by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
The BRAT diet has long been a popular choice for treating stomach issues, especially in children. Consisting of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, the diet is thought to be easy to digest and low in fiber and fat, making it gentle on the stomach.
However, as medical knowledge has advanced, the effectiveness of the BRAT diet has come under scrutiny. While it may provide some relief for certain types of stomach problems, experts now believe that it may not be the best option for everyone.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the BRAT diet and examine the latest research to help you make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you (or your children).
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before making any changes to your nutrition plan or trying any diet, including speaking with a pediatrician if you are considering the BRAT diet for your kids.
What is the BRAT Diet?
The term “BRAT” is an acronym for the following foods in your diet:
The theory behind the BRAT diet is that by eating only bland, easy-to-digest foods, you can reduce the symptoms of a stomach illness or condition. These symptoms generally include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These foods are also believed to promote fast recovery after a stomach illness.
What Can You Eat on the BRAT Diet?
While some medical professionals differentiate between a bland diet and the BRAT diet, there is general agreement that the latter is a subset of the former. The BRAT diet is often recommended for individuals experiencing digestive issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach upset, and it typically includes more than just bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast.
The key feature of the BRAT diet is that it includes bland, easily digestible foods that are gentle on the stomach and may help to reduce the amount of stool produced. These types of foods are sometimes referred to as “binding” foods, meaning they can help firm up loose stool.
Acceptable bland foods for the BRAT diet:
- Weak tea
- Cooked cereals
- Apple juice or flat soda
- Boiled or baked potatoes
Foods to avoid on the BRAT diet:
- Milk and dairy
- Proteins, such as steak, sardines, pork, and salmon
- Anything fried, fatty, spicy, or greasy
- Raw veggies, including salad greens, carrot sticks, broccoli, and cauliflower
- Acidic fruits, such as berries, grapes, oranges, lemons, and limes
- Very hot or cold drinks
- Alcohol, coffee, or other beverages containing caffeine
How Long Should You Follow the BRAT Diet?
While many popular diets aim to provide a long-term way of eating, the BRAT diet is not intended to be a lifestyle diet. Instead, it’s a short-term approach to getting necessary nutrients while experiencing digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea.
The BRAT diet is designed to be gentle on the gastrointestinal system, as it includes bland, easily digestible foods like rice, bananas, and applesauce.
However, the BRAT diet is not nutritionally complete, as it’s low in protein, fiber, fat, and essential vitamins and minerals. It’s important to transition back to a varied and balanced diet as soon as possible to avoid deficiencies and malnutrition. For this reason, the BRAT diet should only be followed for a short period of time until you can tolerate more nutritious foods.
If your symptoms persist beyond two days or if you’re experiencing dehydration or other concerns related to malnutrition, it’s critical that you seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider can provide personalized recommendations for how long you should follow the BRAT diet and when it’s appropriate to transition back to a more complete and balanced diet.
What Are Some Science-Backed Benefits of the BRAT Diet?
Following the BRAT diet is believed by some to offer numerous advantages for individuals with an upset stomach and diarrhea, including:
1. Firmer stools
The BRAT diet can help reduce the frequency and looseness of bowel movements by providing foods that are easily digested. A systematic review conducted in 2019 reported that numerous studies had found green banana pulp to be effective in reducing both diarrhea and constipation in children.
2. Gentle on the stomach
The BRAT diet is composed of foods that are bland and low in fat and protein, which can help to reduce irritation and inflammation in the digestive system. In 2016, a study concluded that a rice soup diet was an effective treatment for diarrhea in children.
3. Reduced nausea and vomiting
The BRAT diet includes foods that are low in odor and flavor, which can help to reduce feelings of nausea and prevent vomiting.