If you have ever struggled with an upset stomach, it is possible that your doctor, a friend, or a family member has suggested the BRAT diet --- following a strict diet of a small list of bland foods -- until your symptoms let up. This isn't a fad weight-loss diet, so even though it has been popular for nearly a century, there are no cookbooks with dozens of recipes or books describing the regimen.
Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA claims that there are record numbers of flu and illnesses involving diarrhea this year, has made the BRAT diet a popular topic of conversation. Most recent cases of stomach infections are noroviruses which occur in crowded environments like schools and hospitals. They can cause a sudden onset of severe diarrhea and vomiting, and are highly contagious.
During the first few hours that you feel sick, you might want to stop eating completely and give your stomach a rest while waiting for diarrhea or vomiting to stop. Then, sip on some water or sports drinks and suck on ice chips or popsicles so you can replace the electrolytes and water that you lost because you are sick.
Before you start eating again, it's suggested introducing clear liquids back into your diet during the first 24 hours by sipping on water, apple juice, or broth every ten minutes. However, if your symptoms come back, stop the liquids and wait a few hours before trying again.
Once your symptoms have subsided and you are able to drink liquids regularly for a full day, that is the time to start eating foods on the BRAT diet. However, you don't want to follow this diet for longer than necessary because it is limiting and far from nutritious.
After a day or two of eating bland, low fiber foods, start slowly adding normal food back into your diet, but start slowly with things like white meat (chicken or turkey) and cooked vegetables. Pay attention to your body's cues. It is possible that you can start eating a variety of foods shortly after your sickness ends, but there is also the possibility that you can eat too much too soon, causing your symptoms to return.
However, as soon as you can, return to a varied, balanced diet so you can restore your energy levels, as well as your overall nutrition.
Doctors are recommending the BRAT diet less and less because the evidence backing it up was "really weak." The more recent recommendation is to just let the illness run its course, and get back to eating a normal, healthy diet as soon as possible so you can get the nutrition and strength to help you heal. However, if you continue to have diarrhea and are getting dehydrated, that is a cause for concern, and you need to seek treatment.
The BRAT diet is an acronym for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, and the idea is that these foods won't irritate your stomach and are easy to digest because they are low in fiber. So, those with stomach problems or an illness causing diarrhea or vomiting can theoretically benefit from following a BRAT diet because the foods are bland, easy on your stomach, and can help you feel better faster.
Despite the name, you can actually eat more than just bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. You want to focus on bland and binding foods that have a low fiber content which can stop diarrhea and firm up your stool.
Some of the foods on the BRAT diet list include broth, crackers, yogurt, hot cereals such as oatmeal, boiled potatoes, apple juice, flat soda, and weak tea.
When you are following this diet, you also want to be sure to avoid anything fried, plus raw veggies, fruit, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, proteins, and dairy. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products containing lactose can be difficult to digest.
Doctors started recommending this diet for both adults and kids who had infectious diarrhea because these specific foods are gentle on the belly. This has also been the diet of choice for people who are nauseated, vomiting, or have an upset stomach.
Even though doctors have been recommending the BRAT diet for decades, it may not be the best option for everyone. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stopped recommending it for children and infants because it doesn't give the body enough protein and nutrients for healing.
There have been studies on the effects of some BRAT foods and how they affect children who have diarrhea, and some foods have been proven to help. Bananas have a starch called pectin that is good for the digestive tract and can help with water and electrolyte absorption.
And, in a study of baby boys ages five to twelve months, boys given a diet of both bananas and rice showed a 59 percent reduction in stool as opposed to a 15 percent reduction for the boys who ate only rice. But, the AAP still recommends a more varied diet for children after a stomach illness, and a balanced diet when they are well.
For both children and adults, the BRAT diet is better than not eating anything at all, but it shouldn't be a long-term solution. If you continue to experience symptoms, it is best to make an appointment with your doctor because it could be a sign of viral gastroenteritis or other issues that could require medical attention.
Even if you think you simply have a stomach bug, if symptoms last longer than two days, it is time to contact a medical professional. In addition to diarrhea, dehydration symptoms include thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, weakness, and infrequent urination. Dehydration can be life-threatening if it isn't treated.
Before attempting any diet or lifestyle change, be sure to talk with a healthcare professional.