How to prevent 'Delhi Belly'

May 11, 2018

Mmmm, Indian food! Its unique mixture of aromatic spices, heat, and perfectly balanced ingredients mixed into delicate sauces results in a flavourful revelation like no other. Digging into to new and unfamiliar foods is undeniably one of the best parts of travelling, and in India, there's no shortage of new flavour combinations.

But one of the worst parts of travelling is getting sick — particularly from food or drink.

In India, food-related tummy discomfort is referred to as "Delhi Belly." Not only can Delhi Belly ruin your day — or your whole trip — but it can lead to serious illness if left untreated. Don't worry: it’s usually nothing serious and generally clears up in a day or two. The good news is you can likely prevent it by taking a few important precautions and following these eight tips:

1. Don’t drink tap water

Tap water is the biggest culprit for gastrointestinal discomfort in travellers to India. Never drink it. Boiling water is generally the most efficient method of purifying it, while the best chemical purifier is iodine. Drink bottled water to be safe, and always make sure the lid is sealed before purchase. Beware of sauces that are often made with tap water, and avoid water-based dishes such as Pani Puri (which is, unfortunately, one of the most delicious street snacks in India).

2. Be careful with fresh fruits and vegetables

The general rule of thumb is to not eat any fruit or vegetables that can’t be peeled. A peel ensures a protective layer which helps avoid contamination. If there’s no peel, don’t just chow right down on the skin of whatever you’re eating, but make sure to wash it thoroughly with bottled or boiled water. Because there’s a very high likelihood the tap water is contaminated, you’ll want to avoid salads, as leafy greens like lettuce are a major culprit.

3. Stick to piping-hot foods

Don’t eat cold foods that have sitting out in the open. For the best stomach-happy results, stick to foods that are freshly cooked and piping hot. So don’t be concerned if your vendor throws a samosa back into the fryer, as this is to reheat it to a safe temperature so you can chow down on it happily — and then maybe another three more. Also, beware of buffets where food may have been sitting out for who knows how long.

4. Ice = no dice

Avoid ice at all costs. If your water is contaminated, there’s a good chance your ice is, too. Sometimes this is difficult — you’re on the beach, it’s hot, and you see a fresh fruit juice glistening with ice. Don’t do it. Although the drink is probably bursting with flavour, you may very well be bursting with discomfort later on.

5. Consider going meat- and dairy-free

Sticking to vegetarian dishes is common practice among travellers in India, as meat is sometimes the cause of illness. India has some of the best vegan dishes in the world, so trust me when I say you likely won’t be missing meat while digging into richly spiced veg curries.

6. Wash your hands!

This one is really important. Wash your hands before and after eating. In restaurants in India, you’ll often see that there are wash basins and soap directly inside the seating area of the restaurants. This is to remind people to wash. Since eating with your hands is common practice in India, it’s even more crucial to regularly wash your hands.

7. Eat where the locals eat

Here’s where you can use your judgement. If you see a vendor that everyone is avoiding, it’s probably a good idea that you do the same. Look for vendors with a steady stream of customers, and it’s even better if there are children and elders. The food is probably delicious, and you can count on it being fresh due to demand.

Getting there

Ready for a taste of India? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to India here.

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