The BRAT Diet is very popular as a quick and easy way for both adults and kids who are suffering from stomach aches, diarrhea or vomiting to get better. But is it any good as a long-term diet solution? We take a closer look in this comprehensive BRAT Diet review.
Suffering from stomach pains due to indigestion?
You might want to try out the BRAT Diet – an extremely simple (and bland) but potentially very effective way to give your body nutrients while eating from a very limited selection of foods.
BRAT is actually an acronym (B- Banana, R- Rice, A- Applesauce and T- Toast) and it is one of the most restrictive diets out there.
In fact, it started out as a diet that was being given to those who had gastroenteritis (an infection of your bowels that is also known as the stomach flu).
Overview and history of the BRAT Diet
This diet is one of the older ones that are still being used, according to the article published back in the year 2005, the diet was actually first discussed around 90 years ago in a report of the treatment of intestinal intoxication of infants.
What needs to be understood before going through the core belief behind this diet is the fact that, up until relatively recently, the ruling theory was that your digestive tract should not be encumbered after an illness. So, treating diarrhea usually consisted of blood transfusions, starvation and IV.
Decades later, doctors started noticing that patients with infectious diarrhea had difficulties digesting fat, sucrose, and lactose. This led to the changes in the dietary recommendations for patients.
Now, they did not really do nearly enough research to prove the effectiveness of this diet, but it became rather widespread. Doctors and parents alike were rather aware of its existence and the potential benefit of it.
During the seventies, the textbooks still recommended rest and starvation as the treatment for a while, and then step-by-step refeeding.
The following decade changed that. In February of 1988 The Journal of Pediatrics published a study that found that oral feeding sooner, rather than later, brought significant improvements. Thus, the practice shifted to earlier refeeding which followed rehydration.
Main purpose and goal of the BRAT Diet
One thing that should not be forgotten is this – the BRAT diet is not a lifestyle change. It is not a long-term solution and it should not be treated as such. The premise of this diet is rooted in short-term (alleged) benefits of eating “binding” foods.
The original concept of this diet has the user only following it for up to 2 days after the symptoms of the infection (vomiting or diarrhea).
As a symptom solving diet, it actually does fare well as a study published in the official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition in April 1997 found that bananas are actually effective when it comes to that.
The study squared banana flakes against the actual medical treatment for diarrhea and the results were encouraging.
The banana-fed group of patients actually saw success more than those who were medically treated with almost 60 percent of the patients being successfully treated while less than a quarter of the medically-treated patients were free of diarrhea at the final day of the studies.
However, the diet is getting some attention from those who want to lose weight as well since it shows promise as a weight loss diet.
Who is the BRAT Diet ideal for?
As we can safely deduce by now, this diet is aimed at those who had gastrointestinal issues in recent days. So, it is designed for both adults and kids who suffered from stomach aches, diarrhea or vomiting.
If you ever suffer from an affliction that stops you from eating solid food for a while, this diet offers a pretty good path back to solids without hurting yourself.
Is the BRAT Diet easy to do?
Well, depending on the point of view. On one hand, it is a very simple diet to follow, the list of products you are allowed to eat is very short and easily purchased without even spending considerable amounts of money, which makes it rather easy, to begin with.
However, maintaining this diet is not easy at all. Eating the same meal 3 times a day every single day can be very taxing on one’s willingness to go on with it. But, once more, it was not designed to be a long-lasting diet.
So, for the bottom line, we would like to say that it is a rather easy diet to implement keeping in mind that the name gives off the main ingredients (banana, rice, applesauce, and toast) and the fact that it is not meant to last means that your willpower will not have to go through numerous tests.
BRAT Diet foods to eat
Well, while it is quite clear which foods are the staple of this diet (once more, banana, rice, applesauce, and toast) you can actually throw something else in from time to time, namely, you are also allowed to eat soda crackers and clear liquids.
Clear liquids include water, broth, juice, and weak tea. But you are also allowed to drink sports drinks. It is also recommended for you to use greener bananas as they have more resistant starch which helps your body create short-chain fatty acids.
In fact, there was a study dealing precisely with green bananas published in 2004 which confirms that green bananas increase the effectiveness of the treatment with the success rate being as high as 80% but more about the efficacy of the diet later on in the article.
BRAT Diet foods to avoid
As you could probably assume yourself, this diet is incredibly restrictive already by the mere design of it, and, while you can sneak in products made out of refined grain or mash in a bit of other fruit in your applesauce, you really do not get to play with your food. It is not a fun diet to be on as you need to avoid:
- Whole grain foods
- Anything with caffeine
As you can see, this is clearly not a diet made to be prolonged. Not only will it take most of the enjoyment from your meals, it also lacks some of the nutrients that are commonly found in foods that are listed above.
