Healing Foods: A Comprehensive Guide to the BRAT Diet

The BRAT diet has been used as a remedy to treat gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, and gastroenteritis. The diet consists mainly of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. The idea behind the diet is that it helps aid vomiting and diarrhea and rest the gastrointestinal system while healing. Learn how to follow a BRAT diet while acknowledging the benefits and limitations.

What is the BRAT diet?

The BRAT diet consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. It's used to rest the gastrointestinal system by providing low-fiber and easy-to-digest food.

The BRAT diet is commonly used as a food poisoning remedy to help treat vomiting, diarrhea, and gastroenteritis, which is a bacterial or viral infection of the stomach and intestines.

Keep in mind that the BRAT diet is not intended to be followed for the long term; it may help your gastrointestinal system rest in the short term. However, since the evidence on its benefits is limited if you can tolerate a variety of foods, you should continue eating a variety of foods while avoiding those that trigger vomiting and diarrhea.

Is the BRAT diet safe for children?

Although trying a BRAT diet for healthy adults is not likely to pose a risk, infants and children are vulnerable to malnutrition. While diarrhea already hinders an infant's or child's health, depriving them of essential nutrients through restrictive diets can worsen the symptoms. Although traditionally the BRAT diet is used in children, current guidelines recommend providing balanced nutrition, including the macro and micronutrients a child needs.

It’s important not to restrict the dietary food intake of an infant or child unless recommended by a healthcare provider; therefore, the BRAT diet may not be the best option to support the healing process. You should consult a healthcare professional to learn about BRAT diet alternatives for infants and children based on the individual's health and the requirements of the infant or child.

How to follow the BRAT diet

Eating easy-to-digest foods that you can tolerate and staying hydrated may help improve vomiting and diarrhea. Five steps are recommended by the University of Michigan Health Service:

  1. If you’re vomiting, don't eat or drink for several hours.
  2. Drink water frequently in small quantities for 3 to 4 hours. If you have a hard time drinking water, you can try sucking on ice cubes.
  3. Start drinking clear liquids such as water, apple juice, clear broth, and flavored ice for the next 3 to 4 hours. The consumption of citrus juices or dairy products is not recommended in this step.
  4. When you are able to tolerate clear liquids without vomiting, you can start eating easy-to-digest foods on the BRAT diet list: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Also, limiting high-sugar, high-fat, spicy, acidic foods, caffeine, and alcohol can help as well.
  5. If you’re feeling better, try going back to your normal diet slowly, incorporating other foods.

Vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by many factors, including but not limited to microbial infections, stress, anxiety, taking antibiotics, pregnancy, and so on. For proper treatment, it’s essential to know the cause of vomiting and diarrhea.

Vomiting and diarrhea can improve in a few days if there is no underlying condition that requires medical attention. However, if your symptoms don't improve and you can't keep food or liquids down for more than 24 hours, have fever and pain, or experience bloody diarrhea, you should consult your doctor.

What foods to eat on the BRAT diet?

The BRAT diet foods are bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. However, if you can tolerate other foods, there is no reason to deprive them since a diet including a variety of healthy foods can help with healing.

  • Bananas can help with diarrhea because they are a low-fiber fruit and are rich in potassium, which is lost when vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. Green bananas, especially, have been shown to improve diarrhea in children.
  • Applesauce is rich in pectin, which can help with diarrhea.
  • Rice may reduce intestinal secretions, which can potentially help with diarrhea by decreasing stool output. Rice-based ORS (oral rehydration solutions) have been also shown to reduce the volume of stool and duration of diarrhea.

In a study, children with persistent diarrhea were either given: a) a rice-based diet with 250 g/L of cooked green bananas, b) a rice-based diet with 4 g/kg pectin, or c) a rice diet alone for 7 days. The results showed that diets containing green bananas and pectin significantly reduced the number of vomiting episodes and the duration of diarrhea.

Although the components of the BRAT diet may help with diarrhea, the evidence is generally from the 1990s, and the treatment and diet recommendations have changed since then.

