Why eat a bland diet?
If you're dealing with gastrointestinal distress, eating a bland diet may help relieve heartburn, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. A bland diet can also be an effective way to treat peptic ulcers, especially when coupled with certain lifestyle changes, such as lessening stress.
To fit the bill, bland foods are typically soft in texture, lower in fiber, higher in pH, and mildly seasoned. These factors help prevent an increase in acid production, reflux, or other irritation to your digestive tract.
Despite its name, eating a bland diet can be as tasty as it is comforting to the gut. The best dietary approach for digestive symptoms is one that targets the root cause of your symptoms, so recommendations may vary from person to person. But generally, here’s what you should eat, and what you should avoid.
What can I eat?
Everyone’s needs are different, so you may want to discuss your dietary choices with your doctor or a dietitian. They can provide additional input based on your specific diagnosis and lifestyle.
Unless you have a preexisting food allergy or intolerance, commonly recommended foods on the bland diet include:
Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and mildly flavored cheeses, such as cottage cheese, are all good options. Be careful, though. Lactose intolerance and milk protein intolerance are common reasons for GI discomfort in some people. And many experts recommend eliminating dairy to help treat peptic ulcers.
Vegetables you should eat include:
- green beans
- white or sweet potatoes
These vegetables can be purchased frozen, fresh, or canned. However, don’t eat them raw. It’s best to serve them steamed or boiled, with little to no butter or other type of fat.
Some people can tolerate lettuce and other salad greens in moderation. It’s best to exclude vegetables that cause gas, such as those from the cruciferous family. These include broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts, among others.
Cooked or canned fruits that aren’t fibrous or seeded are generally approved for a bland diet. These include bananas and melon. Avocados may also be tolerated well, even though they’re higher in fiber.
White bread products, seedless rye, and refined wheat products may be good choices. However, some people have worsened digestive symptoms when they eat gluten-containing grains.
If you do not have an intolerance to gluten, then you can also enjoy:
- plain soda crackers
- soft white pasta
- cooked cereals, such as cream of wheat, processed oatmeal (not steel-cut or high-fiber), and farina
- cold cereals that are low in sugar
Poultry, eggs, and fish
Lean protein sources are safe to eat as long as they’re prepared with mild seasonings and little to no fat. These include:
- skinless chicken
- fish, such as salmon and trout
- shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster, and crab
- silken tofu
Other food items
Cream-based soups or clear broths are excellent choices, provided their ingredients are on the list of foods you can eat.
Chamomile tea, with or without honey, can be a soothing drink choice.
Dessert foods, such as vanilla pudding, marshmallows, and plain cookies should only be eaten sparingly because added sugar can worsen symptoms.
Creamy peanut butter, jelly, and jam without seeds are all good options for spreading on bread.
Many seasonings may be irritating to the stomach, but you can experiment with basil, parsley, salt, and other mild flavorings to determine which ones you can tolerate.
What should I avoid?
Foods affect everyone differently. Some people get heartburn and other gastric symptoms from tomato-based products, garlic, and caffeinated tea. Others can tolerate highly spiced foods, but have trouble digesting anything high in fat.
Your individual needs may vary, but in general, these foods should be avoided if you’re following a bland diet:
High-fat dairy foods and strongly-flavored cheeses should be avoided. These include:
- whole milk
- whipped cream
- ice cream
- Monterey Jack cheese
- bleu cheese
- Roquefort cheese
Also, dairy triggers symptoms in some people, so avoid dairy altogether if this is you.
Some vegetables are notorious for producing gas. These include:
- cruciferous types, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower
Tomatoes and tomato products are highly acidic and should be avoided.
Seeded and acidic fruit
In general, if fruit has skin or tiny seeds, it has too much fiber for a bland diet. Also, the acidity of some of the fruits may trigger heartburn in some people.
Fruits to avoid include:
- all berries
Most dried fruits and fruit juices should be eliminated, as well.
High-fiber, whole grain foods should be avoided if you are following a low-fiber or low-residue diet, which is sometimes recommended as part of a bland diet. Also, gluten may be a trigger for some people, so avoiding all forms of wheat, rye, and barley may be beneficial.
- sprouted wheat bread
- grain breads
- whole wheat pasta
- any product with added fiber, such as cereal
Fatty meats, poultry, beans, and fish
Lentils and dried or canned beans of all types can generate gas. Beef, chicken with the skin on, and fried fish may also irritate your gut.
Avoid eating fatty, greasy, or fried protein sources of any kind, as well as processed deli meats. You should also avoid prepared foods, such as beef or chicken tacos, chili, or meat sauce.
Other food items
All types of alcoholic drinks can be irritating to the stomach. So can caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soda.
Many dressings and sauces, such as mustard, ketchup, salad dressing, and horseradish, are best left on the shelf.
The following may also make your symptoms worse:
- fatty desserts, such as cheesecake and dark chocolate
Eating smaller portions several times per day may be easier on your stomach than eating three larger meals. Try to savor each meal by eating slowly and not overdoing it. Some supplements, such as aloe vera and deglyccerhized licorice root, have shown promise in managing digestive symptoms.
It’s also helpful to avoid eating late at night, within two hours of going to bed. Going to bed with a full stomach may make your symptoms worse.
The bland diet doesn’t supply all of the nutrition your body requires in the long term. Talk with your doctor about how long you should stay on this type of eating plan. You doctor can also advise you on when to reintroduce different foods or food groups.
In some cases, medications such as antacids or acid blockers may be added to your regimen. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as stress management and weight reduction.