BRAT is an acronym that stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast

In the past, pediatricians would recommend the BRAT diet to treat stomach problems in children.

The idea is that these bland, easy-to-digest foods can ease the symptoms of stomach issues and reduce the amount of stool produced.

Today, experts believe the BRAT diet may not be the best option for treating stomach issues.

This article explores the research behind the BRAT diet and its effectiveness for treating stomach illnesses and issues.

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The BRAT diet consists of bland, low fiber foods and is often recommended for treating stomach issues, digestive illnesses, and diarrhea (1, 2).

Pediatricians have historically prescribed the BRAT diet for infants experiencing diarrhea (2).

What do these foods have in common? They’re all bland and supposedly easy on the stomach.

Sticking to them after dealing with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may help you feel better faster.

While the BRAT diet can be helpful for short durations, there are risks associated with following a diet so low in dietary fiber, protein, and fat for an extended period of time.

Summary

The BRAT diet is a low fiber, bland food eating plan used to treat stomach illnesses. While helpful for short durations, there are risks associated with following this diet for a long period of time.

Some doctors specify that a bland diet is different from the BRAT diet.

But most agree that you can eat more than just bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast on the BRAT diet.

The key is to eat bland foods that are gentle on the stomach.

Acceptable foods to eat on the BRAT diet are considered binding foods, meaning they’re low in fiber and may stop diarrhea by firming up your stool (3, 4).

Other bland foods include:

  • crackers
  • cooked cereals, like oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • weak tea
  • apple juice or flat soda
  • broth
  • boiled or baked potatoes

People should avoid foods that are “non bland” on this diet. They include:

  • milk and dairy
  • anything fried, greasy, fatty, or spicy
  • proteins, such as steak, pork, salmon, and sardines
  • raw veggies, including salad greens, carrot sticks, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • acidic fruits, such as berries, grapes, oranges, lemons, and limes
  • very hot or cold drinks
  • alcohol, coffee, or other drinks containing caffeine
Summary

The BRAT diet consists of foods low in fiber that are gentle on the stomach, like bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, crackers and chicken broth. Non-bland foods should be avoided.

Limited research-backed guidelines exist on how to follow the BRAT diet exactly, but recommendations for a 3-day plan do exist.

Within the first 6 hours of your illness, you may want to skip food altogether.

Give your stomach a rest and wait to eat until vomiting and diarrhea have stopped completely.

While you wait to eat, try to suck on popsicles or ice chips and sip water or sports drinks.

This will help replace water and electrolytes that were lost as a result of your illness.

Try to add clear liquids back into your diet — like water, apple juice, and vegetable or chicken broth — within the first 24 hours after your illness.

If your symptoms return, stop drinking clear liquids and wait a couple of hours before trying again.

On day two, start following the BRAT diet. This diet is limiting and not very nutritious, so you won’t want to stay on it for longer than necessary.

On day three following your illness, you can start slowly adding normal foods back into your diet if you feel up for it.

Start with things like soft-cooked eggs, cooked fruits and vegetables, and white meat, like chicken or turkey.

The important thing is to follow your body’s cues. If you eat too much variety too soon, your symptoms may return.

Summary

No formal guidelines for the BRAT diet exist. One 3-day diet plan reintroduces your body to a regular diet through bland foods after a bout of stomach illness.

A bland diet like the BRAT diet is designed to help you recover from stomach issues.

People can also use the diet in other situations, like after surgeries, where gentle digestion would be beneficial (1).

In the past, healthcare providers have recommended the BRAT diet to help parents manage acute gastroenteritis in infants (5).

However, current American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations do not support it.

The BRAT diet should not be used for weight loss, as it is nutritionally lacking for long-term use.

If you’re experiencing nausea, queasiness, diarrhea, or vomiting, ask your doctor if the BRAT diet may work for you.

Summary

The BRAT diet is designed to help you recover from stomach issues but is no longer recommended for infants.

If you experience stomach distress, ask your doctor if the BRAT diet may work for you.

Doctors have recommended the BRAT diet in the past, but it may not always be the best option.

Despite the anecdotal support, there’s a lack of research on the BRAT diet’s effectiveness.

After years of support, the AAP no longer recommends this diet for children and infants (6).

That’s because the diet is restrictive and doesn’t give the body enough protein, micronutrients, and macronutrients for healing.

While there are no clinical trials on the BRAT diet, some studies on how foods included in the BRAT diet affect diarrhea do exist.

Bananas, for example, have a certain starch called pectin that’s good for the digestive tract (7).

Bananas also have potassium, which can help with the absorption of water and electrolytes (8).

A systematic review from 2019 found that green banana pulp can help reduce both diarrhea and constipation in children (9).

A 2016 study found that rice soup was highly effective in treating acute diarrhea in children (10).

