The BRAT Diet for Upset Stomach

Banana on plate
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Past medical practice advocated a low-fiber, easily digestible diet for people who were recovering from an acute stomach illness involving vomiting and/or diarrhea. An acronym was coined as a simple way for people to remember a set of bland foods that one might best tolerate when ill. That acronym summed up the BRAT diet:

Bananas
Rice
Applesauce
Toast

The BRAT diet has also been extended to the BRATTY diet with the addition of the following:

BRATT - addition of tea

BRATTY - addition of yogurt

The rationale behind the BRAT diet was to give the digestive system a rest and to reduce the output of stool, thus reducing the likelihood of continued diarrhea.

Research on the BRAT Diet

Considering the fact that the BRAT diet enjoys much celebrity, there is a surprising lack of research as to its effectiveness. No studies appear to have been conducted to assess its effectiveness, not to mention risks. Of the four ingredients, there is only some limited research that suggests that bananas and rice may be of help in reducing diarrhea symptoms. 

Should You Go on the BRAT Diet?

As research has allowed for a better understanding as to how our bodies fight infection, it is now thought that the wider the range of nutrients that you can take in, the better it will be for your body as you recover from your illness. Thus, the BRAT diet has fallen out of favor.

In fact, current medical thinking is that the BRAT diet may actually slow down your recovery. In more extreme cases, the BRAT diet runs the risk of severe malnutrition.

What Should You Eat Instead?

When recovering from an acute stomach bug that is causing you symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhea, it is recommended that you stay hydrated and slowly start to introduce foods from your regular diet.

This is not to say that bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are not good foods to start with, it is just that you would want to slowly expand the types of foods you can tolerate. Try to eat a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

If you have been experiencing vomiting, you would want to introduce solid foods only after you have been able to hold down liquids for several hours without a vomiting episode.

While recovering from your symptoms and re-introducing solid foods into your diet, it is essential to keep yourself well-hydrated. In addition to drinking water and tea, other helpful choices are clear broth and electrolyte-containing drinks, such as sports drinks.

The following article offers you a variety of ideas to eat when your stomach is recovering, but still feeling extra sensitive:

What Not to Eat

What you shouldn't take in when recovering from diarrhea or vomiting is:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fatty foods, such as fried foods, greasy foods, or heavy gravies
  • Drinks with alcohol

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing any of the following red-flag symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Bloody stools
  • Extreme head or abdominal pain
  • Fever over 103 or persistent fever that lasts more than two days
  • Vomiting or severe diarrhea that lasts longer than two days

Dealing with Diarrhea from IBS

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and experience diarrhea on a chronic basis, following the BRAT diet could potentially put your health at risk. Work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan for reducing diarrhea episodes. You may want to give the low-FODMAP diet a try as it has been shown to be effective in reducing IBS symptoms, including diarrhea.

Source:

Duro, D. & Duggan, C. "The BRAT Diet for Acute Diarrhea in Children: Should It Be Used?" Practical Gastroenterology 2007 31:60-68.

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