Most of the time, when you have any sort of illness, mustering an appetite to eat anything can be somewhat difficult. Particularly if you have a fever, you may lose your appetite altogether, and when you have a cold or flu, the very notion of preparing and eating food can be rather unappealing.
However, when it comes to eating during and after being sick, nothing compares to the challenges of dealing with the stomach flu or the norovirus.
Between nausea, endless vomiting, and violent diarrhea, your body wants absolutely nothing to do with eating, and it can even be a real challenge to keep down enough fluids to prevent severe dehydration.
Perhaps you can even recall back to your own childhood when your parents or caretakers tried to encourage you to take a few nibbles of dry toast the day after your stomach bug finally seemed to blow over.
The BRAT diet has long been recommended by pediatricians and physicians for children and adults who are recovering from a stomach virus.
In this article, we will explain what the BRAT diet is, what you can eat on the BRAT diet, and what foods to avoid after a stomach virus.
We will cover:
- What is the BRAT Diet?
- What Can You Eat On the BRAT Diet?
Let’s jump in!
What is the BRAT Diet?
The BRAT diet is a bland and basic diet specifically designed to be gentle on the stomach when you need to eat when you’re nauseous, have diarrhea, or are recovering from a stomach virus or food poisoning.
The diet is so named based on the four main easy-to-digest foods in the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
The BRAT diet foods are low in fiber and bland, making them palatable when you don’t have much of an appetite, and the lack of fiber can help reduce the severity of diarrhea and firm-up stools.
Although the BRAT diet has long been recommended by pediatricians to treat diarrhea and recover from a stomach virus in children, the same basic diet can be followed for stomach issues or digestive distress at any age or from any cause—virus, food poisoning, getting over a parasite, a night of too much imbibing, traveler’s diarrhea, etc.
Unlike most popular diets like the keto diet, vegan diet, or even 30-day diets like Whole30, the BRAT diet is not a weight loss diet, health-promoting diet, or diet intended to be followed for more than a couple of days.
Rather, the BRAT diet is designed to either support your bare necessities in terms of sustenance while you deal with a stomach issue or serve as a short-term bridge back to normal eating after dealing with a nasty bout of the stomach virus or food poisoning.
Focusing on eating the four bland, easy-to-digest BRAT diet foods can help settle your stomach and give you a few necessary calories, but you won’t be getting a nutritious, balanced diet for long-term health support.
Ultimately, it is best to follow the BRAT diet only as long as necessary until you can tolerate more nourishing and nutrient-rich foods.
Eating only bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast will really only provide your body with simple carbohydrates. There is very little fiber, fat, proteins, vitamins, and minerals in the BRAT diet foods, so extended reliance on this barebones diet plan can result in deficiencies and malnutrition.
In general, it is advisable to consult your child’s pediatrician or your own healthcare provider immediately if severe diarrhea and vomiting continue for more than 24 to 48 hours, depending on your child’s age, or if you are the one who is sick, your health status.
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can result if you are unable to keep enough fluids down, and there may be anti-nausea medications or IV fluids that will be a necessary part of your treatment.
What Can You Eat On the BRAT Diet?
The BRAT diet, in its unmodified form, only includes four foods: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
These foods are sometimes considered “binding foods” because they are low in fiber, so they can firm up the stool and slow down the passage of waste in your colon, allowing more water to be reabsorbed. This will hopefully help prevent watery diarrhea from continuing and calm your bowels down.
The BRAT diet foods are also gentle on the stomach because they consist primarily of simple carbohydrates, have very little fiber, and have no strong flavors, spices, rich or heavy fats, or off-putting aromas that might otherwise be completely unappealing when you are queasy.
Let’s take a look at each one of these components in more depth:
Bananas are an important part of the BRAT diet because they contain antioxidants and natural electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium, so they can help replace the electrolytes lost in excessive diarrhea, vomiting, and fever sweats associated with a stomach illness.
Bananas also contain mostly simple carbohydrates, so they are easier to digest than fruits like apples and berries, which contain compounds like pectin and more fiber, which is harder on your digestive system.
Particularly if you are caring for a sick kiddo, you can make the banana more palatable and appealing by preparing it in different ways.
For school-aged children, little slices that they can suck and nibble on might be easier to stomach from a mental standpoint than plopping a whole banana in front of a nauseated kid.
For toddlers, you can mash the banana with the backside of a fork and even heat it up in the microwave for a few seconds to make a warm mash. If you have a blender, you can purée the banana with a little bit of rice milk and make a baby food or applesauce consistency.
