If you or your child has ever had a stomach virus, you may have heard of – and implemented – the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, which are supposed to be easy on the stomach and help relieve symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.
However, the diet has fallen out of favor since it was first introduced and it may not be the best option anymore. Here's what you need to know.
The BRAT diet "has been around for about a century, and it was originally developed for pediatricians to give to kids to minimize the amount of diarrhea they have when they get acute intestinal illnesses," says David Cutler, MD , a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center.
Though the diet was primarily invented for sick children, adults suffering from acute stomach problems can also use it to reduce their symptoms. But before starting yourself or your child on the BRAT diet, it's crucial that you know what's causing the symptoms in the first place.
"[There are] many different causes of diarrhea and for some, a BRAT diet definitely would not be a good idea [like] if they have some infection going on, if they have some inflammatory condition in their intestines, or if they're having a dietary reaction," says Cutler.
Let's say you've ruled out the other possible problems, and you're simply dealing with an acute viral intestinal illness like your run-of-the-mill gastroenteritis — like a stomach bug — that'll resolve in a couple of days.
To really recover from a stomach bug, experts believe that you need a full range of vitamins, nutrients, proteins, and healthy fats. The BRAT diet provides a small amount of nutrients like vitamin C in applesauce and fiber and vitamin B-6 in bananas. But you'll be lacking other key nutrients including protein and healthy fats.
In fact, the BRAT diet isn't as popular or as endorsed by doctors as it once was. "It's been discovered over the years that it nutritionally is very deficient in a lot of things that kids need. So generally, it's fallen greatly out of favor to use," says Cutler.
Therefore, to get the full range of nutrition you'll want to re-introduce a normal balanced diet after one or two days of the BRAT diet to regain your health.
Since prolonged diarrhea and vomiting can be very dehydrating, the most important thing is staying hydrated by consuming lots of fluids.
"The best way to treat diarrhea is simply to replace the fluid that you're losing in the diarrhea," says Cutler.
Drink lots of water and consider rehydration solutions such as low-sugar options like G2 or Pedialyte that contain fluids and electrolytes. Avoid high-sugar drinks like regular Gatorade or Powerade because the sugar may actually worsen diarrhea. Soup or plain broths are also good options that are soothing and rehydrating.
"Most experts would now recommend that people just avoid foods that might be aggravating diarrhea, and to stay on a good healthy diet with fiber and protein and mono or polyunsaturated fats," says Cutler.
In addition to sugary drinks, other foods that may upset your stomach and exacerbate your symptoms may include dairy, greasy foods, and foods high in insoluble fiber like beans, nuts, and leafy greens.
The BRAT diet might be helpful short-term, but it's even more important to stay hydrated and avoid aggravating foods when trying to get better.
Overall, the BRAT diet shouldn't be used for more than a couple of days, for either children or adults.
Ashley Laderer is a freelance writer from New York who specializes in health and wellness. Follow her on Twitter @ashladerer
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