Although the BRAT diet has been viewed as the proper treatment for diarrhea for many years, it has recently been deemed too restrictive by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
BRAT diet foods are in fact easy on the digestive system because they’re bland and give the stomach a chance to rest. However, these foods alone lack vital nutrients that the body needs to get well, and this can lead to electrolyte imbalance and malnourishment. The key to eating when suffering from diarrhea is to choose nutrient-rich foods that add bulk to stool and help the body to absorb vitamins and minerals.
What Is the BRAT Diet?
BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Pediatricians suggested that infants and children with upset stomachs eat these four foods because they reduce the amount of stool produced by the body and give the gut a chance to rest. Although the BRAT diet was a staple of most pediatricians’ recommendations for children with diarrhea, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that kids resume eating a normal, well-balanced diet within 24 hours of diarrhea symptoms because BRAT diet foods are low in fiber, protein and fat, thereby lacking enough nutrients. (1)
The reasoning behind the BRAT diet is that it includes binding foods that are low in fiber and can help to make stools firmer. It also includes bananas that are rich in potassium and help replace nutrients that are lost due to vomiting or diarrhea. People follow the BRAT diet to help their bodies ease back into normal eating after having diarrhea or upset stomach.
Because the BRAT diet does not provide all of the elements of a healthy diet, children and adults should only follow it for a short period of time. If you stick to only BRAT foods for too long, your body can become malnourished, which makes it hard for you to get better again. Within 24 hours after vomiting or having diarrhea, you should begin to eat a regular diet that includes both fruits and vegetables. (2)
There’s research to back up the theory that eating a regular diet is more effective in treating diarrhea. A 2006 study conducted at Columbia University School of Nursing sought to determine the efficacy of a dietary intervention to reduce the frequency of bowel movements and improve stool consistency in HIV patients with a history of recurring diarrhea episodes. The treatment group followed a low-fat, low insoluble fiber, lactose-free, high soluble fiber and caffeine-free diet. They experienced a 28 percent reduction in stool frequency (compared to 15 percent for the control group) and a 20 percent improvement in stool consistency (compared to 8 percent). (3)
This study suggests that sticking to nutrient-dense foods that serve as bulking agents can help improve the symptoms of diarrhea, and it’s not necessary to restrict yourself to just BRAT diet foods.
10 Best Foods for Diarrhea
When you have diarrhea, you want to avoid foods that are going to aggravate your symptoms and stay nourished so you can recover quickly. The following nutrient-dense foods are easy on the digestive system and help with nutrient absorption, boosting your immune system, and keeping you energized and hydrated.
1. Bone Broth
Bone broth is rich in vital nutrients that support your gut and immune system. It helps with the growth of probiotics in the gut and supports healthy inflammation levels in the digestive system. It’s also easily digested and soothes the digestive system, making it the perfect food for when you have diarrhea.
By using the healing power of bone broth, you ensure that you get the nutrients you need to get well. And because it’s in liquid form, it’s easy on the stomach and doesn’t have to be broken down. You can use protein powder made from bone broth to make preparing this nutrient-rich food as easy as possible.
2. Probiotic Foods
Probiotic foods and supplements have been extensively studied in the prevention and treatment of diarrheal diseases, especially for children. According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, the vast majority of published trials show a statistically significant benefit of probiotic strains, mostly Lactobacillus GG and S. boulardii, in the treatment of diarrhea. On average, probiotics were able to reduce the duration of diarrhea by approximately one day in study participants. They help by providing the body with food bacteria and fighting off infections and other causes of diarrhea. (4)
The greatest probiotic foods that help relieve diarrhea and other digestive issues include cultured vegetables (like sauerkraut and kimchi), kombucha, natto, apple cider vinegar, miso and yogurt. It’s true that processed, conventional dairy can be hard to digest and make diarrhea worse, but raw, cultured dairy like yogurt is high in probiotics and can support bowel function.
Soluble fiber can absorb excess fluid in the bowels and add bulk to loose stools. Oats are gluten-free and high in soluble fiber. They help firm up stool and sweep through the digestive tract, pulling toxins and waste along with them. It’s helpful to soak oats overnight, which reduces antinutrients and enzymes that can disturb nutrient absorption and digestion. Research suggests that bulking agents like oat bran can be employed as natural diarrhea remedies. (5)
Bananas are easily digested, which is why they’re part of the BRAT diet. The high level of potassium banana nutrition provides helps replace lost electrolytes, which is important when the body loses fluids and nutrients because of diarrhea.
