Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What is the BRAT diet?
The BRAT diet consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. This diet is formulated by the pediatricians for children suffering from GI upset such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This diet is suggested as it produces fewer stools and allows the gut to rest. The main concept of this diet is to reduce the fiber that helps in bowel movement. When fiber content is reduced, the stool becomes firm. It also includes bananas that are rich in potassium. This is helpful in replenishing the electrolytes lost due to vomiting and diarrhea.
Vomiting and diarrhea can make a person weak, low on energy, as well as cause enormous stress to the GI system. Following this diet helps the body to regain strength during the initial stages of vomiting and diarrhea and ease back into normal eating. This type of diet has been recommended by the pediatricians for decades. Recently, studies have claimed that the BRAT diet is low in fiber, fat, and protein and hence should not be continued for more than 24 hours as they are low in nutrition.
How to follow a BRAT diet?
Initially, you may experience vomiting and diarrhea continuously for up to six to eight hours. You need to wait for at least this period before consuming anything. Once vomiting and diarrhea subsides, start sucking on some popsicles or ice chips. Later, you can sip small amounts of water or sports drinks. This is important to replenish the lost electrolytes lost due to vomiting and diarrhea.
Next, sip on liquids every 10 minutes to keep yourself hydrated. Once you are able to tolerate liquids, you can slowly add applesauce and toast. Start with small quantities as there are chances that your symptoms may return. Wait for a couple of hours after initial ingestion of applesauce and toast for your stomach to adjust to the new food. Later, follow the same for the initial 24 hours by sipping liquids and adding bread and banana.
After the initial 24 hours, continue to follow the BRAT diet. Since this diet does not contain many food options, you need to add some foods that provide nutrition to your body. By the completion of 48 hours, you need to slowly go back to your normal diet by adding boiled eggs, fruits, vegetables, as well as other foods providing nutrition. It is important to not eat too much for the first couple of days, as there are high chances of symptoms returning back if the stomach is again put under stress.
Few alternatives to BRAT diet
Bone broth is filled with various nutrients. These nutrients support both the gut and immune system. The nutrients help in promoting probiotics in the gut and also can easily be digested. It provides a soothing effect on the stomach and is considered to be perfect food when you are suffering from diarrhea. The numerous nutrients and the healing effects present in the bone broth provide you the essential nutrients that were lost. Since it is consumed in liquid form, it is easy on the stomach since it is easily broken down.
Probiotics are live bacteria that are present in the human gut. An active and healthy probiotic is essential for a healthy gut, which is helpful in various health benefits such as improving the immune system, promote digestion, converting fiber to fatty acids, produce certain vitamins, etc. Studies have indicated that probiotics are helpful in enhancing the gut microbiome which in turn improves the immunity. When the useful bacteria in the gut are activated, it flushes out the harmful virus and other pathogens and supports the immune system by doing this. An important factor required for the process of digestion to work properly is with the help of probiotics. Some of the probiotic foods include yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, natto, etc.
It has been found that soluble fiber has the ability to absorb excess fluid in the bowels and provide bulk to the stool. Since oats are gluten-free and contain high amounts of soluble fiber, they are helpful in reducing the symptoms of diarrhea. Oats need to be soaked overnight to remove the anti-nutrients and enzymes that may hinder digestion and nutrient absorption. The soluble fiber present in oats removes the toxins and waste from the digestive tract and provides firmness to the stool.
Bananas are considered to be ideal during GI upset. They are also part of the BRAT diet due to the presence of potassium that helps replace the lost electrolytes. They contain a soluble fiber called pectin that helps in removing toxins and waste from the digestive tract. As discussed earlier, these soluble fibers provide bulk to the stool. Studies have also indicated that unripe bananas and cooked rice combination is effective in reducing gas and limiting the amounts of stool in infants with diarrhea.
Vegetable Juice (with root vegetables)
It is important to recover the nutrients that are lost during a bout of diarrhea and vomiting. BRAT diet may be helpful for the first 24 hours, but it is not recommended beyond that as they are low in nutrients. Vegetable juices provide a high concentration of nutrients essential for the body. It is important to choose the right type of vegetable that helps during a bout of diarrhea. Root vegetables are considered to be ideal in this situation.
They can soothe the digestive system and relieve symptoms of GI upset. Root vegetables such as carrots provide alkaline minerals that help remove toxins from the body. They also provide vitamins A, C, D, E and K that provide the essential nutrients the body requires after a bout of diarrhea or vomiting. It provides a high concentration of soluble fiber that adds bulk to the stool. It has the ability to not diminish the intestinal loss of water and electrolytes.
They are considered to be more nutritious than white potatoes. They contain high nutritional value and also contain anti-inflammatory properties. They provide several nutrients such as potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. The insoluble fibers present in them provide firmness to the stool and reduce the symptoms of diarrhea. Sweet potatoes also have a lower glycemic index as compared to white potatoes, so you need not worry about the sugar spike.
