People sometimes use the BRAT diet to treat diarrhea, stomach flu, and other types of stomach illness. However, this diet carries several risks, including nutrient and calorie deficiencies. As a result, many health organizations no longer recommend it as a treatment option for diarrhea or other stomach problems.
The foods in the BRAT diet are low in protein, fat, and fiber, which makes them easy to digest for most people.
In this article, we look at the benefits and risks of the BRAT diet. We also discuss less risky ways to treat diarrhea.
The term “BRAT” is an acronym for the foods in the diet, which are:
The theory behind the BRAT diet is that by consuming only bland, easy-to-digest foods, people can reduce the symptoms of a stomach illness. These symptoms typically include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Proponents also believe that these foods promote a quick recovery from a stomach illness.
However, doctors no longer recommend this diet because its nutritional profile is limited, and it may not support rapid or full recovery.
Some people believe that following the BRAT diet can provide several benefits for those with an upset stomach and diarrhea. The apparent benefits include:
However, these foods do not have varied enough nutrients to warrant the long-term use of this diet.
Although people have been recommending the BRAT diet for decades, no recent clinical trials have looked at whether the BRAT diet is effective as a treatment for diarrhea or gastrointestinal illness.
Although the diet may relieve symptoms in some people, doctors do not recommend that they follow this diet. Other, more nutritionally balanced eating plans may improve recovery and reduce symptoms further.
However, some researchers have investigated the potential roles of bananas and rice in treating diarrhea.
Bananas contain pectin, a starch that is beneficial for the digestive tract. One
However, the possible effects of individual foods on diarrhea do not give an accurate picture of how eating a diet that contains only those foods can affect the body. Some nutritional deficiencies could make diarrhea worse.
Following the BRAT diet for a limited time is unlikely to cause significant harm, but people should avoid using the diet in the long term.
Prolonged use of the BRAT diet may lead to malnutrition and low energy because it contains too few calories and not enough of the following vital nutrients:
Due to its risks and restrictive nature, the American Academy of Pediatrics do not recommend the use of the BRAT diet for children with diarrhea.
However, if these foods are part of a child’s usual diet, the child can continue to eat them alongside several other foods.
Those who wish to follow the BRAT diet for a limited time may add other bland foods to their diet. Other bland foods include:
Read more about the bland diet here.
As diarrhea can lead to dehydration, it is important that people drink enough fluids. A person with diarrhea can drink a range of liquids, including:
People can purchase oral rehydration products over the counter at a pharmacy. They are available as a liquid, popsicle, or powder to mix with water.
Oral rehydration therapy can help treat diarrhea in adults and children with mild-to-moderate dehydration. People should take care to follow the instructions on the packaging.
It is best to avoid drinks with added sugar as they may make symptoms worse in some people.
Click here to learn about diarrhea and the use of oral rehydration therapy as a treatment.
Certain beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics, may shorten the course of diarrhea. The bacteria that show the most promise for treating diarrhea include:
Natural yogurt is an excellent source of beneficial bacteria. Other foods that are high in probiotics include:
While maintaining a normal diet is often helpful during episodes of stomach illness or diarrhea, some foods are more likely than others to trigger nausea, vomiting, or loose stools.
People should consult a doctor if diarrhea:
Similarly, people should seek medical care for symptoms of dehydration, which include:
Parents or caregivers should take infants and children to see a doctor if they experience vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours, cannot produce tears, have sunken cheeks, or exhibit any of the symptoms above.
Has the bland diet now replaced the BRAT diet when doctors recommend a dietary approach to managing diarrhea?
The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) recommend managing diarrhea by eating bland foods, which can be the foods on the BRAT diet.
However, they recommend consuming more than just the BRAT foods to avoid undernourishment. The IFFGD list a range of bland foods — including potatoes, noodles, yogurt, cream of wheat, some fruits and vegetables, and a small amount of peanut butter — that can increase nutrient content and electrolytes.
Last medically reviewed on January 8, 2020
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