you can wash it thoroughly and peel the fruits yourself. Well-washed oranges and other citrus fruit, and bananas, are your safest bet.
  • Boil milk, if possible, as milk is an ideal breeding ground for a variety of nasty bacteria, including the Brucellosis bacterium which causes Malta fever. Also be wary of local cheeses as they may be made of non-pasteurised milk.
  • NEVER drink water out of a tap. Stick to bottled water (see note on sulphur content below), soda water, or boil local water for at least 5 minutes before drinking.
  • Don’t order ice cubes in your drinks, as these will have been made of the same potentially contaminated water that you're trying to avoid.
  • In some countries, it's important to ask for cold drinks to be opened at the table to prevent the waiters from topping drinks up with local water.
  • Drink well-known brands of cold drinks, such as Coca Cola, because the quality of their products is internationally consistent and they can be bought all over the world, even in some rather remote places.
  • Be on guard for food and drinks that are off. As unlikely as it may seem, even alcoholic beverages like beer can be contaminated with spoilage organisms. So, if a drink or food tastes suspicious, send it back and don’t consume it.
  • Avoid exotic foods that may make you ill or upset your stomach. For example, butter fish - a favourite delicacy in the East - can cause very runny tummies. Highly spiced food can give you gastritis and very rich dishes can make you nauseous.

Allergy warning
Travellers with food allergies must be even more alert in order to prevent allergic reactions from spoiling their holidays. The following tips may be useful:

  • If possible, ask the headwaiter or even the chef what a specific dish contains. If there's a language barrier, opt for plain foods such as grilled steak without sauces, cooked vegetables without exotic trimmings, and cereals and grains that you're not allergic to.
  • For travellers who are allergic to sulphur and sulphur compounds, check the labels of local brands of bottled water carefully. If they contain sulphur or sulphate salts, then don’t use those brands. Hunt around until you find a brand that's free of sulphur and then buy enough to see you through the entire holiday, as you may not be able to buy this brand in other parts of the country.
  • If you're allergic to seafood and crustaceans, take great care when visiting the East as practically every dish contains some form of seafood.
  • Travellers with peanut allergy are also exposed to great risk in Eastern countries, because peanuts and peanut butter are used in many recipes. Even a trace amount of the peanut allergen may cause a violent, sometimes fatal, reaction.

Precautions
It's always a good idea to take along your own emergency medical kit. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for medicines such as loperamide to stop diarrhoea, an anti-emetic for nausea, anti-seasickness medication especially if you're planning a boat trip, an electrolyte mixture to replace lost fluids after an attack of gastro or vomiting (remember to dilute the powder with bottled or boiled water), antacids for traveller’s gastritis, and your rescue medications for allergic reactions.

Remember to take a letter from your doctor stating why you require these medications, so that suspicious custom’s officials don’t lock you up for trying to smuggle drugs into their country!

(Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated July 2011)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

 
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