When you're dealing with a gastrointestinal disorder, have digestive symptoms or are recovering from GI surgery, your doctor may recommend you eat bland diet foods to help your body recover.
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To help, here's a list of bland foods to eat (and which to avoid) while you heal, plus a sample bland diet menu.
The length of time you stay on a bland food diet depends on your condition. Work with your doctor to determine your individual needs.
What Is a Bland Diet?
A bland diet is a lot like it sounds: It's a diet that emphasizes cooked, soft, easily digestible foods that are low-fiber, non-spicy and gentle on the gastrointestinal tract, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Your doctor may recommend you stick to a bland diet if you have persistent gastrointestinal issues, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcers. You may also need to eat bland diet foods for a short period of time after surgery on your digestive tract or if you experience a sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea (which is sometimes due to norovirus, a highly contagious infection spread through contaminated food or water, per the Mayo Clinic).
A bland diet goes easy on your digestive tract and eliminates foods that can irritate your gut. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), this can help relieve or prevent digestive symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Acid reflux
The BRAT Diet
Perhaps you've heard of the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. It's a special bland foods diet that aims to treat upset stomach and diarrhea, per the American Academy of Family Physicians.
But the BRAT diet is no longer widely recommended, as it may not provide you enough nutrients while you're sick or recovering, according to an older January 2004 article in Emergency Medicine News (which is still referenced today). Instead, focus on staying well-hydrated and eating a variety of other bland foods unless your doctor suggests otherwise.
Bland Foods to Eat
So, what is considered bland food? It's food that's easily digestible and doesn't upset your gastrointestinal tract, according to the NLM. Here's a list of bland foods to include in your diet:
1. Low-Fat Dairy Products
Low-fat or fat-free sources of dairy can provide you with protein and calories while you follow a bland diet. Per the MSKCC, here are some examples:
- Skim milk
- Low-fat yogurt
- Low-fat cottage cheese
2. Processed Grains
Refined grains and starches can help limit your fiber intake and ease digestion. Per the NLM, here are some foods to include on your bland diet list:
- White bread
- Pasta that's not whole-wheat
- Crackers that aren't whole-wheat
- Plain cereals like cream of wheat
3. Some Vegetables
You can also incorporate certain types of vegetables into your bland diet meals. Stick to canned vegetables or vegetables that are cooked until they're very soft, according to the MSKCC — this ensures you don't eat too much fiber, which can irritate your gut.
4. Some Fruit
The same goes for fruit, according to the NLM. Here are the fruits you can include in your bland diet menu:
- Canned fruit
5. Protein Sources
You'll want to make sure to get enough protein to keep your energy levels up while you're on a bland diet. Per the NLM, stick to lean animal proteins or other good sources of the nutrient, such as:
- Creamy peanut butter
6. Hydrating Fluids
Drinks are another great source of nutrients and calories while you're on a bland diet (not to mention adequate hydration). According to the NLM, here are some fluids to sip on:
- Weak tea
- Fruit and vegetable juice (though it's best to limit or avoid citrus or tomato juices if you have acid reflux)
Certain dessert foods like custards and puddings are also OK to eat as part of a bland meal, per the NLM. However, it's best to limit these dishes to avoid eating too much added sugar.
Foods to Avoid on a Bland Diet
If you're following a bland diet meal plan, there are some foods that are best to skip to avoid upsetting your digestive tract. Per the NLM, these include:
- Fatty dairy products like whipped cream or high-fat ice cream
- Strong cheeses like bleu or Roquefort cheese
- Raw vegetables
- Vegetables that cause gas, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, green peppers and corn
- Dried fruit
- Acidic foods like citrus fruit
- Whole-grain or bran cereals
- Whole-grain breads, crackers and pasta
- Fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut
- Spices and strong seasonings like hot pepper
- Sugary foods like candy and baked goods
- Seeds and nuts
- Highly seasoned, cured or smoked meats and fish
- Fried foods
- Alcoholic beverages
- Caffeinated drinks
The size of your meals may also matter if you're on a bland diet and have a digestive disorder like GERD. Eating smaller, more frequent meals may help quell symptoms, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Bland Diet Meal Plan
If you're looking for menu inspiration, here are some bland diet ideas to get you started.
Kick off your day with one of these bland diet food breakfast recipes:
Prepare a midday meal with one of these lunches (just make sure to use canned veggies or cook fresh produce until it's soft):
Round out the day with these bland diet recipe examples (though again, make sure the veggies are canned or thoroughly cooked):
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Bland Diet"
- Mayo Clinic: "Norovirus Infection, Diagnosis and Treatment"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "BRAT Diet: Recovering From an Upset Stomach"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Gastroesophageal Reflux"
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Bland Diet"
- Emergency Medicine News: "BRAT Diet: Axiom or Unsubstantiated Myth?"