While these results are promising, they cannot determine if a diet consisting of only bland foods is effective and safe when treating stomach issues.

The limitations of the BRAT diet might cause more harm than good.

In one outdated study, researchers found that 2 weeks on the BRAT diet can lead to severe malnutrition along with other medical issues in children (11).

This case was admittedly extreme, and the study is not current.

But no follow-up studies have further investigated the effectiveness of the BRAT diet.

Today, the AAP recommends feeding children a balanced diet as soon as they’re well, and nursing or giving full-strength formula to infants.

For adults and children, the BRAT diet is likely better than eating no foods at all. It’s just not a helpful long-term solution.

The goal is to return to a normal diet as soon as possible, even if your diarrhea persists, to avoid malnutrition.

More current research is needed to determine if the BRAT diet is a helpful solution for people with stomach problems.

If you do experience stomach distress and want to try the BRAT diet, talk to your doctor.

Summary

While studies show bananas and rice can help treat diarrhea, there are no clinical trials that investigate the BRAT diet.

More research is needed to determine if the BRAT diet is a safe and effective solution to treat stomach issues.

If you do not get better after 24 hours on the BRAT diet, make an appointment with your doctor.

You should also see a doctor if you’ve been experiencing frequent or severe diarrhea.

Your symptoms may be a sign of viral gastroenteritis, which typically doesn’t require medical treatment.

But there are other conditions that cause similar symptoms and do require medical treatment. For example, your symptoms may be caused by:

  • bacteria
  • a parasite
  • certain medications
  • food intolerances
  • other issues that may need immediate medical attention

Even if you think you just have a stomach bug, you’ll want to contact your doctor if you have diarrhea longer than 2 days or if you feel you’re dehydrated.

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • dry mouth
  • thirst
  • less frequent urination
  • tiredness, weakness, or dizziness

Also call your doctor if you have severe abdominal or rectal pain, bloody or black stools, or a fever over 102°F (38.8°C).

With small children and babies, you should call their doctor if vomiting or diarrhea persist for just 1 day.

Summary

If you do not get better after 24 hours on the BRAT diet or if your infant experiences vomiting or diarrhea for just 1 day, make an appointment with your doctor.

A more serious medical condition may be responsible.

In addition to changing your diet, there are other things you can do to help improve your recovery from a stomach bug.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration is a serious potential complication of diarrhea (12).

Drink clear liquids like:

  • water
  • broth
  • sports drinks
  • apple juice

Replenishing electrolytes is also a good idea.

You can try over-the-counter (OTC) electrolyte drinks, like Pedialyte (also available in popsicle form) or even try drinking coconut water, Gatorade or Powerade.

Shop for electrolyte drinks, including Pedialyte.

Avoid certain foods

Pay attention to the foods you eat. Some foods may be harder for your stomach to digest, triggering diarrhea.

While experts don’t recommend the BRAT diet as a long-term solution to your stomach upset, you may still want to avoid fried, fatty, or spicy foods for a few days.

Avoiding alcohol and caffeine can also help.

Anti-diarrheal medications

Ask your doctor about anti-diarrheal medications, as they can worsen or mask underlying causes of your diarrhea.

There are many over-the counter options available online. These medications can help reduce the number of diarrhea episodes you have.

They won’t help you if your diarrhea is caused by:

  • bacteria
  • a parasite
  • another medical issue

They may also not be safe for children.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Feeding your intestinal tract good bacteria with probiotics may help get you feeling better fast.

The strains recommended for diarrhea are Lactobacillus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii. A 2015 study found that both strains could help reduce the duration of illness by 1 day (13).

Shop for probiotics. You can buy probiotics in capsule or liquid forms.

Probiotics are also in fermented foods, like yogurt and kombucha.

Prebiotic-rich fiber also may be beneficial since prebiotics help to feed gut bacteria (14).

These fibers can be found in:

  • chicory root
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • legumes
  • berries
  • bananas
  • onion
  • oats
  • garlic
Summary

Other ways to treat your stomach bug include staying hydrated, avoiding certain foods, taking anti-diarrheal medication, and consuming prebiotics and probiotics.

Ask your doctor before taking medication or supplements.

The BRAT diet is not backed by research, but it could be a helpful transition to eating a wider range of foods again after a stomach illness.

You may be worried about eating again after experiencing stomach problems, but dehydration is actually the biggest concern.

Call your doctor if you:

  • have a dry mouth
  • have excessive thirst
  • stop urinating as frequently
  • feel tired, or have weakness or dizziness

Dehydration can be life threatening if left untreated.

Be sure to sip fluids and try introducing foods as soon as you can tolerate them.

Though the BRAT diet isn’t supported by research, bananas, potatoes, and cooked grains like rice or oatmeal may help you recover faster.

As soon as you’re able, eat a varied, balanced diet to restore your overall nutrition and energy levels.