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While research overwhelmingly indicates that diets are ineffective in helping with weight loss and more harmful than helpful, it is important to acknowledge that not all diets are created or engaged in with the intention of losing weight or altering one’s body. Certain medical health symptoms can be reduced or alleviated via dietary alteration.
As such, some diets have cropped up that are less about adhering to societal standards of beauty and more about relief from medical illness. Individuals might engage in these for the right reasons, however, others might attempt to use the diet to alter their bodies through restriction.
One such diet that was intended as a temporary way of eating to relieve physical pain and has become concerning in its overuse is referred to as the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast) Diet.
What is the BRAT Diet?
As the acronym of its name suggests, the BRAT diet is one where an individual primarily eats a combination of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
This combination of foods might sound familiar to you as it was primarily recommended for children getting over stomach viruses. The original intention was for individuals to reduce symptoms of stomach illness such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting through eating only bland foods that are easy for the body to digest .
The recommended use of the BRAT diet by medical professionals was once so commonly accepted that emergency department discharge instructions would contain suggestions/instructions for it .
As one article succinctly states, the goal of the BRAT diet is “to reduce the volume and frequency of stool .”
Does the BRAT Diet Really Help?
The BRAT diet would not have reached clinically-accepted notoriety if there weren’t some truth to its effectiveness.
The foods of the BRAT diet are starchy and low-fiber, which might improve diarrhea symptoms by making stools firmer.
Additionally, because these foods are low in fat and protein, they are more gentle on the digestive system.
Even with these benefits, it seems that “a consensus has developed that this dietary restriction is a suboptimal choice because it is low in protein, fat, and energy content. This limited intake is not considered helpful to the body’s healing or immune response to infection .” In fact, “unnecessarily withholding nutrition during the acute phase of illness can be counterproductive .”
One study points out that, while the BRAT diet appears effective in reducing stool and vomit, there is a trade-off that cannot be ignored – it causes dehydration and compromised recovery.
One article clearly states that “due to its risks and restrictive nature, the American Academy of Pediatrics do not recommend the use of the BRAT diet for children with diarrhea .”
The widespread use of the BRAT diet was predicated on the idea that the impact a restricted BRAT diet had on gastrointestinal symptoms was better than unrestricted eating. Research has since learned that this is not the case and that “unrestricted diets do not worsen the course or symptoms of mild diarrhea .”
Even for mild to severe diarrhea, the restrictions and limitations offer far more opportunity for variety than the BRAT diet, specifying that only “fatty foods and foods high in simple sugars (including sweetened teas, juices, and soft drinks) should be avoided .”
This study asserts that “lean meats, yogurts, fruits, and vegetables, as well as complex carbohydrates like rice, wheat, potatoes, bread, and cereals” can all be consumed without worsening gastrointestinal distress symptoms .
BRAT Diet and Eating Disorders
There are absolutely concerns to be had for anyone following the BRAT diet that is not recommended to do so by a medical professional.
Often, this will occur in individuals with the motivation of either losing weight or eating “healthy.”
Restricting one’s diet when not recommended to by a physician or registered dietitian is never a safe or sound or idea.
Engaging in the BRAT diet long-term and without eventually reincorporating all food groups can cause one to be severely malnourished and require hospitalization and potential gastric tube feeding.
Severe restriction of food intake can also lead to psychological challenges such as internalizing beliefs based on what foods are “allowed” and what foods are not. An individual might begin to feel extreme shame or guilt when consuming a food not included in the BRAT diet, leading them to engage in eating disorder behaviors of either furthering restriction or engaging in purging of some sort.
If you or a loved one has been recommended the BRAT diet, you might first ask your Doctor why they are recommending this despite evidence that it is more harmful than helpful. Perhaps ask them if they can recommend an effective way for you to engage with food and maintain nourishment and hydration while healing from gastrointestinal distress.
Additionally, if someone you care for is engaging in BRAT-like food rules as a way-of-life, this is cause for concern and it might help for you to ask questions about why they are making this decisions and supporting them in learning why it might be harmful to them.
- Is The Carnivore Diet Dangerous?
- Is the DASH Diet Safe?
- Is The Flexitarian Diet Healthy?
- Is the Paleo Diet Healthy?
- What are the Effects of Fad Diets?
- Is the Grazing Diet Safe?
Resources: Olsen, N. (2020). What to know about the BRAT diet. Medical News Today. Retrieved from BRAT diet: Benefits, risks, and treating diarrhea (medicalnewstoday.com).  Ntaba, D. (2004). BRAT diet: axiom or unsubstantiated myth? Emergency Medicine News; 26:13.
Author: Margot Rittenhouse, MS, LPC, NCC
Page Last Reviewed on May 2, 2022, and Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC