Gut health is critical to us because it has vital impacts on our physical as well as mental health. It is the core of our human health. It helps nourish our body as a whole, promotes good health, and is also regarded as the key to living longer. Starting right from the mouth, including the esophagus, colon, small intestine, stomach, and anal canal, to the rectum, is what makes up the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore starting from the food that we take till excretion, the gut plays an important role in investing, absorbing, breaking down, and digesting the food to produce daily energy. There are trillions of microbes in our gut that we often refer to as the good bacteria or the beneficial bacteria that reside in our gastrointestinal tracts, namely the gut. These bacteria help in digestion, nutrient absorption, immune system building, protection, etc. Our gut is rightfully called the main source of health as every aspect of our physical and mental health heavily depends on the gut microbial composition and the health of gut flora.
There are many aspects of our daily life that negatively affect our gut health, namely our regular diet. And such a gut can not only lead to stomach pain and such gut disorders but may seriously injure your gut bacterial diversity, intestinal permeability, blood pressure problems, gut inflammation, muscle pain, arthritis, heart problems, brain fog, and many other cognitive and mental health disorders. So, when we take care of our daily meals and the quality of foods we eat every day, it leads to a healthy balance of probiotic bacteria in our gut. This further leads to reducing different gut problems like bloating, belching, gas problems, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, Irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
Diet is a common and familiar term to almost all of us. There are many kinds of diets that all focus on their individual fields of human health. Some are medically acclaimed and some are just trendy. So what are the diets we can follow to maintain a healthy gut? Diets such as the Mediterranean diet are nutrient-based diets that are also very popular. Then we have the sensational GAPS Diet, Juice Diet, and numerous special diets that focus on healing your gut health. The best gut diet that you can choose for yourself should be the one that is not just nutritionally fulfilling but contains adequate probiotics, prebiotics, soluble fiber, and minerals. Some diets do not involve any restrictions and let you eat until you are full while others may be restrictive.
As per research and numerous studies, the restrictive ones function better for your gut as they are inclusive of only beneficial foods and exclude any harmful and harsh foods that cause your digestive system harm. Plants are the foundation of such diets, which benefits you by improving body composition and reducing obesity, lowering your cholesterol and risks of heart diseases, treating diabetes, and also helping you to lose weight.
The food items and the ingredients must be of high quality, organic, fresh, and cooked or boiled, to get most of the benefits.
One such great diet plan for your gut is the BRAT Diet, as it is an effective dietary regimen for managing gastrointestinal distress. So, let’s look at the nutritional value of this diet and how this diet is so much better than others.
What is the BRAT Diet?
BRAT diet stands for Banana, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast (B-ananas, R-ice, A-pplesauce, T-oast). This diet was introduced in 1926 by pediatricians to treat children who would fall sick and couldn’t tolerate anything in their stomachs. However, this diet was recommended especially to children and also to patients in order to help them relieve symptoms of upset stomach or any gastrointestinal distress such as acute diarrhea, gastroenteritis, dyspepsia, etc. The BRAT foods in this diet promote eating bland foods with a mild flavor and exclude acidic ingredients and foods that are rich in indigestible fiber. Because foods high in fiber cause gas and can possibly worsen your digestive problems. [Also read: How and Why are Bananas Good for Gut Health?]
Thus, according to the history and origin of this diet, it was designed as an effective way of helping such children recover faster by giving their gut a chance to rest for a while without collapsing from lack of nutrition. It becomes easier for people to digest without compromising the health and state of their healing gut.
- These foods reduce the amount of stool produced,
- Normalize the state of bowel movements,
- And relax the overall function of the gut.
Additionally, this diet excludes a wide range of foods which is why it is also known as a restrictive diet.
But this diet is not popular in recent years due to its low content of dietary fiber, proteins, and fats for which the body does not get full and the needed nutrition to function when used for an extended period.