Flaxseed oil provides dual benefits by relieving constipation as well as diarrhea. They are considered to be the richest source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Due to this property, they are helpful in fighting inflammation and improve your immune system. Studies have indicated that flaxseed oil has the ability to reduce castor oil-induced diarrhea. They also can reduce intestinal secretions substantially.
It has been used since ancient times due to its medicinal properties. Ginger has the ability to increase protective prostaglandins in the stomach lining and protect the stomach from damage. Cellular studies confirm that ginger reduces stomach damage. Antioxidants in ginger can block the growth of stomach-ulcer-causing H. Pylori, mainly by fighting free radicals. Ginger seems to be beneficial in combating vagus nerve activated nausea. Blocking excess serotonin and vagus nerve activation in the stomach and gut caused by ginger is helpful to treat nausea and vomiting.
Dehydration is the biggest risk factor associated with vomiting and diarrhea. A severe bout of diarrhea or vomiting may drain out substantial amounts of fluids from the body. Dehydration may become life-threatening for infants and kids. It is important to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water per day to be hydrated. It is a rule of thumb that you need to drink at least one glass of water every time you pass a loose stool. It should be noted that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of dehydration in infants and it is important to breastfeed regularly during a bout of diarrhea. It is highly recommended to avoid fruit juices and carbonated beverages during a bout of diarrhea as they can exacerbate the symptoms.
Peppermint oil is effective in reducing loose stools due to its anti-spasmodic effects. It provides a calming effect on the digestive tract. It also reduces muscle spasms and soothes the gastric lining. Studies have indicated that peppermint oil can relieve abdominal pain associated with diarrhea.
Foods to avoid
Dairy products: These are considered to be the biggest risk factor that is known to cause diarrhea. Any dairy products such as milk, cheese, cream, as well as ice cream are difficult to digest and may cause stress on the digestive system. However, yogurt and milk kefir can be excluded from this list as they contain beneficial bacteria called probiotics that help relieves diarrhea symptoms.
Sugar: Any sugary foods or beverages such as cakes, pastries, cookies, chocolate, sodas, and candy are known to exacerbate the symptoms and make diarrhea worse.
High-fat foods and fried foods: Any fast foods or processed foods are hard to digest. They are known to contain trans fat that has the ability to increase inflammation and cause several health problems. Consuming these foods can make diarrhea worse.
Alcohol: Alcohol is considered to be a diuretic (a substance that promotes urination). Consuming alcohol can lead to dehydration and also irritate the stomach. Dehydration during a bout of diarrhea is very dangerous and hence alcohol is a big no during symptoms of diarrhea.
Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that provides alertness to the brain. They also are considered to be a mild diuretic that can cause dehydration. Cola, coffee, and black tea contains caffeine and should be avoided.
Spicy foods: Spicy foods irritate the stomach lining and cause erosions on the stomach wall. Consuming them during symptoms of GI upset can lead to other complications as well.
Artificial sweeteners: Studies have claimed that certain sweeteners such as sorbitol and sucralose can cause diarrhea and it is highly recommended to avoid them.
Some vegetables and beans: As discussed earlier, all vegetables are not beneficial during a bout of diarrhea. Certain vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, as well as all forms of beans cause gas and bloating in the stomach. These vegetables may not be harmful when consumed by a healthy person but may cause problems in a person suffering from diarrhea.
Heavy proteins: Certain foods such as steak, pork, and salmon contain heavy proteins that are hard to digest and cause stress to the stomach. Studies have indicated that foods containing protein and also high fat needs several hours to digest and can exert stress on the digestive system.
Do I need to visit the emergency room?
Generally, vomiting and diarrhea subside after a period of six to eight hours. Following BRAT diet and keeping yourself hydrated would relieve symptoms within 48 hours. If the symptoms do not relieve after 48 hours, it is highly recommended that you consult your doctor or visit the emergency room. Other symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain, rectal pain, and bleeding, reduced urine output, excessive thirst, dry mouth, as well as feeling dizzy and fatigued are indications that you need to visit the emergency room. In the case of infants and children, you need to consult your pediatrician if vomiting and diarrhea persist for more than six to eight hours.
Important pointers to remember
- Keep yourself hydrated as much as possible since a combination of diarrhea and vomiting can drain a substantial amount of fluids out of the body.
- Complete bed rest is advised to give your body a chance to recover.
- Consult your health care provider if the symptoms are not relieved in 48 hours.
- Nausea and vomiting may be caused due to several factors such as food poisoning, medication side effects, alcohol, anxiety, and even pregnancy. It is important to find the cause of your symptoms and take action accordingly.
- Diarrhea may be caused due to stomach upset or food indigestion. It is generally acute, occurring suddenly and may resolve immediately after few hours or may even take a few days to resolve. Follow a BRAT diet initially and then move to a normal diet as the symptoms subside.
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