How effective is the BRAT Diet?
Well, from a standpoint of someone trying to fix their diarrhea issues, it is somewhat effective.
Unfortunately, there are simply not enough studies out there to support the use of this diet in its entirety, but there are studies on individual parts of this diet that go well with it.
As already mentioned, studies have been rather successful when it came to using green bananas to treat children with diarrhea resulted with helping 4 out of 5 children treated.
Other studies, that used normal banana flakes had a lesser success rate, but still incredibly, a lot better than medicinal treatment. A study from April 1997 found that the success rate for critically ill patients was 57% when using bananas and only 24% when using typical medication.
It also turned out that rice has a positive effect on those in need of rehydration after a period of diarrhea.
In fact, multiple studies covered the effects of rice on diarrhea, like the one published in the Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition in February 2004 which tested the rehydration solution based on rice on almost 200 babies (ranging from 3 months to 2 years of age). It found that the rice solution is both effective and safe to use on infants.
However, it should be noted that all of these studies were done on people who had diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms due to the fact that they suffered from cholera. The effect was not as noticeable in children who had diarrhea as a symptom of other illnesses.
On the other hand, some might wonder how effective this diet is as a weight loss diet. Well, it was not made for weight loss, but if you are willing to try it out, it will yield results. The diet is very low in energy and will lead to weight loss if prolonged.
So one might say that it is effective, but one should still not use this diet to lose weight. It lacks in various nutrients and should not be taken lightly.
Potential mistakes to avoid on the BRAT Diet
This is a pretty straightforward diet in and of itself, and you would be hard pressed to mess up the basic premise. If you are just trying to feel better after finally getting over your bout with the stomach flu, go ahead, use this diet, but try to avoid the two most common mistakes – starting it off too rapidly and keeping it up for too long.
While this diet is made up of foods that are fairly easy to digest and will not irritate you or make you throw up, you should still exercise caution when starting it off, if your stomach is too sensitive too much of white bread can irritate it.
And remember, the diet is only designed to be kept up for around 48 hours after the illness went away.
Try adding other foods as the time passes, start with boiled potatoes, or vegetable soup and work up to foods that are richer in protein, like fish.
Is the BRAT Diet healthy?
Well, if you are using it to get over an illness it is not that bad, but if you are using it as a day-to-day diet in your regular life. It is really bad for you. And, honestly, even if you are in the process of refeeding, this diet is less than ideal. As of recently, this diet is no longer recommended for anyone.
It is simply too restrictive and too scarce in nutrients to be really healthy. Sure, if your stomach issues are really serious, bananas and rice might be the only thing that you can eat without messing yourself up, but, if you have a choice, don’t be zealous with this diet as you will lack a lot of nutrients.
What you need to understand is that your body will already be low in nutrients because of the illness, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness from the disease will bring the levels low, and while this diet will not irritate you, it will also not bring back what you need into your organism.
If you are a strong, healthy adult, then you can probably strictly follow this diet without any side effects. But if you are trying to treat your child or a grandparent, try to at least sneak in bits and pieces of other foods.
A research was done in 2007 to check the quality of this diet when applied to a 2-year-old toddler and they found that it lacked in calories a lot. In fact, the BRAT diet only provided with around 80% of the calories necessary for a successful development of the toddler.
The same study also found that the diet only provided 1/8 of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and calcium and 0% of vitamin B12. That sounds horrible, but remember, this diet should not be followed for longer than 2 days.
However, there were known instances where people tried following the diet for as long as problems persisted, which is not the way to go as it can lead to malnutrition.
This was proven in 1998 when researchers found out about the case where two children were put on the BRAT diet for two weeks and suffered from severe malnutrition.
Our BRAT Diet review conclusion
Skip this diet unless you really, really cannot digest anything other than rice and bananas. It is way too restrictive and it might cause malnutrition and there are better ways to battle the effects of digestive illnesses.
Try taking probiotics, or, if you are against using medicine to battle diarrhea, drink yogurts that are rich in them, include BRAT diet with your regular food, drink soup, have a potato.
There are numerous ways to fight diarrhea without restricting yourself to eat the same meal six times in a row. Especially since this diet has that two-day limit on it, while the other diets can be used for as long as you suffer the symptoms.
And if you are trying to lose weight, it could be effective in short-term, but the lack of protein will lead to a lack of energy and thus, your body will just start lowering your resting metabolic rate.
This diet is one you simply should not choose to adhere to, however, those with certain illnesses like Crohn’s disease are thankful for it since it will not irritate them too much.
Overall, the BRAT Diet is a short-term solution for both adults and kids who are suffering from stomach aches, diarrhea or vomiting. If you are looking for anything other than a quick fix for gastrointestinal issues, you are better off with other diets.