If you or your children have ever had an upset stomach or diarrhea, you may have been instructed to follow a low fiber diet called “BRAT”. The acronym BRAT stands for banana, rice, applesauce and toast. Doctors sometimes recommend these four foods as a treatment for diarrhea, upset stomach or nausea because this simple diet contains foods that are easy to digest, provide low levels of irritation to the gut and may reduce the amount of stool produced during illness.
What Is the BRAT Diet and Why Does It Work?
Bananas, rice, applesauce and toast are bland foods and they contain low levels of insoluble fiber and residue, making them easier on an upset stomach. They are also high in the type of fiber, which can help the body form more solid stool. They are considered 'binding' foods, which can help with a distressed stomach but they can also be very limiting and lacking in some key nutrients. There are other healthy foods that create the same soothing effect while also offering healing nutrients. Remember that incorporating beverages in the BRAT diet is critical to replace lost fluids and electrolytes and may help reduce the possibility of serious complications such as dehydration. With diarrhea or other stomach problems, especially in children, be sure to meet with your doctor to rule out more serious problems and to assess whether the BRAT diet is an appropriate treatment.
When Should I Follow the BRAT Diet?
The BRAT diet is not used during times of acute or severe vomiting but once these symptoms have improved and clear liquids have been tolerated for several hours. Start with small bites and if these foods are tolerated without further stomach upset, continue to increase intake. This diet may be especially helpful during times of diarrhea or increased loose stool.
Who Should Follow the BRAT Diet?
The BRAT diet is appropriate for children and adults with an upset stomach, nausea or diarrhea. This diet is not designed to be a long-term solution, rather used for short periods of time during illness. It may help a person suffering from acute stomach upset transition from clear liquids back to a normal diet without further irritation of the intestines.
How Long Should I Follow the BRAT Diet?
Follow the BRAT diet for a day or two or until your stomach upset improves and diarrhea decreases or subsides. If you have a fever, blood in your stool, symptoms of dehydration or if your symptoms last for more than three days, be sure to get medical advice for your condition. The BRAT diet is not appropriate for more than a couple days at a time due to the lack of well-rounded nutrition in these foods.
Foods Allowed on the BRAT Diet: Bananas
Bananas may be helpful for diarrhea for two reasons: soluble (or water-binding) fiber which helps the body restore structure to loose stool and a high potassium content, a mineral the body needs to help it replace nutrients lost during diarrhea. Research on children with acute diarrhea has shown there may be benefit to including bananas during times of stomach upset. Baked potatoes are another well-tolerated, bland food that provides a good amount of potassium and provide similar benefits during times of illness.
Foods Allowed on the BRAT Diet: Applesauce
The key anti-diarrhea component of applesauce is pectin, a natural thickening agent that helps form more solid stool. Other high-pectin foods include gelatin, which is why Jell-O is also commonly consumed during stomach upset. Note that high-sugar foods can exacerbate upset stomachs and dehydration, so choose foods without added sugar with diarrhea.
Foods Allowed on the BRAT Diet: Rice and Toast
Rice and toast are binding foods that are low in fiber, easy to digest and kind to the stomach. Other foods that fulfill this description include pasta, white crackers and simple cereals such as cream of wheat. You may have heard that these types of more processed foods aren’t as healthy as whole grains that offer more fiber, vitamins and minerals. That is correct when you are feeling healthy but during times of diarrhea or stomach upset, foods high in this type of fiber can be irritating. Instead, on the BRAT diet choose low fiber bread, white rice, and cereals to help rest and heal the gut. When you’re feeling better, you can return to whole-grain products.
Hydration and the BRAT Diet: Clear Liquids
When you are experiencing diarrhea, staying hydrated can be a challenge but it’s more important than ever. Drinking clear liquids is important to help replace fluids lost during bouts of diarrhea. Clear beverages included on the BRAT diet include drinks such as water, broth, apple juice and flat, clear sodas that will not cause continued irritation to the stomach and intestines. Drinking large amounts of liquids at one time is not necessary and may cause further discomfort. Frequent, small sips of clears liquids may be enough to help prevent dehydration. Avoid drinking beverages that are too hot or too cold because of possible irritation to the stomach and intestines when on the BRAT diet.
Hydration and the BRAT Diet: Electrolyte Beverages
During episodes of vomiting and diarrhea, an individual loses body fluids as well as significant amounts of salt and other electrolytes such as potassium necessary to sustain healthy cells. Sports and electrolyte drinks formulated for children and sold over-the-counter, have a balanced amount of electrolytes to help replace those lost during illness. It is best to speak with a physician about the proper amount of oral rehydration beverages needed, especially in children. Drinking these beverages helps prevent dehydration, but will not stop diarrhea. Also consider coconut water as a natural source of electrolytes and hydration but note that though it is high in potassium, it does not provide adequate sodium.
Alternative Foods for the BRAT Diet Cereal
Low fiber cereals like cream of wheat or cold cereal with less than one gram of fiber per serving can be a carbohydrate alternative to toast or white rice.
Fruits Without the Skin
Be aware that sugar can irritate your gut further so choose peaches or pears canned in real juice rather than corn syrup or other sugary alternatives. Soft or blended fruits will be better tolerated than crunchy fruits or those with skins or seeds which can irritate an upset stomach further.
Soft, full of protein and easy to digest, silken tofu may be soothing to an upset stomach. Silken tofu is lower in fiber than firmer varieties and can be very well tolerated during times of illness.
Eggs may be well tolerated by folks with stomach upset; they are full of protein but do not have any fiber which can help rest the intestines. Be sure to avoid eggs cooked in a lot of oil or other fats as high fat foods can be irritating.
Squash, potato, yams, and other soft veggies without the skin can be tolerated during upset stomach if they are very well cooked. Mashed potato without the skins can be a soothing food to try on the BRAT diet.
Cook vegetables down in a broth-based soup then use a blender to puree into a soothing and nourishing soup to sip on. Avoid rich, creamy soups as dairy can irritate an upset stomach.
On the BRAT Diet, Be Sure to Avoid
Nuts and seeds
High fiber whole-grains, cereal, and pasta
Lentils, beans and corn
Prunes or prune juice juice
High fat or fried foods
The BRAT Diet and Kids
Infants and children are at high risk for dehydration with stomach upset or diarrhea so it is important to monitor them closely and consult with a doctor if these symptoms occur. Many pediatricians suggest easy digesting foods in addition to plenty of fluids that contain electrolytes during these times. An article written in the journal Practical Gastroenterology assessing the appropriateness of the BRAT diet for diarrhea in children found that while this diet may help with diarrhea, it is lacking in adequate calories, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. These researchers suggest that during diarrhea, children should continue to eat if they are able with a focus on hydration. The BRAT diet may be appropriate in a very short-term way for kids but is much too restrictive to continue over a period of time.