Once you have a tummy bug replete with not-so-pleasant symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, the last thing you feel like doing is eating. But not only can too few calories make you feel weak and tired, a lack of fluids can put you at risk for dehydration. This is where the BRAT diet comes into play.
No, this isn’t a diet you feed a kid with an attitude. It’s a way of eating that can provide some relief from a stomach bug, while also providing you with some nutrients. Here’s what you need to know about the BRAT diet.
What Is the BRAT Diet?
The BRAT diet is a treatment used for nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It consists of four foods:
This type of diet focuses on simple foods that are easily digestible, while avoiding foods that are potentially aggravating. “The idea is that these foods are bland and palatable, and because they are low in fiber, protein, and fat, they are thought to be less likely to “disturb” the digestive tract,” explains Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD, and Openfit nutrition manager.
What Is the BRAT Diet Good For?
If your tummy is feeling funny and your bowel movements aren’t quiet normal, this diet can help you get back on track. “The BRAT diet eliminates high-fat and high-fiber foods that may exacerbate symptoms [of a stomach illness],” explains Houston-based clinical dietitian, Nicole Cornelious RD, CSO, LD. The diet has long been used in both adults and children along with fluid rehydration to replace lost water and electrolytes.
What Can You Eat on the BRAT Diet?
The main BRAT diet foods include bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. If those aren’t your favorites, you can swap them out for some equally bland foods (check out the list below).
It’s also crucial to consume water and other liquids for rehydration while you follow this diet. Water can keep you hydrated during a bout of a stomach bug, but if limited food is being consumed, then fluids such as vegetable broths, sports drinks or special oral rehydration solutions (ORS) can provide electrolytes that have been depleted.
Just avoid using juice to rehydrate, advises Cornelious. “The simple sugars in juice have a higher osmolality which can draw water into the gut and trigger more diarrhea,” she says.
Can Nutrient Needs be Met on the BRAT Diet?
Although the BRAT diet does not hit all your nutrient needs — especially for fiber, fat, and protein — it’s better than not eating at all. Even though you might be tempted to avoid food altogether when a stomach sickness hits, it helps you stay closer to meeting your nutrient needs in the long run.
Is the BRAT Diet Still Recommended?
The BRAT diet is believed to be somewhat outdated because it lacks a lot of the nutrient dense foods that may help heal from a stomach bug faster,” explains Maguire.
One recent review of research on the BRAT diet for children found that the diet typically provided around 300 fewer calories, and less protein, fiber and lower levels of Vitamin A, calcium and other nutrients in a day than what a healthy toddler might normally take in.
Of course, until symptoms subside, you might not find it easy to eat a “normal” diet. So the BRAT diet can still be a suitable option.
“Since the diet is not nutritionally complete, it’s not meant to be followed for long periods of time,” Cornelious says. “But it can be used as a short-term remedy for acute bouts of diarrhea or vomiting.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children with dehydration return to eating a nutritionally balanced diet as soon as normal hydration is achieved (from 4 to 6 hours and within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.)
What Foods Should You Avoid on the BRAT Diet?
Different people may be able to tolerate different foods. “Common culprits to avoid while on the BRAT diet include dairy, animal foods, spicy and fried foods, raw veggies, citrus fruits and/or coffee or other caffeinated beverages,” says Maguire. “You might also want to avoid hot foods if you’re nauseous because they can smell overly strong.” Here’s a list of foods to avoid on the BRAT diet:
- Ice Cream
- French fries
Alternatives to the BRAT Diet
If bananas and rice aren’t your thing, but you still need to eat gingerly to avoid tummy upsets, there are other bland foods that can work as alternatives:
- Oatmeal or other cooked cereals
- Vegetable broth or soup
- Baked or boiled potatoes (nix the add-ons)
- Soft fruits
- Cooked vegetables without the skins or seeds
- Smooth nut butters
“Once your symptoms are resolved, reintroduce higher fiber foods one at a time to assess how well you tolerate them,” recommends Cornelious. “Eat plenty of whole plant foods that naturally contain prebiotics such as fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains to restore your microbiome back to health.”
Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting squash your appetite at a time when your body needs fluids and nutrients to fight off the stomach bug and heal. “What you eat can have a direct effect on either providing relief and supporting health, or fueling the fire,” says Maguire. “The BRAT diet and similar approaches help you cut out what makes the body upset, and give it some of the foods that it can thrive on. “