Here’s What You Need to Know About the BRAT Diet

It's not for weight loss and it's not for misbehaving children.

Had the runs or feeling queasy? You might have tried home remedies for diarrhea or morning sickness remedies, but you’re still not feeling up to scratch. Maybe you’ve heard that plain foods, like those that make up the BRAT diet, might help? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the BRAT diet?

BRAT is an acronym for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. “The BRAT diet originated in the ’20s,” explains Pat Salber, MD, founder of The Doctor Weighs In located in Larkspur, California. “There was this idea that when you have gastroenteritis or nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, you needed to have something bland to eat. And what could be more bland than bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast?” So the BRAT diet was recommended, especially for children, as a good way to nurture the body back to full health. Read more about the health benefits of bananas.

Bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast, BRAT dietHanna_photo/TLpixs/Moving Moment/bigacis/ShutterstockIs the BRAT diet nutritionally sound?

The BRAT diet has lost some of its popularity in recent years. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the foods, the diet is low in protein, fiber, and fat, which means even though it’s easy to digest, it doesn’t contain enough good nutrition to help your body recover from illness. But that’s not the only issue. The treatment of gastroenteritis in children should focus on preventing dehydration, according to a report published in the American Family Physician. A child who isn’t dehydrated should be encouraged to simply continue with his or her usual diet, while also drinking plenty of fluids. Check out these tricks to relieve children’s constipation every parent needs to know.

What causes the stomach flu?

You are most likely to get the stomach flu when you consume contaminated food or water, or if you share utensils, towels, or food with someone who’s sick. Viruses that cause the stomach flu include noroviruses and rotavirus. Outbreaks of a particular type of norovirus known as acute gastroenteritiscommon among both adults and childrenmost often occurs in healthcare facilities and restaurants, according to a study published in 2015 in Future Microbiology. Rotavirus is most common in infants and young children, who are usually infected when they put their fingers or other contaminated objects into their mouths. The infection is most severe in infants and young children. This is the difference between a stomach bug and food poisoning.

How can I prevent stomach flu?

The first line of defense against stomach flu is to avoid getting it in the first place. Practicing good hygiene goes a long way towards preventing the spread of the illness. Dr. Salber also strongly recommends parents get their babies vaccinated against rotavirus. “It’s a common cause of diarrhea, and it’s preventable with a vaccine,” she advises. “It’s really safe and very effective.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends babies get two or three doses of rotavirus vaccine, depending on the brand used. The first dose should be administered before 15 weeks of age and the last dose by eight months of age. (If you’re making these 10 hygiene mistakes, you could be making your kids sick.)

How do I treat stomach flu instead of using the BRAT diet?

The most important thing is to stay hydrated. The body loses fluids quickly through diarrhea and vomiting, so drinking water, oral rehydration solutions, or sports drinks can help replenish what you’ve lost. Mild diarrhea won’t require medication (and you should never give it to children), but in some cases, over-the-counter meds may help. If your symptoms are very severe, see your doctor. “The really serious diarrheas, like cholera or some of the bacterial diarrheas you can get, may need antibiotics,” says Dr. Salber. Once the worst symptoms have passed, Dr. Salber’s advice echoes that of the American Academy of Family Physicians: Go back onto your normal diet as soon as you can tolerate it. Here are 7 signs and symptoms of dehydration—and how to treat it.

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Elizabeth Manneh
Elizabeth Manneh is a freelance writer focusing mainly on healthcare, digital health & technology, and health & wellness. Her work has been featured on Readers Digest, MSN, AOL, The Family Handyman, and Paysa. A retired primary school principal and education consultant, Manneh has a continuing passion for education and learning. Visit her website: Elizabeth Manneh.