• avoid delhi belly

Ask Me Anything: How do you avoid Delhi Belly?

I sometimes share e-mails under the tag “ask me anything“. I get a lot of very similar e-mails which means there are a lot of people out there thinking the same questions. Why not address them to everyone? You can search more like these by clicking that link above.

How do you avoid Delhi Belly? You don’t! Just kidding…

Delhi Belly, which is just a term for stomach issues in India, happens all over the world when traveling and eating foods you’re unfamiliar with. Most people expect to get sick a few times in India, Mexico, or Thailand.. and I am no exception. I have had serious food poisoning many times, two of which put me in the hospital (once in Goa and once on Ko Phi Phi).

koh phi phi travel tipsstreet side hotdog on a small Thai island… ended up being okay :) it was the beef burger later that got me!

I wrote some tips on how to eat street food without getting sick so check that out as I’m not going to get into specific tips here.

I’m surprised how many e-mails I get from readers who are terrified of getting sick in India from the food or water, so much so that they aren’t sure they want to come at all. After the most recent one, I decided to address it on the blog because it’s really such a non-issue… but I can see why you’re worried. You might even be reading this because you’ve emailed and I’ve sent you this link.

Singapore Food

tips on eating street food in india

best food in mysore Anima Madhva Bhavan

Here are some of the ramblings I tell people who e-mail with concerns:

  • You might not get sick at all! and if you do it’s not usually that big of a deal.
  • If you get a sick belly in India, you probably don’t have a parasite or worm… you’re going to be on the toilet for a day until it goes away (which is why I always tell people don’t take stoppers unless you have to catch a train).
  • You can brush your teeth with the water.. I have all over India for years.
  • You obviously can’t drink the tap water, but you can have filtered instead of bottled. If you accidentally drink from the tap as I have many times, you might get sick but to be honest I haven’t been sick from the water here (yet). Granted, I take de-worming pills 2x a year… yes, kind of like the ones I give my dog. If you’re in India all year, you should take one when you leave. Just ask the chemist.
  • Sometimes when you think it’s food poisoning, it’s really just some IBS because your stomach isn’t used to the food you’re eating: too greasy, too much ghee, too spicy, too sweet. It could be anything that your stomach disagrees with.
  • I’ve had just of bad of food poisoning in the U.S. as I have India.
  • Don’t just take random antibiotics if you’re going to be in India for six months, because you can’t take them each time you get sick. Find out what’s ailing you (aka get a stool sample tested) and take the correct antibiotic.
  • If you’re in India a short time, then just take cipro or whatever the chemist has on hand.
  • Want to know which drugs and other medical things I take? My travel first aid kit gives a full list.
  • Want to know which vaccinations you need? Here are the immunizations I got for India.
  • You can expect to get sick a couple of times on your trip, but it’s not as bad as people make it out to be and if it is, you can get an IV at the hospital and you’ll feel better in a few hours.
  • If you have IBS, celiac dx, or other digestive issues- you will have to work harder to eat clean in India. There aren’t as many gluten-free options and if you have IBS it’ll probably kick into high gear… but at the same time switching to an Indian diet works for some people. I know travelers who have never felt healthier, while others suffered.
  • It’s not just India… does that help? a little bit? I mean, you could get sick anywhere ;)
  • If you’re really concerned and it’s troubling you a lot, then you should skip street food just to ease your mind. Don’t feel you “have” to eat street food to be cool like Anthony B., ha ha.
  • Overall, getting a sick belly is the last thing to worry about in India! Enjoy!

 

2017-07-07T18:44:09+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Hippie in Heels, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

24 Comments

  1. Emily April 29, 2015 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    When we were in India (for a month and a half) we only got sick once, and incidentally it was in Agra when we skipped the local food stalls and street food and instead went to a restaurant that is pretty much “Indian food for tourists on tour buses”. After that, we stuck to going only where locals were!

  2. Ryan Biddulph April 29, 2015 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    I got giardia in Bangalore; I suspect it was the fanciest restaurant we visited in India, LOL. I had to go to the emergency room because I waited till I was dehydrated, to get treated, but once I took the right meds and went on an IV drip I slowly recovered. I also have been violently ill in the USA a few times. Just last December I got really, really sick after eating a bad apple or 2; this one passed in minutes after I suffered through a few hours.

