What Is the BRAT Diet?

A person cutting bananas on a cutting board

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The BRAT diet is a type of diet that’s sometimes used as a way to take pressure off of the digestive system while it heals. BRAT is an acronym that stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.

The BRAT diet is only meant to be followed for a short time period when you’re experiencing digestive symptoms due to illnesses like gastroenteritis, commonly known as the stomach flu.

Here’s everything you need to know about the BRAT diet, including what it is, how to follow it, foods to eat and avoid, and whether or not it can help you feel better.

How Does the BRAT Diet Work?

The BRAT diet is a short-term diet that used to be recommended as a way to help reduce digestive symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting caused by illnesses like gastroenteritis and food poisoning. It's a popular home remedy and is sometimes recommended by healthcare providers to ease stomach and intestinal symptoms. 

Although the BRAT diet is commonly categorized as a type of bland diet, bland diets are more extensive and specifically designed to make it easier for the digestive system to break down food and absorb nutrients without exacerbating symptoms.

When following a bland diet, you’ll only eat foods that are easy to digest, which gives your digestive system a chance to rest and heal. Foods that make up bland diets are usually low in acid and fiber, which can help ease symptoms like diarrhea and nausea.

Bland diets include a number of bland foods, like plain grilled chicken, crackers, and cream of wheat. Conversely, the BRAT diet is limited to four foods; bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, plus some beverages like tea and broth.

What Foods Should You Eat?

When following a BRAT diet, usually people limit themselves to four foods:

  • Bananas
  • White rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast 

Beverages like broth, tea, and some soups are also commonly consumed by people following the BRAT diet. Because this diet is only composed of four foods, it’s highly restrictive and only meant to be followed for a day or two to treat acute or short-term digestive symptoms.

The foods included on the traditional BRAT diet can also be consumed on a more inclusive bland-type diet. Bland diets are more comprehensive and allow more foods than the BRAT diet.

When following a bland diet for digestive issues, you can eat the following foods in addition to the foods included on the BRAT diet:

  • Proteins like eggs and skinless chicken breast
  • Plain crackers made with low-fiber flour 
  • Bland vegetables like cooked carrots
  • Cream of wheat
  • Broth and low-fat soups
  • Pudding
  • Fruit juices

In general, foods allowed on bland diets are low in fat and fiber and non-spicy. You should also avoid raw fruits and vegetables when following a bland diet as raw produce can worsen digestive symptoms like diarrhea and gas.

What Foods Should You Avoid?

There are certain foods you should avoid when following a BRAT or low-residue diet.

The following foods are harder to digest and may worsen symptoms like diarrhea, gas, nausea, and bloating:

  • Fatty foods like fried foods and fatty cuts of meat
  • Dairy products like ice cream and whole milk
  • Spicy foods
  • Acidic foods like lemons, oranges, and limes
  • Strong cheeses
  • High-fiber foods like whole grains
  • Vegetables that cause gas like broccoli and cauliflower 
  • Alcohol

The point of a bland diet is to remove foods that are hard to digest or may contribute to symptoms like diarrhea. 

Keep in mind that this list is not extensive. There are a number of other foods that should be avoided when dealing with a digestive illness, so it’s important to avoid any foods that may make your symptoms worse. 

Who Should Be on the BRAT Diet?

The BRAT diet is a popular home remedy for people who are sick with the stomach flu or have come down with an illness that causes diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms like nausea and vomiting. 

Even though limiting food or only eating certain foods, like those included on the BRAT diet, may help reduce certain digestive symptoms, there’s no evidence that the BRAT diet is more effective than any other restrictive diets, like bland diets.

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), data supporting the use of the BRAT diet for treating diarrhea caused by infections is limited. They also warn that restricting all solid food for 24 hours isn’t effective for improving symptoms.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the BRAT diet won’t help you feel better if you’ve come down with a stomach bug. Since the BRAT diet cuts out foods known to worsen digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea, it’s likely that the BRAT diet can be effective for reducing some symptoms related to short-term illnesses like food poisoning or the stomach flu. 

But, it’s likely that other diets, like more inclusive bland diets, will be just as effective. If you’ve come down with a stomach bug or are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, choose non-irritating, easy-to-digest foods like plain chicken breast, low-fiber crackers, and broth until you start feeling better. Once your symptoms start to improve, you can slowly add back in foods until you’re back to following your normal diet. 

Other Things to Consider

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t give a BRAT diet to children with acute diarrhea as the diet is too restrictive and doesn’t contain enough nutrients for a growing child. If your child is sick, contact their pediatrician for treatment advice.

It’s also critical for adults to visit their healthcare provider for proper treatment if they’re  experiencing severe symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting that aren’t getting better with at-home treatments within two days. Persistent diarrhea and vomiting can lead to serious health complications like severe dehydration, which needs to be treated in a medical setting. 

If you’re unable to keep food down or are experiencing significant diarrhea or vomiting, make an appointment to get checked out by a healthcare provider right away. They can rule out underlying causes and prescribe treatments like medications if necessary. 

A Quick Review

The BRAT diet is a diet that’s used as a home remedy for illnesses like the stomach flu and food poisoning. Even though there’s not a lot of evidence supporting its effectiveness for treating digestive symptoms like diarrhea, it cuts out irritating foods and may help improve certain symptoms. 

However, it’s not necessary to restrict your intake to the four foods on the BRAT diet. If you’re feeling ill, eating plain, easy-to-digest foods like skinless chicken breast, broth-based soups, and crackers can be helpful. 

If digestive symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting aren’t getting better with at-home treatments like dietary changes, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider for medical advice.

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5 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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