Research has found that unripe, green bananas are beneficial when you have diarrhea. Green bananas contain digestive-resistant starches that feed healthy bacteria in the gut. They don’t make you gassy, and they help add bulk to your stool. A 2001 study published in Gastroenterology found that a rice-based diet containing cooked green bananas significantly reduced the amounts of stool in infants with diarrhea and reduced diarrheal duration. (6)
To cook green bananas, simply place bananas, water and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for five minutes until the bananas are tender. Drain the water and eat the bananas plain or with another food for diarrhea, like oatmeal.
5. Vegetable Juice (with Carrots and Other Root Vegetables)
When you have diarrhea, it’s important that you eat enough nutrients in order to boost your immune system and allow your body to recover. That’s why the BRAT diet isn’t recommended for more than a 24-hour period. Drinking vegetable juices that provide a range of vital vitamins and minerals can be beneficial, but it’s important that you use vegetables that won’t worsen your diarrhea symptoms.
Root vegetables are healing foods, and they can soothe the digestive system. Combine diarrhea foods like carrots, celery, spinach and ginger. They all provide alkaline minerals and can help nourish the intestines and remove toxins from the body. Carrot juice, for example, provides vitamins A, C, D, E and K, as well as many minerals, such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. It has a high fiber content and helps add bulk to your stool while calming your digestive system. It also has an absorbent power and does not diminish the intestinal loss of water and electrolytes. (7)
6. Sweet Potatoes
According to research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, the sweet potato is an extremely versatile vegetable that possesses high nutritional value. (8) Sweet potatoes have strong anti-inflammatory properties and are packed with potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin B6. In fact, 180 grams of sweet potatoes contain 692 percent of your daily recommended value of vitamin A, while white potatoes contain 0 percent.
Sweet potatoes are more nutritious than white potatoes, and they still provide insoluble fiber, helping firm up stool and reduce the symptoms of diarrhea. Compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes have a lower score on the glycemic index, so your body is thought to absorb their sugar at a slower pace. If you find that sweet potatoes don’t help add bulk to stool and provide the body with energy, then try white potatoes, which contain more starch.
7. Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil benefits the digestive system in multiple ways. In fact, it can help to relieve both constipation and diarrhea.
A 2015 study found that flaxseed oil was able to reduce the castor oil-induced diarrheal score of mice by 84 percent and intestinal secretions by 33 percent. (9) Flaxseed oil is one of the richest sources of vegetable-based, vital omega-3 fatty acids, so it helps keep your body well-nourished while it fights inflammation and boosts your immune system.
Ginger has been used for thousands of years as an effective digestive aid. Although ginger is more commonly known for its ability to ease nausea and vomiting, studies show that it can effectively inhibit diarrhea as well. (10)
Ginger health benefits also includes its ability to prevent the spread of bacteria that may lead to diarrhea in the first place. Eating whole ginger, drinking fresh ginger juice and inhaling diffused ginger essential oil are all highly effective ways to curb stomach disorders. (11)
Research shows that dehydration is a major complication associated with diarrhea. Mild and severe diarrhea can result in the loss of dangerously large amounts of fluids. If you have diarrhea, drink enough liquids to keep your urine looking clear — that’s about eight to 10 glasses of water a day. A helpful rule of thumb is to drink at least one glass of water every time you have a loose bowel movement.
Evidence suggests that for infants and children with diarrhea, breastfeeding reduces the risk of dehydration, and it’s important to discourage drinking fruit juices and carbonated drinks because they can increase the risk of dehydration. (12)
10. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil can reduce bowel inflammation and soothe the digestive tract, reducing loose stools. It also has a cooling sensation and calming effect on the body. It soothes the gastric lining and colon because of its ability to reduce muscle spasms. Studies show that peppermint oil is effective in relieving abdominal pain in people with diarrhea because of its anti-spasmotic properties. (13)
BRAT Diet Precautions
If the BRAT diet or other foods for diarrhea don’t work after four to five days (two days for an infant or child), it’s time to see your health care provider. She will be able to determine whether your diarrhea is caused by a more serious condition and can recommend a more extensive treatment. She will also make sure that you aren’t becoming dehydrated and losing weight too quickly.
Final Thoughts on the BRAT Diet
- The BRAT diet includes bananas, rice, applesauce and toast — all bland foods that are said to be easy on the digestive system.
- BRAT diet foods may be helpful for the first 24 hours of experiencing diarrhea symptoms, but it’s not recommended to continue this diet for longer periods of time because it lacks vital nutrients that the body needs to get well and thrive.
- Other foods that help to treat diarrhea include probiotic foods, bone broth, oats, carrot juice and more. Combined with a day on the BRAT diet, these anti-diarrhea foods can help relieve symptoms and improve digestion.
- If the BRAT diet or other foods for diarrhea don’t work after four to five days (two days for an infant or child), it’s time to see your health care provider.