Another day, another wellness acronym… This time, joining HIIT and DOMS, we have the BRAT diet.
Not one we ever thought we’d see being mooted as a feasible food plan, it’s a basic prescription diet for people dealing with gut issues – you might remember being given something similar when you were younger and under the weather.
‘The BRAT diet was created in America for infants and children with gastrointestinal upsets, such as diarrhoea,’ explains Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian at the Health and Food Supplements Information Service. ‘The idea was to calm the symptoms by only eating bland, low fibre foods that are unlikely to irritate the gut.’
The low fibre nature of the foods helps to firm up stools, helping with diarrhoea.
‘Nowadays paediatricians don’t recommend the BRAT diet for sick children, but people are touting it as a quick and simple way to lose weight,’ she says. (Note: this latter use is very much not a good idea and is likely to leave you with serious nutritional deficiencies. More on this, later.)
What are you prescribed on the BRAT diet?
Made up of the binding foods that comprise life on the BRAT diet, it stands for:
- Apple sauce
How long do you stay on the BRAT diet?
In short, not long — health professionals are unanimous that it’s not recommended to stay on such a limited food plan for more than 24-48 hours.
‘For people with stomach upsets, the BRAT diet was only supposed to be used for three days before re-introducing other foods,’ says Dr Ruxton. ‘However, I would say even that is too long given the severely limited range of foods you can eat. There are many other diets which can help you lose weight without missing out on vital nutrients and fibre.’
If losing weight is your aim, there are more healthy and sustainable ways to manage it. Read how to lose weight well.
Is the BRAT diet healthy?
Again, simple answer: no.
‘This faddy diet is very low in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre, which is why it’s completely unsuitable for weight loss,’ says Dr Ruxton. ‘Studies show that restrictive diet plans are too low in vital nutrients, leaving dieters at risk of deficiency. I would recommend anyone trying to lose weight to top up with a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, particularly if they plan to follow a restrictive diet which limits particular food groups.’
As nutritionist Jenna Hope puts it: ‘Since it was largely used in children as a management for diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, it’s not a diet which should be adopted in the general population.’
What are the benefits of the BRAT diet?
‘It’s bland and low in fibre, which was used to manage diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting,’ explains Hope. ‘Although, if an individual is experiencing these stomach issues regularly, I recommend that they seek personalised professional advice to deal with the underlying cause.’
Though bananas are proven to be gentle on a sore stomach as they’re high in pectin and potassium, for those not suffering with those ailments, the BRAT diet has been touted for weight loss — but it comes at the price of dramatically limited nutrients and diet altogether.
‘The only benefit is calorie restriction as rice, bananas, apples and toast are pretty low in calories. But, you can get that same benefit and still enjoy a varied diet if you eat smaller portions or cut out alcohol, fizzy drinks, sweets and crisps for several weeks’, explains Dr Ruxton.
What are the downsides of the BRAT diet?
Oh boy, there’s no shortage.
‘Low levels of fibre – which feed your healthy gut bacteria and promote immune health – plus inadequate intakes of vitamins (A, C, D), B complex, protein and healthy unsaturated fats. Plus protein helps keep us feeling fuller, so you are likely to feel hungry on the BRAT diet,’ says Dr Ruxton.
These restrictions mean ‘if it’s abused it can increase risk of nutrient deficiencies and poor gut health,’ says Hope. ‘Consequently, there is no up to date research to support the BRAT diet. A BLAND diet is sometimes used as a management of diarrhoea and gastrointestinal issues, which includes foods such as as tea, potatoes and cereals, bland chicken, eggs and yoghurt.’
So, not recommended when suffering from stomach issues or as a means to lose weight.
What can you eat on the BRAT diet?
As the mnemonic suggests: ‘Rice, bananas, cooked pureed apples and toast, basically,’ says Ruxton. ‘Although some versions also allow bland, low fibre foods like crackers, plain porridge made with water, cooked potato, clear broth and apple juice’.
You can’t eat anything non-bland or gentle on the stomach, including:
- oily foods
- spicy foods
- raw vegetables
- acidic fruits
Can you eat eggs on the BRAT diet?
They’re not included in the restrictive BRAT diet, but they are in the BLAND diet, which is considered gentle enough to help overcome stomach issues while not being so harmfully limiting.
Is peanut butter OK for the BRAT diet?
As above — ‘fraid not if you’re talking BRAT diet, but it is on the BLAND diet.
Please seek personalised medical advice if you’re struggling with gastrointestinal complications. A bland diet is not always appropriate and should be conducted under the supervision of a nutritionist or dietitian.
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