First of all, what is the BRAT diet? The BRAT diet was originally created to help children get rid of an upset stomach accompanied with diarrhea, but it does not just pertain to children. What does the BRAT diet stand for? It is an acronym that stands for (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast). When participating in the BRAT diet, you are not just cornered into eating these four foods, however, but the key is to make it bland so that your stomach lining can recover. Supposedly, when you stick to just eating the BRAT foods, you will have less bowel movements, which in turn might settle your stomach and reduce the amount of stools you pass, which can cause dehydration. In the first six hours of feeling ill, it is not recommended you eat anything, however, and only drink fluids to replace any electrolytes that are lost. 
What can you eat on the BRAT diet? Really the BRAT diet consists of eating very bland foods alongside the original four core foods. Other foods included in the BRAT diet foods are: Crackers, hot cereals, broths, flat soda, boiled potatoes, or even tea. While you are following the BRAT diet, it is not recommended that you eat dairy, spicy or greasy foods, protein, raw veggies, or alcohol. Normal foods are going to irritate your intestinal lining even more, which could potentially make you feel even more sick for a longer period of time. This diet is not meant to last long term, and it is not recommended for weight loss purposes. The different variations of the BRAT diet are BRATY, which adds yogurt to the mix, or BRATT, which adds tea. 
How Long Should You Stay On The BRAT Diet?
This diet is meant for short term use, and is not meant to be followed week after week. You want to start on this diet when you first start feeling ill (with liquids initially), and then with the bland foods mentioned above. The recommended amount of time to be on the program is 24-48 hours, and then it is good to transition back to a more balanced diet with vitamins, proteins, and probiotics from dairy if you are used to eating dairy. While it is referenced toward children sometimes, this “diet” can be followed by people of any age who are in need of stomach relief. It also can help pregnant women who are working through morning sickness, but the relief is much different and can be done for longer periods of time if need be. Still, in the case of pregnant women, it is important to try and get as much protein as you can while soothing your stomach if possible.
When looking into BRAT foods, why are bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast even on the list? To start off with, bananas provide an ample amount of potassium and the starches in bananas allow the diarrhea to slow down while calming the digestive system at the same time. The potassium is crucial to restore in the body because when you are vomiting and have diarrhea, you will lose critical electrolytes. Rice is a very bland food that was added to the list because it is easily digestible and it keeps blood sugar levels up in the body as well. Applesauce, even though it is higher in sugar, it is easy to digest and it boosts the body's natural levels of pectin, which helps keep bowel movements more formed, rather than being too loose. Lastly, dry toast will simply kick start your metabolism and it will be bland enough not to mess with your stomach digestion. 
Does the BRAT Diet Work?
As stated above, this is not a diet that is meant for weight loss at all, so do not get the word diet confused with actual weight loss programs to follow. There are not enough nutrients in this short lived diet to be truly healthy for long term use. Because it is such a short amount of time you will need to be following the BRAT diet, it works to settle your stomach and give you some nutrients and nothing more. Eating these bland foods is important to get your digestive system calmed down and stable and is a good alternative to not eating or drinking anything when you are feeling sick and depleted of fluids. It has been said that it can take the digestive lining around 48 hours to repair itself and to get feeling better. If you do not feel any better after 48 hours, it is best to contact your doctor for alternative methods of healing.
Can Consuming Normal Foods Really Help Diarrhea?
There has been some controversy surrounding the topic of eating bland foods to offset the symptoms of diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress. So, have there been any studies done on its effectiveness for those suffering? There was a controlled study done on patients with HIV who had been suffering with severe bouts of diarrhea for weeks on end, and needed relief. In this study, there were 75 total participants with 37 of them going to the control group, and 38 of them going to the randomized group.
“Six study sessions were scheduled over a 24-week period. At 24 weeks, the stool frequency reduced 28% in the treatment group and 15% in the control group and stool consistency improved 20% in the treatment group and 8% in the control group. The results showed that the intervention was effective in reducing stool frequency and improving stool consistency in HIV patients with chronic diarrhea for up to 6 months of treatment.” 
Another notable food that is also approved on the BRAT diet, even though it is not technically one of the foods in the acronym, is the green banana. There have been multiple studies done on its effectiveness toward gut repair compared to the regular yellow banana you will find in grocery stores. These specific BRAT bananas have been said to have positive intestinal effects on children suffering from diarrhea in Bangladesh. The children in the study had persistent diarrhea from bacteria and salmonella due to their living environments, and the study was done on 62 of these children. After just four days, the results were remarkable.
“Green banana and pectin significantly reduced amounts of stool, oral rehydration solution, intravenous fluid, and numbers of vomiting, and diarrheal duration. Green banana and pectin are useful in the dietary management of persistent diarrhea in hospitalized children and may also be useful to treat children at home.” 
The nutrients that come from the pectin make the difference in effectiveness between the green and yellow bananas, however, yellow will also work just fine.
If anything, when you are extremely ill, fluid management is one of the largest keys to finding your health again, alongside the bland food diet. Before you can even start the BRAT diet you will need to get your fluids under control, and then you can start eating solid foods. There have been a variety of different studies done on children living in third world countries under the age of 5 who are severely dehydrated constantly and the effect it has on their body in the long run. The recommendations for fluid management after hydration has been reached is to:
“Encourage breastfeeding and other milk feeds, encourage fluid intake in children at increased risk of dehydration recurring, consider giving 5 ml/kg of ORS solution after each large watery stool. These include: children younger than 1 year, particularly those younger than 6 months, infants who were of low birthweight, children who have had more than five diarrheal stools in the previous 24 hours, and children who have vomited more than twice in the previous 24 hours.” 
The Bottom Line: Is The BRAT Diet Worth a Try?
Yes. Medically speaking, this bland and short diet will help your body heal and get better over time and has been said to really help alleviate flu symptoms. The 48 hour time period is the right length to have you feeling more hydrated and nourished with foods that won’t irritate your intestines when you have caught a bug. This bland diet is good for both children and adults alike, and is simply short term relief to get you back on the path of normalcy. As stated above, this is not a diet to lose weight and it is not recommended that you start a bland food diet to lower your caloric intake. There simply are not enough vitamins and minerals present in this type of diet to get you the nutrition you need daily.
A great idea that has stood the test of time, these simple foods will get your body feeling better in no time. Next time you are feeling sick and need a neutral diet to get some nutrients, try out the BRAT diet, with the okay from your doctor of course.
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