    Ryan

  3. Rachel April 29, 2015 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Good advice Rachel! I managed 2 months in India without getting sick at all, partly down to the good advice of our driver in Rajasthan who told us he only ever ate veg curry when he was on the road as it was the only thing that was made fresh that day, different to cities where street food turnover can be a lot faster. I think being a vegetarian helped too. I’m rarely water-fussy when brushing my teeth!
    I’ve only really got bad food poisoning once travelling, that was from ice cream in rural Cambodia: any place that gets regular power cuts is probably not the best place to get ice cream! That was a 3 dayer!

    • Paul May 10, 2015 at 8:16 am - Reply

      Concur with what you say here. I’ve visited the Far East as well as India & have to say I was ok stomach wise. I loved the street food wherever I was & had no issues.
      My only rule- despite being a meat eat at home- was to go completely vegetarian. And this is my advice always to anyone I meet planning to visit these places.
      In India especially the vegetarian food is great & the options so vast it’s really not an issue.

      • Rachel Jones May 28, 2015 at 12:12 pm - Reply

        yes sometimes i forget that i’m used to the meat here and dont get sick when others might!

  4. Jimena April 29, 2015 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    I think people worry a lot more about street food than they should. I’ve never been to India but I am from Mexico.
    One really funny case was a couple of Danish friends who was living here for a few months. She ate everything everywhere and never got sick. He only ate in established restaurants and got a terrible case that put him out of class for two weeks.
    After that, everytime friends come I tell them to worry about it as much as they do on a typical restaurant. And enjoy it!!!

  5. The Guy Who Flies April 29, 2015 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    Great points Rachel, you can get sick anywhere.

    I must admit the worst food poisoning I ever had was from a 5 star hotel in Delhi! We followed all the advise about eating in hotels and well looking environments. I was travelling with a South African colleague and we both ate the exact same thing for the duration of our short trip. End result I had agonising stomach cramps on the plane away from India then horrible cramps and diarrhea for a week where I had to seek medical attention. He had no problems at all. He attributed it to our dietary constitute i.e. he was more accustomed to eating badly prepared food than I was.

    Since then I’ve maybe been to India half a dozen times or more. Only once did I have a small reaction and one tablet of imodium saw me right.

    Otherwise I had really bad poisoning in Chile which confined me to bed for nearly 2 days. I did then have to buy a stopper pill because I had a pending 14 hour flight! Thankfully I got through it.

    Otherwise the odd minor reaction here in the UK and a few others which I can’t even remember specifics on.

  6. Lily April 29, 2015 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    As a traveler with IBS I wanted to share what my gastroenterologist recommend and what I do. I take Imodium preemptively in the morning when I travel. Because of my, uh, condition, I don’t have any issues with it working TOO well if you know what I mean, but it does help deal with the small “upset stomach” I get when I travel just from a change in ingredients etc. When I’ve actually gotten food poisoning (“Bali Belly”), no amount of imodium could have fixed that situation and I had to take antibiotics. So yeah, travelers with sensitive stomachs, this is what my GI recommended/what I do! Meanwhile, in India, I never got sick although my mom got very sick. So…you never know!

  7. venus john April 29, 2015 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    I am too scared to eat street food in india..I am afraid I will get hepatitis ,cholera dysentery,diarrhoea etc..I am also afraid to go to the hospitals as I may get some more infections in the hospitals..i am a local and there are plenty of locals who have street food regularly here and hopefully don’t get sick..

    • Rachel Jones April 30, 2015 at 12:11 pm - Reply

      that’s interesting that as a local you are scared to eat it! Maybe I should be more careful :)

  8. Michelle | Lights Camera Travel April 30, 2015 at 5:49 am - Reply

    Haven’t been to India yet but this post is sure to put a lot of people at ease! I had food poisoning three times in six months traveling through Asia… bleh. I’m back in Australia now but I’ve started drinking medicinal charcoal… have you tried that? It’s more of a holistic approach – the naturopath who sold it to me swears it will flush out any toxins quickly if you get sick. I haven’t been sick since I started drinking it, but I drink it everyday and feel great on it!