Patients are generally advised to avoid consuming high-sugar and high-fat foods, limit alcohol and caffeine intake, and instead consume a variety of foods that are easy to tolerate in order to obtain essential macro and micronutrients that will support recovery.

Therefore, it is recommended to eat not only BRAT foods but also other easily digestible options such as low-fiber cooked vegetables, mashed fruits, soups to aid fluid intake, and boiled lean meats and eggs for protein.

What foods to avoid on the BRAT diet

Most people have a hard time keeping food down during food poisoning or gastroenteritis, which often causes vomiting and diarrhea. That's why limiting foods that trigger the symptoms may aid recovery. Here's a list of foods that can trigger your symptoms:

  • Dairy products. Some people may not digest dairy well, which may be even more problematic if vomiting or experiencing diarrhea since the stomach is already sensitive. It may be beneficial to limit dairy at first and reintroduce it after your symptoms improve.
  • High-fat foods. High-fat foods stimulate digestive enzymes, which may further irritate the stomach. Also, they may delay gastric emptying, so the food stays longer in the stomach, which may cause discomfort to someone already experiencing vomiting
  • Spicy foods. Spices, especially chili peppers, cayenne peppers, mustard seeds, and hot sauces, may irritate the stomach and exacerbate symptoms. It's better to avoid spicy foods initially.
  • High-sugar foods. Consuming high amounts of sugar may worsen diarrhea. Until you heal, limit foods that contain high amounts of sugar, such as desserts and sweetened beverages.
  • Acidic foods. Acidic foods may irritate the stomach lining. Limiting highly acidic foods such as citrus fruits and juices and vinegar-based products may aid in recovery.
  • Caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol increase acidity in the stomach, which can irritate the stomach lining. Alcohol can also exacerbate vomiting. Try avoiding coffee, tea, soda, and alcoholic beverages until your symptoms disappear.

What are the benefits of the BRAT diet?

Although evidence on the BRAT diet is very limited, the components of the BRAT diet — rice, apple, banana, and toast — can provide energy in the form of soft and easy-to-digest food.

Gentle on the stomach

The BRAT diet can also consist of bland food for an upset stomach, which may help alleviate nausea. It may help the stomach rest since the diet is low in fat, sugar, and fiber and does not contain foods that could possibly irritate the stomach. It can potentially increase energy intake when a patient is struggling to keep food down.

Helps bind loose stools

Rice, apples, and green bananas potentially help decrease the frequency, volume, and duration of diarrhea. Bananas and rice may help bind loose stools and add bulk, which may reduce the frequency and severity of diarrhea.

Might reduce nausea

Nausea and discomfort are common while experiencing food poisoning or gastroenteritis. The BRAT diet provides easy-to-digest food that doesn't irritate the stomach, as high-fat, sugary, acidic, or spicy foods might, which may help with nausea and vomiting.

Keep in mind that the BRAT diet may not be beneficial for everyone. If your symptoms do not improve with the diet, don't continue following it; instead, consult a healthcare professional for proper treatment.

Limitations and considerations

The BRAT diet limits food intake to bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Therefore, the diet lacks macro and micronutrients that are essential in recovery.

If eating soft and low-fiber foods relieves your symptoms, consuming a limited variety of foods most probably won’t cause any issues for healthy adults in the short term, for a few days. However, going back to a normal diet as soon as symptoms are getting better is essential for recovery.

Conclusion

The BRAT diet has been used to alleviate symptoms of food poisoning such as vomiting and diarrhea and is often a traditional approach to help with gastroenteritis, despite the lack of evidence showing the BRAT diet benefits.

Healthcare professionals do not recommend withdrawal from a normal diet unless it’s absolutely necessary. The short-term, maybe 1 to 2 days of the BRAT diet may help the gastrointestinal system to rest for a while; however, it’s important to remember this diet lacks macro and micronutrients that are helpful to support the immune system and aid recovery.

Therefore, it’s recommended to continue following a regular diet that provides macro and micronutrients. However, limiting high-sugar, high-fat foods, caffeine, alcohol, and other foods that are lacking in nutrients can help rest and heal the gastrointestinal system.

Key takeaways:


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