- Fruits like bananas, applesauce, avocado, pumpkin, melons, etc. can be added. These are all soft foods that are encouraged to be consumed in a moderate amount.
- Boiled vegetables like carrots, green beans, squash, and potatoes.
- Low-fiber starch foods such as white bread, white rice, saltine crackers, oatmeal, etc.
- Proteins include skinless baked chicken, turkey, and scrambled soft cooked eggs.
- Drinks should be taken like bone broth, apple juice, sports drinks, coconut water, and water.
Our body goes through severe dehydration as it loses essential nutrients frequently. Hence it becomes important to stay hydrated because it regulates body temperature, prevents infections, delivers nutrients to cells, and helps the organs to function properly improving cognition, mood, and sleep quality. Therefore, including clear liquids like water, coconut water, broth, apple juice, and gut-reviving drinks like kombucha is also important.
There are two alternatives to the BRAT diet:
- BRATT- adding decaffeinated tea &
- BRATTY –adding yogurt.
Another similar branched diet that is being researched is the CRAM diet since this diet adds more protein and needed fat to the diet.
Foods to Avoid while you are on the BRAT diet:
- Any dairy products, chocolate, fried foods, fatty, greasy foods, processed, and spicy foods should be avoided while you are on the BRAT diet.
- Other than that, raw vegetables like beets, sauerkraut, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and onions should not be included in your diet.
- Also, avoid any kind of citrus fruits such as tomatoes, cherries, grapes, figs, raisins, and seeded berries.
- Drinks should be included but some of them can harm your digestion processes such as extremely hot or cold beverages, alcohol, coffee, or any caffeinated sodas and other sugary products like sweets, candy, store-bought juice, etc.
- Proteins such as stakes, pork, salmon, and sardines should be avoided as well.
All these foods may be harder for your stomach to digest, thus triggering various digestive problems.
What are the benefits of the BRAT diet?
Despite the many accusations against this diet, it is a fact that there are certain benefits to it. Some of the most effective benefits for our health are:
- A big part of this diet is that it provides hydration.
Our body goes through severe dehydration when we suffer from any gastrointestinal health problems or stomach issues. And as it leads to the loss of essential nutrients frequently, it becomes important to stay hydrated because it regulates body temperature, prevents infections, delivers nutrients to cells, and helps the organs to function properly including improving cognition, mood, and sleep quality. Therefore, including liquids like water, coconut water, broth, apple juice, and herbal drinks, is very important in this diet.
- It helps regulate salt imbalance in the gut.
People tend to feel weak due to the loss of so many essential minerals while suffering from digestive problems. As per the diet, bananas are a great source of energy that helps you to recover faster. Bananas are rich in potassium which helps in maintaining fluid levels in the body, muscles to contract, and nerve cells to respond. Therefore, regulating the movement of waste products in and out of cells, which will eventually help in getting digestion back to normal. It reduces the effect of sodium on blood pressure.
Potassium in bananas helps to flush out the extra sodium from the body through urine. When you sweat or vomit too much, the body loses an excessive amount of fluids, thereby lowering the electrolyte levels in the body, and causing electrolyte imbalance. Salt imbalance can cause seizures, coma, permanent brain damage, brain stem herniation, and even death.
- It protects and heals gastrointestinal mucosa.
The banana’s high content of amylase-resistant starch, which is broken down into short-chain fatty acids in the colon, protects the gastrointestinal mucosa in animals and reduces the symptoms of non-ulcer dyspepsia and peptic ulcer in people. This explains why bananas are the most important food in the BRAT diet.
In several medical kinds of research, the study showed that adding pectin or banana significantly decreased stool weight and helped treat diarrhea much sooner compared with a rice diet alone.
- The BRAT diet helps in regulating bowel movement.
All the foods in the BRAT diet are low in dietary fiber but high in starchy carbohydrates, hence making the stool firm and thus there is no sign of loose and runny stools. The foods included in the BRAT diet are very gentle on the stomach, making your digestive system feel much less irritated and inflamed during an upset stomach or in such inflammatory gut conditions.
