The BRAT diet used to be popular, but doctors no longer recommend it. Here's why. (2024)

Though many diets get a bad rap for being overly complex and hard to follow, others are exceedingly simple. The BRAT diet is one such diet, and was once commonly recommended by doctors as a way to help children dealing with an upset stomach. "As a mother of three adult daughters, I was introduced to the BRAT diet by their pediatrician during my early years of motherhood," saysJen Messer MS, RDN, a nutrition consultant and registered dietitian atJen Messer Nutrition.

But today, the BRAT diet is no longer recommended under most circ*mstances as "there is not sufficient evidence that following this restrictive diet is necessary or warranted," says Kate Zeratsky, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

What is the BRAT diet?

BRAT is an acronym that stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast − the foods doctors wanted patients to eat when they recommended the diet. "It is thought that these foods are easy to digest in cases of acute gastrointestinal distress such as nausea or vomiting in children or adults or during pregnancy," explains Zeratsky.

Such dietary restrictions were never recommended for months or even weeks as some diets are, but days only. "The BRAT diet was typically followed for only a short period of time, usually 24 to 48 hours, to give the digestive system time to recover," explains Messer.

One of the diet's advantages that made it popular for many parents is that it suggested foods most children are already familiar with, tolerate well and often find comforting, "which can be helpful when they are feeling sick and not up to eating a variety of foods," says Messer.

What is the BRAT diet supposed to help with?

Beyond granting child-preferred food options, the diet had additional designs. These included recommending foods believed to reduce strain on the gut and ones that wouldn't irritate the intestines. "It was thought that these four foods are gentle on the digestive system," offersPerri Halperin, MS, RD, clinical nutrition coordinator at Mount Sinai Health System.

The diet was, (and still is, albeit rarely), also followed by adults who misunderstood its objectives and thought it could help one lose weight. It was never created for that purpose, however, and shouldn't be followed as a weight management tool. "The BRAT diet should never be followed for weight loss as its extremely low in protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamin and minerals," urgesKristen Smith, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and registered dietitian at Piedmont Health.

Why is the BRAT diet no longer recommended?

Even within its original intended purposes, the diet is rarely suggested today the way it used to be. "Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of the BRAT diet, it's not commonly recommended anymore due to the lack of scientific evidence to support," explains Smith.Indeed, The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend the BRAT diet, "but rather supports that a child with minimal or no dehydration (such as what happens when they are sick) should be encouraged to continue his or her usual diet and drink adequate fluids," says Messer.

One of the reasons for change is because too many food groups and essential nutrients were left out of the BRAT diet."This is a restrictive diet,"says Zeratsky. "It is inadequate of nutrients like calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber."

For adults and children struggling with an upset stomach, it's now known that including more nutrients in one's diet, while temporarily avoiding the foods that aggravate matters, is a better option. "Abland diet is a more inclusive way to gently provide some nutrients to your body during times of GI distress," offersHalperin. She says such items includethe foods popularized by the BRAT diet, namely bananas, rice, applesauce and toast, but also other easy-to-digest foods like dry cereal, crackers, oatmeal, boiled potatoes, cooked carrots, and skinless chicken and broth.

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For those parents that appreciate the simplicity of the BRAT diet, it may still be OK to replace a meal or two with its four food recommendations while a child is struggling with stomach pains, but it should no longer be thought of as sound dietary advice.

"The BRAT diet was never intended to be followed for an extended period, but if you use it for short time and if the BRAT foods are part of you or your child's regular diet, it is unlikely to cause any harm," says Messer. "Still, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional if you or your child are experiencing digestive issues to determine the best course of action."

The BRAT diet used to be popular, but doctors no longer recommend it. Here's why. (2024)

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