Updated on December 4, 2019 by Asher Fergusson
How do I avoid “Delhi Belly” aka dysentery?
After traveling in India for sometime it becomes apparent that life there (for 100s of millions of people) seems to revolve around three things: eating delicious food, worshiping God and doing these two activities with one’s extended family. Below is a list of tips I’ve learned to help you stay healthy while still enjoying the absolute delight of eating cuisine in India.
1) What types of food do people eat in India?
Every town has its unique style and specialties for you to explore and indulge in. It’s definitely wise to take precautions and know what not to eat in India as this is the most likely cause of getting dysentery.
The safest way to eat in India is to never eat from vendors on the street and only visit classy restaurants that are busy and look “clean”. Often times 4 or 5 star hotels may be the best bet for buying mouth watering, tummy satisfying, safe food.
What’s the bottom line?
You will inevitably be exposed to some kind of “bugs” while you’re in India but you will only get sick if your body can’t handle them, which is usually due to overeating and weak immunity or digestion. Follow these tips below and you will minimize the chances of getting sick.
2) Probiotics and charcoal are lifesavers!
Probiotics boost the good bacteria in your stomach, improve digestion and increase natural immunity. They are a must before traveling to India, especially during your travels and afterwards when you get home. They’re also generally good for all round digestive health, even when you’re not planning a trip to India.
Charcoal tablets on the other hand are an incredibly effective way of stopping diarrhea and preventing dysentery (Delhi Belly). It quickly absorbs the toxins or pathogens that are causing the problem and keeps you strong. As always, be sure to get advice form your doctor about dosages etc.
3) Only eat cooked food & avoid salads or juices
Cooking kills most bacteria and amoeba’s. If you see a tempting freshly squeezed juice, salad or fruit platter (even at 5 star hotels) don’t eat it! I have many friends who succumbed to the temptation and ended up running for the bathroom a couple of hours later. So only eat freshly cooked food from a busy restaurant with high turnover.
4) Avoiding sickness: It’s more than what you eat
After 10 years of work, my wife and I have just released Travel India Safely. In this step-by-step video course, we teach everything you need to know about staying healthy and enjoying your time in India. As westerners our immune systems are not used to India’s developing world environment. Knowing all the tricks about drinking water, pollution and general preventative health measures will help you stay strong so you can enjoy the incredible food in India. The course also comes with a private Facebook support group where you can ask unlimited questions like, “how do I get train tickets?”, “how much should I tip my tour guide?” and “which water should I use to brush my teeth?” etc.
5) Don’t overeat! It’ll save your digestive fire
As easy as it is to gorge on delicious food, I advise that overeating is the #1 cause of any problem with digestion when visiting India. It is a rather simple point but the only times I’ve gotten sick in India were when I didn’t follow this rule.
For example, this one time I had a huge meal with chapati’s (flat bread) and all kinds of tasty treats followed by 7 Gulab Jamans (famous sweet condensed milk dumpling). Within about 6 to 8 hours (in the middle of the night) I was praying to the white god (toilet) until I had nothing left. Not very pleasant to say the least! 🙁
Keeping your digestive power strong also naturally boosts your immunity so that your body easily fends off unwanted germs. To help with my digestion, immunity and overall health I also take these amazing Organic Amla Berry tablets. They are an incredible source of Vitamin C (20x more than an orange) and a great source of antioxidants. Another great herb I use is called Bio-Immune.
6) Consider becoming a vegetarian while in India
India has the lowest meat consumption rates in the world (see graph below). The meat I’ve seen looks very unsafe, often hanging in the warm, open air with flies buzzing around. In fact, due to Hindu religious reasons, the state of Maharashtra has banned beef altogether. If you can, I recommend being a vegetarian while in India to reduce the chances of getting serious food poisoning.
7) Can you eat street food in India?… No!
Many times when walking on the street in India you will come across some amazing looking “street food”. As tempting as it can be, I highly recommend that you avoid eating street food in India at all costs. I actually have a friend who died from an E. Coli infection due to eating unsafe street food in India. This is an extreme case, but I always like to play it safe. Don’t risk getting some weird parasite, bacteria or amoeba from what may look and smell like “safe” food, wafting out of a saucepan at the side of the road, like you can see in this picture.
8) What to do if you get a parasite?
Obviously consulting your doctor is an important first step. If they think you have parasites then they’ll probably prescribe strong pharmaceuticals to kill the parasites. There are also natural remedies which I have successfully used such as: charcoal, garlic tablets, pumpkin seeds, neem, wormwood and this amazing Ayurvedic herbal supplement called “Flora Tone” which supports the colon’s natural ability to remove parasites.
Also, probiotics are again very useful in boosting the good bacteria in the stomach after having parasites or taking antibiotics.
9) Use your hands to eat – it’s fun!
Some people (me included) love using their hands to eat while in India. This can actually be more hygienic than using utensils because you know where your hands have been and whether or not they’re clean.
Plates and utensils at restaurants are often times not clean even though they may appear to be because they have been wiped with a dirty dish cloth. For this reason I recommend wiping your eating ware with a paper napkin before use. Also don’t wipe your plate clean at the end of the meal. Instead leave a thin layer of food between you and the plate.
10) Avoid eating too much spicy food, especially chilli’s
Spicy food is good in moderation to keep your digestive fire high but too much is not good for the Western physiology. Spices actually act as a mild laxative, which is something you probably don’t want. The main culprit to watch out for is red and green chillies. Even when you ask for no chili (mirch nahin in Hindi) you will probably get it anyway, so you have to be firm about it. Also it’s good to have some antidotes ready like plain rice, bread, yoghurt etc.
11) Local’s restaurants can be great & often they’re all-you-can-eat for $1!
It can be fun to visit the local favorite restaurant and get an all you can eat thali (plate) of various dishes for just Rs 50 ($1). I often do this and love it! It’s important to be careful here and only visit busy restaurants and be extra aware of the utensils. In South India it is common to be served on a banana leaf which is quite a novelty, but obviously dangerous as far as hygiene is concerned, so you definitely don’t want to be wiping it clean.
12) Family home dining is a pleasure but be careful
Many times when you make friends with an Indian you will be invited to their home for a meal. This a real treat and reflects the Indian proverb that “guest is god”. I have had the best food of my life at peoples homes.
Again, it is important to be cautious and don’t drink tap water, only have cooked food and don’t overeat. Also don’t eat too fast because they will keep piling the food on your plate and expect you to eat it and even force-feed you if you’re not careful (this has happened to me a few times).
Get our FREE Essential
Guide to India Travel
– Learn all our tips for safe India travel
– 18 page full color ebook
– Printable PDF
– Save yourself from getting Delhi Belly in India!