Bananas help to add bulk to the stool due to their fiber content. It contains resistant starch that helps to absorb water and salt in the colon and is easily digested by the stomach because of its low fiber content.
- The BRAT diet is more effective than many other stomach illness-healing diet protocols.
This diet cannot go wrong when you are suffering from such stomach illnesses, and you need to go easy on your gut. There are many diets recommended online such as the rice diet, elemental diet, etc. But are these diets effective? Some may be effective and some may not work for you at all. If you are unsure about which diet to pursue, consult your healthcare provider to find out which diet suits you and your condition the best.
- It also helps in losing weight.
All the foods included in this diet are not only healthy but also contain low calories. For example, the rice in the BRAT diet helps your stomach to feel full longer helping you to eat less thus managing weight. The fruits add to your daily nutrition and act as excellent replacement snacks for the excluded harmful processed foods. The restrictive nature of this diet also adds to this benefit.
However, keep in mind that the BRAT diet should not be used individually for the purpose of weight loss because it does lack many important nutrients. In long term, it can affect other parts making your body weak and deficient.
What is the BRAT diet protocol and how does BRAT diet work?
It is an extremely short diet that you can do for a week or just until your stomach gets better at handling digestion without causing discomfort. Usually, it takes only a few days to complete the BRAT diet but you can continue up to a week if you want to. When you suffer from a stomach bug, stomach flu, or any sort of stomach illness, it is a good idea to eat only easily digestible foods.
- It is recommended to take only liquid on the first day. Therefore, more water, easy-to-digest juices, bone broth, rice soup, etc. The BRAT diet consists of eating bland foods first and then you can gradually add other foods.
- The day after you can incorporate some other bland foods that will be light on the stomach like oatmeal, rice, porridge, crackers, toasts, etc.
- On day 3 and onwards, you can start adding normal diet foods back into your diet but slowly. Start with baked skinless chicken, yogurt, etc.
However, it is important to resume your proper diet as soon as you complete following the BRAT diet to regain proper strength and ample nutrition to help properly build immunity, gut microbial health, and digestive health.
Some people also use it as a test diet to see if the symptoms of diarrhea are coming back or not. If it’s not properly gone, then you can follow this diet for some more days until you are completely healed and relieved. Just a pro tip: Keep adding more nutrition, mainly vitamins, and some digestion-friendly minerals into your diet.
However, it is not recommended to take this diet for over 2 weeks as this can cause severe malnutrition and unhealthy weight loss over time.
What are the issues that the BRAT diet deals with?
People who are suffering from any type of stomach illness, acute gastroenteritis, runny stools, or any other gastrointestinal illness need to avoid certain foods included in the ‘what to avoid’ section above. These stomach issues can only be healed when your digestive system is not distressed. Therefore, this diet is mainly used when people suffer from any of these stomach issues:
- Stomach flu
- Abdominal pain
- Peptic ulcers
- IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- IBD or Inflammatory Bowel Disorder
People can feel nauseous for many reasons, such as stomach bugs, food poisoning, motion sickness, viruses, etc. During these times, it is recommended to eat easy-to-digest bland foods like rice, banana, bone broth, fluids, and fruits, because in general, these foods are simply prepared to be mildly seasoned or baked. They are also very gentle on the stomach and help deal with several of the above-mentioned stomach problems. Also, these foods do not have any strong smell and therefore, do not irritate the stomach. And thereby, makes you feel much less nauseated. Spicy and hot foods generally make you feel instantly nauseous and can be quite painful, due to their strong aroma and inflammatory nature. This is why such foods are strictly restricted in this diet.
The BRAT diet is not only considered a good way to nurture the body and help the body to get back to full health but also can be used in other situations mainly during post-surgery. This is when the body is still weak and is on medications, therefore spicy and hot foods can irritate the surgical sites and disrupt the course of action of the medications, which in turn can cause infections thereby slowing down your recovery.
