When you have diarrhea, eating a banana and rice may be the furthest thing from your mind, but this food combo is actually beneficial for several reasons. Together, bananas and rice make up two major components of the BRAT diet, which is often recommended as part of diarrhea treatment.
Bananas and rice are both bland, soft and low in fiber, so they're digested easily and can help bind the other foods in your stomach. They also provide important nutrients that are lost during bouts of chronic diarrhea. While nutrition can help, if you have diarrhea that's excessive or prolonged, check in with your doctor to make sure there's nothing else going on.
The Problem With Diarrhea
Diarrhea can be uncomfortable and sometimes even painful; there's no doubt about that. But that's not the major issue that comes with having loose stools. While occasional bouts of diarrhea won't cause much of a problem, chronic, prolonged diarrhea expels water and minerals in large volume, leading to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
The Cleveland Clinic notes that this is typically an issue only if you have diarrhea more than three times a day and you aren't drinking enough fluids, but it can be a larger concern for people who are very young, very old or already sick.
Another issue caused by diarrhea is malabsorption. Diarrhea makes it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients from your food since things are moving through your digestive system so quickly. While this isn't a problem if diarrhea lasts only a couple days, it can become a problem if diarrhea is chronic. Persistent diarrhea increases your risk of nutrient deficiencies and malnourishment.
Malabsorption and malnutrition are more common with digestive conditions that cause chronic diarrhea, like ulcerative colitis, food intolerances and allergies and chronic infections, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Symptoms of Dehydration
If you have persistent diarrhea with other symptoms of dehydration, you should seek medical attention. Possible symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dark urine
- Low volume of urine
- Increased heart rate
- Flushed or dry skin
If you have diarrhea but you're in otherwise good health and have none of the symptoms of dehydration, you may benefit from following the BRAT diet.
The BRAT Diet
BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast, which are all bland, soft, low-fiber foods that can help alleviate diarrhea and even reduce your risk of developing dehydration. All of the foods in the BRAT diet are classified as binding foods because they can help solidify your stool and decrease diarrhea. They're also easy to digest, so they typically don't put extra strain on your body and can help you hold down your food if vomiting is an issue.
Eating a banana for diarrhea is especially helpful because, in addition to its easy digestibility, bananas are high in potassium. When you have chronic and persistent diarrhea, potassium is one of the electrolytes that's expelled from your body in large volume. Bananas can help replace that lost potassium and reduce your risk of dehydration.
Bananas and rice are also high in simple carbohydrates, which can provide you with a quick source of energy when you're feeling run down from diarrhea.
Easing Into the BRAT Diet
Of course, if you have diarrhea, or you're in the early stages of recovering from it, you don't want to jump right into eating a huge plate filled with banana and rice. Lena Beal, MS, RD, LD, a therapeutic dietitian from Piedmont Healthcare, recommends letting at least six hours pass after your last diarrhea or vomiting episode before you try to eat anything.
After that, you can sip on water and other clear liquids, like apple juice, herbal tea or bone broth. Once your stomach is settled and you're feeling a little better, you can ease into eating bananas and rice, as well as other BRAT foods, like applesauce, toast, crackers and oatmeal. Other easy-to-digest options include potatoes, smooth peanut butter, skinless chicken, ground meat and cottage cheese.
Foods to Avoid for Diarrhea
While bananas and rice can be helpful for diarrhea, other foods can make the situation worse. Harvard Health Publishing notes that, as you age, your digestive system can become more sensitive to certain foods or the way foods are prepared. When you have diarrhea, and even while you're still in the recovery stages from it and your stomach feels a little sour, it's beneficial to avoid these foods and beverages:
- Anything with caffeine
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, cream, ice cream)
- Fatty and greasy foods
- Fruit and fruit juice
- Spicy foods
- Diet and sugar-free foods and candies (sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol)
- Any processed foods with fructose or high-fructose corn syrup
- Raw and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts)
- Carbonated beverages
Once you feel better, you can slowly add some of these foods back in to see how your body reacts. If you start to experience symptoms of diarrhea again, scale back and go back to the BRAT diet until you're in the clear.
Other Diarrhea Treatment
For most people, bowel troubles resolve on their own and they need no further diarrhea treatment, but there are some things that you can do to manage symptoms and make yourself more comfortable until things resolve themselves.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends drinking liquids between meals instead of with them. If you're taking antibiotics and suspect that may be the reason for your diarrhea, eating plain yogurt can provide beneficial probiotics that help balance your gut and may alleviate symptoms.
In addition to eating the right foods and avoiding the foods that can make matters worse, the best diarrhea treatment is time. If you've been checked out by your doctor and nothing is amiss, take it easy until your diarrhea clears, which usually happens in one to two days for acute cases and two to four weeks for more persistent cases.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Diarrhea"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition & Facts for Diarrhea"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Mom’s Advice Is Still the Best for Treating Diarrhea"
- Piedmont Healthcare: "The BRAT Diet"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is Something in Your Diet Causing Diarrhea?"