Is The BRAT Diet Safe? Experts Weigh In
The once-recommended BRAT diet is no longer considered a reliable option to treat an upset stomach. Discover better ways to soothe your belly.
Let’s talk about the BRAT diet, the once-recommended low-fiber, plain food plan for tummy troubles.
Back in the day, doctors in the USA were all about it. But now, it’s no longer the belle of the ball.
In fact, health organizations have soured on it, believing it may be more of a troublemaker than a troubleshooter. Here’s all you need to know about this controversial low-fiber diet!
What Is The BRAT Diet?
The BRAT diet is a simple combination of four foods: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast.
It was first developed in the 1920s and was a popular recommendation by American doctors for treating children with upset stomachs.
Upset stomachs refer to the discomfort or pain experienced in the stomach, often caused by indigestion.
The idea behind the BRAT diet is that these foods are gentle on the stomach, and they were previously thought to be simple, plain foods that are easy to digest.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines bland foods as:
- Easily digestible;
- Soft in consistency,
- And low in fiber.
Here’s why experts used to believe that sticking to a diet of bland BRAT foods could help people with stomach illnesses:
- These foods are low in protein and fat, which can be difficult to digest when you have a stomach illness. So they’re easy on your stomach.
- They also help to make stools firmer due to their low fiber and starchy content, which can help bind runny stools together more easily.
- Additionally, they may reduce nausea because they are relatively bland in taste and smell, making them more tolerable for certain people, such as those experiencing pregnancy sickness.
What Is It For?
If you’re experiencing digestive problems, the BRAT diet might be just what the doctor ordered. This low-fiber diet was commonly recommended for upset stomachs, but it can also be helpful for other issues such as:
- Acid reflux;
If you’re dealing with the stomach flu (gastroenteritis), which is caused by various stomach bugs and can lead to painful vomiting and diarrhea, the BRAT diet can help.
The same goes for diarrhea, which can be caused by a variety of factors such as viral infections, anxiety, and overindulging in alcohol.
Acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid rises up into the esophagus and causes a burning sensation, can also benefit from the BRAT diet. This condition can be triggered by high-fat or acidic foods, as well as excessive alcohol consumption.
This diet can also be useful for post-surgery recovery, as well as for people with other digestive issues. The idea is to give your digestive system a break with gentle, easy-to-digest foods.
What Can You Eat On The BRAT Diet?
Although the BRAT diet is named after four specific foods, there are other bland food options that can be included.
Here is a comprehensive list of foods that can be consumed while following the BRAT diet:
- Cooked, baked, or boiled potatoes;
- Apple juice;
- And soup broths.
Also, it’s important to steer clear of anything that’s “non-bland.” This means saying “bye-bye” to a few of your favorite foods, including:
- Milk and dairy – sorry cheese lovers, this means you too;
- Anything fried, greasy, fatty, or spicy;
- Proteins, such as steak, pork, salmon, and sardines – time to take a break from the grill;
- Raw veggies – even carrots, broccoli, and salad greens should be avoided;
- Acidic fruits – oranges, lemons, grapes, and even berries are a big “no-no”;
- Very hot or cold drinks – stick to something lukewarm for now;
- Alcohol, coffee, or other drinks containing caffeine – I know, caffeine withdrawal is a real thing.
Remember, it is advisable to seek medical advice before adopting the BRAT diet or any other restrictive diet, especially for children or those with underlying health conditions.
How To Follow The BRAT Diet?
Following the BRAT diet can help ease your upset stomach, but guidelines for a 3-day plan can be limiting and not very nutritious.
Within the first 6 hours of your illness, it’s best to give your stomach a break and avoid food altogether.
Instead, try sucking on ice chips or popsicles and drinking clear liquids like water, apple juice, and broth to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
On day two, start following the BRAT diet, but listen to your body’s cues and don’t rush to add more foods.
If you feel up to it on day three, slowly add soft-cooked eggs, cooked fruits and vegetables, and white meat back into your diet.
Just be careful not to eat too much too soon, or your symptoms may return!
Why It’s No Longer Recommended?
The BRAT diet once recommended for upset stomachs is now considered too risky due to its restrictive nature.
Experts warn that following the diet for an extended period could lead to nutritional deficiencies, hindering recovery and causing serious health issues like kwashiorkor (severe malnutrition) in young children.
While foods like bananas and rice may have positive effects on diarrhea, relying solely on them can worsen the condition and make it harder for the body to absorb necessary nutrients.
Additionally, foods in the BRAT diet, like apples, bread, and bananas, contain FODMAPs which can cause gas, bloating, and loose stools in those with digestive problems.
As a result, health organizations no longer recommend the BRAT diet for adults and children.
Other Safer Ways To Treat Stomach Issues
When your stomach is acting up, it’s important to keep nourishing your body with a balanced diet and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially if you’re experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.
If your symptoms of diarrhea persist beyond 5-7 days or vomiting lasts more than 1-2 days, it’s time to talk to your pharmacist who can suggest additional treatment options.
It’s also important to seek their advice if you notice signs of dehydration, such as dark and strong-smelling urine.
Your pharmacist may recommend rehydration powders that can be mixed with liquid to replenish lost fluids or medication to temporarily stop diarrhea.
Upset stomach symptoms caused by stomach bugs and viruses can easily spread, so it’s best to stay at home and avoid work or school for at least 48 hours after your symptoms have cleared.
There are a few things you can do to treat stomach-related symptoms at home:
- Drink plenty of water to hydrate yourself;
- Eat as per usual, do not restrict your diet (contrary to what the BRAT diet says);
- Get plenty of rest;
- Avoid fruit juices and sodas;
- Do not use medications, unless your doctor recommends it;
- If you feel pain, take paracetamol.
Remember to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and keep those germs at bay!
The Bottom Line
While the BRAT diet may have been a popular option in the past, it’s important to note that health experts now advise against following it due to its restrictive nature and potential risks of malnutrition.
Instead, they suggest a more balanced approach to eating during stomach illness, which includes clear liquids, easily digestible foods, and a variety of nutrients.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting that persist beyond a few days, or if you notice signs of dehydration, it’s always a good idea to consult with your family doctor for further advice and treatment options.
Remember, stomach bugs and viruses can be highly contagious, so it’s important to take precautions to prevent the spread of illness.
And in the meantime, don’t forget to stay hydrated, rest, and take care of yourself. Happy healing!