As an adult, if you are dealing with your own stomach woes, it could be helpful to freeze an unpeeled banana and then carefully cut small little slices with a sharp knife. You can then suck on these slices one at a time, eventually swallowing, to get the sugar and electrolytes rather than having to chow down on a whole banana.
Rice is an extremely versatile grain that comes in all sorts of varieties. Although when you are healthy, brown rice, wild rice, and some of the other unique forms of rice can be more nutritious, the rice that you should eat on the BRAT diet should be white rice.
Again, BRAT diet foods are specifically chosen because they are low in fiber and easy to digest; white rice is stripped of the outer hull or bran, which reduces the fiber content and makes the digestive process much easier.
You also want to avoid any type of heavy sauces or seasonings on your rice. A sprinkle of sea salt, Himalayan sea salt, or Celtic sea salt is a great way to get a few more electrolytes and add a little bit of flavor without causing digestive distress.
Avoid anything spicy or heavy, including things like chili sauce, duck sauce, or teriyaki sauce. A light dash of soy sauce might work, depending on how queasy you feel.
Applesauce is one of the BRAT diet foods because it provides simple sugars to help keep your blood sugar up, and the puréed form makes applesauce easier to digest than whole apples.
Essentially, applesauce is made by cooking and then turning or using a food mill to break down the pulp of the fruit. In a lot of cases, the peel has been removed from the apple.
The apple peel contains a lot of pectin, which is a type of prebiotic fiber that, while normally great for digestion and feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut, is not ideal when you already have diarrhea because it is more difficult to digest.
This type of fiber also delays gastric emptying, which is typically something that is seen as ideal because it helps you stay fuller for longer and can help control appetite.
However, when you are vomiting or have had a stomach virus in which you have been throwing up consistently, you want the food in your stomach to digest and pass through quickly onto the intestines so that the risk of vomiting it back up decreases.
Essentially, the quicker it has passed onto the next stage of digestion, the less chance there is that you will be hugging the toilet and seeing it come back up.
Additionally, the cooking process to make applesauce helps break down the longer polysaccharides and cellulose molecules in the apple, again making the digestion process easier.
Basically, some of the work that your stomach and digestive system would normally have to do to break down a raw apple into simple glucose molecules has already been partially done when it is consumed in applesauce form.
You can either buy store-bought applesauce or make your own over the stove with a food mill. Avoid using heavy seasonings like a lot of cinnamon and sugar. A small sprinkle, if necessary, is best.
Toast, which is one of the BRAT diet foods, is one of the easiest foods to reintroduce after your digestive system has been through a hurricane of the stomach flu or food poisoning.
Remember, the BRAT diet focuses on low-fiber foods, so the toast you eat should be made from white bread, oat bread, potato bread, or something similar rather than whole wheat bread or some type of high-fiber bread with a lot of seeds and bran.
Depending on your particular stomach virus symptoms, it is best to avoid any kind of topping on the toast, particularly heavy things like peanut butter or almond butter. A small pat of regular butter or a little drizzle of honey might work.
Other BRAT Diet Foods
The basic BRAT diet only includes bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. However, other bland foods can be potentially workable on the diet as you are recovering from a stomach illness, particularly if you have tried and successfully kept down some or all of the BRAT diet foods and are ready to take the next step toward more normal eating.
Start small, though, and make sure your stomach is tolerating solid food without exacerbating nausea and vomiting.
Additionally, if you were wiped out with the stomach virus out of the blue and live alone, you might not have access to the BRAT diet foods at home, so choosing other bland, easily digestible foods can be good BRAT diet substitutes.
Examples include saltines or water crackers, plain rice cakes, dry clean cereal like rice Chex or Cheerios, baby food rice cereal, boiled and mashed plain white potatoes, Jello, popsicles, and clear broth. You can also try sipping on apple juice or flat Ginger Ale.
Overall, the BRAT diet is all about providing your body with a few easy-to-digest foods to keep your strength up without exacerbating your GI symptoms during and after a stomach virus.
Although not intended to be a long-term diet, the BRAT diet can be a bridge back to normal eating by helping to settle your stomach and your stool, and give your body some bland foods when you can’t really fathom eating.
What if you haven’t had the stomach flu but instead are looking to ease yourself back to eating after a fast? If so, check out our article, Here Are The 10 Best Foods To Break A Fast.