This diet can also be followed by infants who have gastroenteritis or such problems. However, keep in mind to minimize this diet to only a few days or as recommended by the doctor to avoid malnutrition.
Who should avoid the BRAT diet?
This diet should not be used for treating diarrhea that is caused by health conditions like Graft Versus Host disease or runt disease. People should not follow this diet because the stomach cannot properly absorb nutrients as the intestinal mucosa cells are damaged. It becomes difficult to digest and consume foods with protein and fats during this time. People who have had stem cell transplants should also avoid this diet.
Also, according to your body’s needs and your wellness professionals, if you think that your body is not getting enough nutrition from this diet, then you may need to reconsider your diet with some other diet alternatives or other remedies. Understand what needs your body has that must be fulfilled immediately. For example: if you are lacking calcium in your diet and suffer from arthritis, weak fungal nails, and weak bones, you can go for a calcium-based diet that is also easy on your stomach or you may opt for some supplements, here are the Top 10 Gut Health Supplements you can Explore. And the same goes for other nutrients, minerals, and proteins. In this way, it will help you incorporate the nutrition in your body while also healing your digestive tract.
Medical attention is required if there is any blood or mucus present in the stool, or if diarrhea lasts more than 3 days, while on the diet. Do not continue this diet after the third or fourth day. If you do decide to do so, try to slowly but consistently include probiotics, vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics into your diet while simultaneously cutting out allergens like gluten, processed sugar, food colorings, etc. [Also Read: What Foods Should You avoid if You have Leaky Gut Syndrome ]
Why do so many people not support the BRAT diet?
When we see it as a whole, the BRAT diet lacks multiple nutrients when compared to our regular diet. The foods are very low in fiber, proteins, minerals, and probiotics. The food in this diet becomes insufficient for the body to function properly. Therefore, children nowadays are advised to continue their proper diet as it is essential for the body to grow and stay healthy. This diet is no longer recommended for kids with any digestive problems. They stick to their regular diet but focus more on intaking fluids and avoiding greasy, oily, spicy, and junk foods.
These days people generally rely on medications/supplements more than foods for any digestive problem due to their effectiveness and time-saving nature. And if we do want to heal our gut microbiome naturally, there are many other nutritionally fulfilling gut-friendly diets available everywhere online.
In the year 1998 in a popular study, researchers reported the case of two young children who were on the BRAT diet for 2 weeks before undergoing severe malnutrition, due to insufficient calories and nutritional inadequacy. Many complaints even came worldwide as the diet was reclaimed to be one of the most lacking diet protocols.
Conclusion: Is the BRAT diet effective?
This diet is proven to be effective for some time as it gives your digestive tract ample time to heal and restore balance. However, the nutrient and calorie deficiencies make it one-dimensional and unhealthy. It cannot heal nor restore your gut flora or the beneficial bacteria lost during the time of your stomach or gut issues. The nutritional deficiencies can even make your symptoms worse, and this is why, it is highly requested to just go on a bland diet with easy-to-digest foods and then immediately get on a highly nutritional probiotic and prebiotic diet (to learn the importance of Prebiotic and Probiotics, Tap here) right after a few days of gut cleanse protocol or the BRAT diet protocol.
Tim Koping (Medical M.Sc Physiology, Founder of Original Eating, and a Professor at a Leading Health Institute in the US): I am a medical M.Sc physiology graduate and the founder of Original Eating, an online resource that provides information and advice about healthy eating. I have a strong interest in health and nutrition, and I am passionate about helping people to eat well and live healthily. I have over 15 years of experience working in the health and nutrition industry, and I am dedicated to providing accurate, reliable information that can help people to make healthy choices for themselves. My work with Original Eating has been featured in publications such as Men’s Health and more, and I am frequently consulted by journalists for expert commentary on dietary issues. However, in my spare time, I also enjoy reading, hiking, and playing the guitar.