Sick Girl

The BRAT diet isn't a weight-loss trick. It's a traditional treatment for diarrhea and a way to keep food down when you're feeling sick, so you get enough calories to help you get well.

What Makes a BRAT

The BRAT diet is a traditional diet for children with upset tummies, nausea and vomiting, or diarrhea. Adults can use it, too.

The four elements are:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast

These are all foods that most kids like. The simple flavors are less likely to trigger nausea than more complex foods. There are no spices or strong acids to irritate an upset stomach. The BRAT foods are thought to act as "binders," meaning they're a little bit constipating. This can be a good thing when a child (or an adult) has diarrhea.

Keeping a Healthy Diet

Some pediatricians no longer advise parents to use the BRAT diet, for two reasons. One is a concern that children on the diet won't get the nutrition they need. This is a valid worry if parents continue the child on the diet for more than a day or so.

In addition, there isn't any scientific evidence to prove that the BRAT diet helps people recover from diarrhea or other stomach illnesses more quickly than any other diet. Since it's not proven, there's no real medical reason to use it. Keeping the child on his or her normal diet, as long as the child accepts the food and is able to keep it down, is a perfectly acceptable option. Probably the best choice is to offer the child everyday food first, but to keep the BRAT diet in mind. The simple, bland, familiar flavors may be just what the doctor ordered when a child isn't feeling well, whether it's diarrhea or the flu.

Working Up to the BRAT

Severe nausea needs even simpler foods than the BRAT diet. If toast and rice won't stay down, try resting the stomach entirely for a few hours. Then start with clear liquids like water, ginger ale, broth, or a sports drink mixed with water. Small sips are more likely to stay down than big gulps.

Once liquids are well-tolerated (not causing vomiting), try slowly adding the BRAT foods or other simple, bland foods. If liquids continue to trigger vomiting, check with a doctor. Dehydration is dangerous, especially in children. You may need to go to the hospital, where intravenous liquids can be given.

Foods to Avoid

Some foods can make diarrhea worse. Sugary drinks, although they may taste appealing, can contribute to diarrhea. As the sugar passes through the digestive system, it attracts more water and makes stools runnier.

Sports drinks, for example, may be appealing when you're nauseous because they taste good and contain electrolytes your body needs. But most sports drinks are too heavy on the sugar. They should be diluted with at least an equal amount of water before being offered to someone with diarrhea.

Other foods to avoid include:

  • Citrus fruits and juices, which can be irritating to tender tummies.
  • Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics (causing increased urination). Keeping hydrated is important when you're sick, and especially with diarrhea. Caffeinated drinks aren't actually dehydrating, but they're not as efficient for hydration as non-caffeinated beverages. Caffeine also acts as a laxative-not what you want when you have diarrhea!
  • Milk and other dairy products, but only if they seem to make diarrhea worse. Some people are sensitive to the lactose in milk, which can cause diarrhea. Others don't have this problem at all.

When to Call the Doctor

The BRAT diet is for mild to moderate cases of diarrhea and nausea, not for serious illness. Reasons to seek medical help include:

  • Signs of dehydration. These include not urinating (young children should go at least once in eight hours), crying without making tears, and having a dry-looking mouth or sunken eyes. Dehydration, especially in young children, is a reason to head for the emergency room.
  • Diarrhea that won't go away. Diarrhea should start to get better within a few days.
  • Blood in the stools. Bloody diarrhea is a reason to call the doctor right away.
  • Vomiting that won't stop. Constant vomiting, especially when there's no food in the stomach, can be a sign of a more serious illness.