BRAT is a type of diet, which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. The BRAT diet used to be a staple mostly recommended by pediatricians to children with an upset stomach. The main idea behind this diet is to provide a chance for the gut to rest and at the same time reduce the amount of poop produced. However, experts today no longer consider the BRAT diet as the best option for children who are unwell.
The reason is that the BRAT diet does not have enough nutrition to support the recovery of a child's gastrointestinal tract. This type of diet is also low in protein, fiber, and fat. Instead of the BRAT diet, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the consumption of a well-balanced diet according to children's age in the first 24 hours of an illness. Experts say that the diet should include complex carbohydrates, meat, a mix of fruits and vegetables, and yogurt.
Is it good for adults and children?
Since the BRAT diet limits the needed nutrition for a healthy diet in adults and children, it should only be followed for a short time. The long-term consumption of BRAT foods alone may lead to malnourishment and electrolyte imbalances, which only lead to a slower recovery from illness. For this reason, a normal diet with fruits and vegetables should be eaten by people within the first 24 hours of vomiting or diarrhea.
What can you eat on a BRAT diet?
The BRAT diet is not only about consuming bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. The main key to this diet is to ensure taking in bland foods, which are gentle on the stomach. These foods are also said to be binding foods, which means that they are low in fiber that would help firm up the stools and stop diarrhea.
Some of the other foods that can be taken while on the BRAT diet include:
- Potatoes (boiled)
- Apple juice
- Cooked cereals (oatmeal)
Below are foods that should be avoided while on this diet:
- Milk and other dairy products
- Very hot or very cold beverages
- Raw vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, carrot sticks, and salad greens)
- Proteins (sardines, salmon, steak, or pork)
- Fruits (grapefruit, orange, pineapple, apple, and tomato)
- Spicy foods
- Fatty, fried, or greasy foods
- Gelatin desserts
Call your pediatrician if milk or other types of food seem to worsen your child's symptoms, which include bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. The doctor might recommend temporary changes in your child's dietary intake.
When to See a Doctor
If the BRAT diet and other foods do not seem to work after 4-5 days in adults and 1-2 days for infants and children, it is time to see a doctor.
Your healthcare provider will be able to tell what's causing your child's diarrhea and whether it is due to a more serious medical condition that needs an immediate and more extensive treatment. The doctor will also check for any signs of dehydration and rapid weight loss.
The symptoms of dehydration in children may include any of the following:
- Tiredness or weakness
- Dry or cold skin
- Dry mouth
- Cracked lips
- Increased thirst
- Crying without tears
- Decreased urine output
- Dark-colored urine
If your child has vomiting and diarrhea, they could also be signs of viral gastroenteritis or stomach flu, which does not usually require treatment. There also conditions with similar symptoms but require treatment. They include:
- Parasitic infections
- Bacterial infections
- Food intolerance
- Certain medications
Other Forms of Treatment
Aside from following the BRAT diet, there are also other things that can help speed up your child's recovery from gastrointestinal issues. They include:
1. Staying hydrated at all times
Dehydration is known to be a dangerous complication of diarrhea in both adults and children. If your child has mild stomach flu, he or she should still drink plenty of fluids to help replenish fluid loss due to vomiting and/or diarrhea. Infants who are not dehydrated should also continue receiving breast milk or certain types of milk formula. Frequently give fluids to your toddler but only in small amounts.
2. Avoiding certain types of food
Be careful when giving foods to your child. You may want to avoid giving your child fatty, fried, or greasy foods for a few days.
You can also keep a food diary to track your child's meals. You can take note of the types of food and drinks your child consumes and relate them to the frequency or timing of your child's diarrhea. Having a food diary may help the doctor identify other concerning causes of diarrhea, such as allergies or food intolerances.
3. Oral rehydration therapy
Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) or electrolyte solutions can help your child replenish lost water and salts during diarrhea. Electrolyte solutions may also be easily digested than your child's usual diet. Oral rehydration products often come in different flavors and in popsicle or liquid form.
Some of the common rehydration OTC products include Pedialyte, Enfalyte, NaturaLyte, and CeraLyte. These products are usually available in some retail stores and drugstores.
4. Taking probiotics
Probiotics, also commonly called as good bacteria, are live bacteria that can offer a number of health benefits to the body when consumed. They are usually available over-the-counter. Probiotics, such as yogurt, can help create a healthy environment in the gut and will unlikely harm your child.
The good bacteria found in the gut have a key role when it comes to normal gastrointestinal functioning. They specifically protect the intestines from infections. Probiotics can help with your child's diarrhea by restoring the balance of bacteria in your child's gut.
The BRAT diet may help toddlers who experience symptoms of diarrhea within the first 24 hours of illness. However, this type of diet is not recommended for a longer period of time due to its nutrient limitations. According to experts, the consumption of an age-appropriate and regular well-balanced diet is the better option for a faster recovery. You should also see a pediatrician if your child's diarrhea persists for 1-2 days.