When you're dealing with a digestive disorder or gastrointestinal inflammation, it's not uncommon for your doctor to suggest eating bland foods. In addition to any medical interventions to help manage symptoms, your doctor may also recommend lifestyle modifications such as following a bland diet.
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What Is a Bland Diet?
If you have persistent gastrointestinal issues, heartburn, acid reflux or peptic ulcers, your doctor may talk to you about following a bland diet to help manage the symptoms associated with these conditions. You may also need to follow a bland diet for a short period of time after surgery on your digestive tract.
Additionally, if you're experiencing a sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea, the Mayo Clinic says your doctor may recommend a bland diet, especially if the bouts are caused by the norovirus, which is a highly contagious infection spread through food or water that is contaminated.
The philosophy behind a bland diet is simple. The symptoms that generally accompany digestion problems, which include nausea and diarrhea, loss of appetite and reflux, can worsen from eating certain foods.
However, if you stick to eating plain food, like the foods recommended on a bland diet, you will likely notice a decrease in digestive symptoms, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The length of time you stay on a bland foods diet will depend on the issue being treated. That's why it's best to work with your doctor to determine your individual needs.
What Are Bland Foods?
A bland meal plan is made up of cooked, soft, easily digestible foods that are low-fiber, nonspicy and gentle to the gastrointestinal tract. Some of the more commonly recommended bland foods include:
- Bland vegetables such as beets, beans, carrots, spinach, can be cooked, canned or frozen
- Low-fat dairy product
- Fruit and vegetable juice
- Hot, cooked cereal
- Creamy peanut butter
- Pudding or custard
- Weak tea
But it's not just the list of bland foods that you need to be aware of. You also need to have a general understanding of the foods you should avoid. For example, the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends avoiding fried food, spices such as hot peppers and garlic, foods with a lot of sugar, seeds and nuts, highly seasoned meats and dried fruits.
They also point to whole-grain foods such as bread, crackers and pasta, high-fat dairy foods, non-lean meat, condiments such as dressings and sauces, pickles, alcoholic beverages, caffeinated beverages, strong cheeses, and vegetables that cause excess flatulence like cabbage, cauliflower, onions and peppers.
When consuming food on a bland meal plan, make sure to pay attention to the size of your meals. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends avoiding large meals and opt instead for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day if you're dealing with digestive disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
Read more: Bananas and Rice for Diarrhea
What Is the BRAT Diet?
In general, when your doctor puts you on a bland diet, they will give you a list of foods to choose from that allows you some flexibility. But if they put you on a BRAT diet, which is a form of a bland diet, the menu flexibility will be eliminated and you'll only be able to choose from four food items until your doctor tells you otherwise.
BRAT, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast, is a special bland foods diet that helps to treat upset stomach and diarrhea. The goal of a BRAT diet, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), is to eat a diet that will help make your stools firmer and also help replace nutrients your body lost due to vomiting or diarrhea.
Bananas, rice, applesauce and toast are recommended because they do not irritate your stomach. That said, the AAFP does recommend waiting to start the BRAT diet until you are not actively vomiting. Otherwise, stick to clear liquids until you can eat without vomiting. This is considered a very short-term plan, and as you feel better, you should return to a healthy diet. For a sample plan, you can check out a BRAT diet pdf.