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BRAT diet: The Benefits and Risks When Treating Diarrhea

Danielle Dent-Breen's picture
Sick child BRAT diet

"Mom, my tummy is sick." Every mom knows how those words can strike fear into the heart of even the most veteran parents. If your child has diarrhea or a stomach virus, your physician may recommend the BRAT diet until symptoms pass. Keep reading to learn more about this diet, why it works, what risks can be associated with its use, and other food alternatives that may also be beneficial in helping get your child's health back on track.


What is the BRAT diet?

The BRAT diet derives its name from the first letter of the four foods included in the diet: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. These foods are easy on the stomach and generally well-tolerated, as they are bland in flavor and easily digested. As nausea and diarrhea are relieved, your child (and YOU) can rest and make a quicker recovery.

How does the BRAT diet work?

The BRAT diet alieviates symptoms of nausea and vomiting because the foods are not strongly flavored and nave little to no smell. Bananas contain pectin, a starch found in fruits that has a calming effect in the digestive tract. Research has shown that bananas and rice are both effective treatments for diarrhea, and actually lead to production of firmer stools and faster recovery. It should be noted that many commercially prepared brands of applesauce contain large amounts of sugar. When treating a child with the BRAT diet, it is recommended that only natural, no-sugar-added applesauce be used, as sugar can irritate the stomach and lead to worsening of symptoms.

Is it safe to follow the BRAT diet?

The BRAT diet is a safe and effective treatment for most people, to provide short-term relief of diarrhea and nausea. Because of the very limited nature of nutrients provided by the BRAT diet, parents should know that this diet is recommended for no longer than 48 hours, and other mild foods should be introduced as soon as is reasonable. If your child has diabetes, it is important to know that this diet is high in carbohydrate intake,and very low in protein and fat, so check with your pediatrician before changing their diet. Blood sugar levels will need to be closely monitored, according to the protocol established with your pediatrician.

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At the end of the BRAT diet, gradually add in these foods:

When your child's symptoms are beginning to resolve, begin slowly adding in other bland foods, such as saltine crackers, clear broth, potatoes without butter or cream, low-sugar oatmeal, and watermelon.

Watch for dehydration:

It's important to remember that vomiting, diarrhea, and fever can quickly deplete your child's body of fluids. It is important to freely offer water, breastmilk, coconut water, ginger or peppermint tea, and rehydration drinks specifically designed for this purpose. Children who are especially ill may appreciate popcicles or jello, but again, beware of too much sugar, which can further irritate their sensitive tummy.

Food to avoid:

When your child is ill, it's sometimes tempting to just let them eat anything that sounds good to them. But there are some foods that may be better avoided until your child has been well for at least 24 hours. Dairy products can be especially difficult for a child to digest during an illness. The exception, of course, is high-quality, low-sugar yogurt and milk kefir because they contain large amounts of beneficial probiotic bacteria that can help the gut to heal faster. Spicy foods and foods with high fat content, such as fried foods, often make diarrhea worse.

When you should see a doctor:

If symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting persist for longer than two days, is frequent, recurrent, or severe, or if your child's illness is accompanied by a temperature of greater than 102ºF , you should visit your pediatrician. Also if diarrhea is accompanied by rectal pain or bleeding, see a physician immediately. Very young children should be monitored for symptoms of dehydration including reduced urine output, dry lips and inner cheeks, extreme thirst, sunken "soft spot" on an infant's head, or inability to produce tears when crying.