  9. Tim UrbanDuniya April 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Totally agree with all of this. The chances of getting seriously ill in India really aren’t that much, and if you do, it can (nearly) always be treated promptly and effectively. I love travelling in India, and I’ve had food poisoning a few times in my life – only once was in India, and twice was in Australia!

  10. Soniya April 30, 2015 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Good tips for people traveling to India.
    During our (my colleague and I) official visit to France, we used to eat at office’s canteen and found food so bland.
    I still remember my colleague’s comment where she said that these poor souls (locals) would never know the taste of various chats, golgappas and all such yummylicious street food of India.

  11. Gordon Moss April 30, 2015 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel, I traveled in India for a total of 6 months (on three different trips over 3 different decades) before I ever got sick. Maybe I was lucky but I follow a few rules. 1) I prefer street food where I can see my food being cooked 2) I don’t drink the tap water 3) And when in doubt I avoid meat. The time I got sick I was on a tour going to the northern most area of Sikkim. The only way to get there is by taking a government approved tour (because it is a politically sensitive area very close to the border of Tibet.) On our way north, the driver took us to a tiny road side “restaurant” for a poor quality meal that was included in the price of the tour. My lunch was prepared in a kitchen I couldn’t see, and I had a dish made with goat meat. I got quite sick for a couple of day. I hadn’t followed my own rules that had served me well. Lesson learned.

  12. iveta May 1, 2015 at 4:19 am - Reply

    Sometimes having “sick belly” from indian food even in my home country:)) Good preparation for real India:-D

  13. Murni May 1, 2015 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Ahh you have that sesame cake too in India. YUM! Ahahaha… those worm pills does the trick hey? Good stuff here!

  14. ANAIR May 4, 2015 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Your observation “Sometimes when you think it’s food poisoning, it’s really just some IBS because your stomach isn’t used to the food you’re eating…” is spot on. Sometime back I had a colleague visiting from US on an official trip. We had party set out for him in an upscale restaurant in Mumbai. There was lot of food. He binged on the starters as he loved them. These starters are typically fried and are too oily even for Indians. They make it oily for two reasons: 1) it becomes very tasty 2) it increases your appetite and subsequently you tend to eat a lot (which by the way is good for restaurant business).
    Consequently, my colleague suffered very bad stomach for couple of days.

  15. Siva May 4, 2015 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    A great read. I clicked on this post as I was just curious about what you think on the Delhi belly thing. As a fact even if someone uses, supposedly, unhygienic water or any other ingredients in food in India.,there is one comforting thing. Many times Indian food involves heating to very high temperatures so most of the harmful bacteria or whichever will die in that high temperature. The problem comes if you directly drink contaminated water or eat poorly cooked meat.
    So people should not eat sushi on a roadside Indian stall if that ever came to pass.

  16. Linda Bibb January 8, 2016 at 2:29 am - Reply

    This is a timeless post! You’re right that one can get sick anywhere. Or maybe Montezuma is taking revenge in India, lol.

    At any rate, after enduring 2 days of “can’t stray far from the loo” in Israel, some fellow travelers gave us some charcoal tablets, and the problem was gone in a few hours. Yes, the same charcoal tablets that hospitals use for poisoning! Now they are the first things that go into our toiletries kit, even before the toothbrushes. :)

    • Rachel Jones January 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm - Reply

      Good to know! I’ve never tried them. Thanks for sharing.

  17. […] nothing to worry about. It’s not as spicy as you think and you don’t always get sick! When I first came here it was just green goo and red good. I ordered palak paneer over and over. […]

  18. Angel September 12, 2018 at 2:47 am - Reply

    I get sick every time I go to India. It’s to be expected and par for the course. One time I think it was from the water they used to “clean” the utensils and glassware, another time I forgot to use bottled water Instead of the tap for teeth brushing, another time it was on an overnight boat ride. The first time I went to India I brought a Steripen with me but found it took too much time so I resorted to bottled water.

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