BRAT Diet: not enough food for nausea

woman refusing toast
November 25, 2016
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Everyone knows how to fix up an upset stomach—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gastroenteritis—just do what grandma always said. Give your tummy a rest with a bland diet called BRAT: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast.

It wasn’t just grandma who told you that. Most physicians agreed with her, and the BRAT diet was pretty much a given.

Well…the BRAT diet alone isn’t the answer, grandma. Its recommended foods are low in fiber, protein, and fat—too low to keep us well nourished, and too low to counterattack the cause of your upset and repair the damage.

Beyond BRAT

The new consensus is that we should get on, or back to, a well balanced diet as soon as we can. The foods in the BRAT diet are a good starting point, but you should eat a much wider variety of vegetables as well as meat, beans, nuts or other high fiber foods, as soon as you can keep food down. (While you’re actively vomiting, restrict yourself to liquids.)

But first things first. We’re talking about the gut, where something’s out of whack. That almost always means our good bacteria are somehow confounded by something and in disarray. This is certainly the case if your trouble is caused by antibiotics, which are gut enemy number one.

So what’s our good bacteria’s best friend?

Probiotics. I recommend a good turbocharged punch of 20 probiotic capsules or tablets mixed with rice bran—all at once, as soon as you have a symptom. This probiotic flush should crowd out the damaging bacteria with health supporting ones.

After that, here’s the menu. Good nutrition that’s easy on the gut.

Guzzle up

Drink more fluids than you feel like. Dehydration is an epic enemy that requires nothing but inaction on your part to mess things up. Plenty of water is fine. Adding broth or coconut water, or adding pure maple syrup to anything you drink, is a great way to help replenish lost electrolytes.

Soup and stew. Any good diet includes vegetables and meats. When your stomach is troubled, that’s still the case. Just give tummy some help by breaking down those ingredients before they hit your digestive system. That means slow, low-temperature cooking so everything’s nice and tender. Even better, once the meat and veggies are soft enough, puree them into soup. Here come plenty of essential micronutrients, and if beef or lamb are on the menu, here comes a good helping of zinc, which can:

  • Boost your immune function
  • Help reduce intestinal permeability—to prevent unwanted visitors out of your intestines and into your body
  • Help reduce how long your diarrhea lasts

But go easy on seasonings, especially spicy ones. Exception: ginger is a famous stomach soother.

Applesauce. Grandma was right about the applesauce, though she probably didn’t know why—pectin. It’s a special, soluble fiber that serves as a prebiotic that:

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  • Feeds and balances your gut microflora
  • Increases your bifidobacteria levels
  • Reduces gut inflammation
  • Reduces intestinal permeability and fluid loss

Treat apples the same as other fruits and veggies—slow cook them into applesauce.

Bone broth. If flu is what’s causing your distress, bone broth is a super go-to fixer upper. It’s one of a very few protein-rich foods that’s easily digestible. And it gets bonus points for an unusually potent combination of amino acids that are remarkable gut fixers—glycine, arginine, and glutamine.

Just to make the nutrient party even more fun, bone broth also contains minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, that help boost your intake of micronutrients. Any bones will do—chicken, turkey, beef, lamb.

Bananas. Right again, grandma. Long before the scientific method poked its curious nose into everything, observtion and intuition ruled. In the case of BRAT, no one knew exactly why bananas were good for a bad stomach—they just saw that they worked, especially in controlling diarrhea.

Why? Science figured it out.

Bananas are loaded with potassium, an electrolyte that your body loses during diarrhea and vomiting. They also contain a highly fermentable insoluble fiber called resistant starch, which is coming on strong as a new food superhero. Unlike most others, resistant starch “resists” your digestive enzymes and becomes food for good bacteria in your colon. These ferment to produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids—like acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid—that stimulate fluid, sodium, and potassium absorption. All of which help with regularity, hydration, and electrolyte replenishment in a big way.

Rice bran. Natural, unprocessed rice is a health-boosting miracle. Unfortunately, most of the rice the world consumes is processed to death—”polished” to remove the bran, the outer coating that contains the most valuable nutrients. I’m no fan of processed foods, but rice is different. The bran used to spoil soon after polishing, so it was discarded, leaving people to settle for the less nutritious white remainder.

No longer. A handful of companies have found safe, natural ways to stabilize the bran. The result is one of the most nutrient rich foods on the planet, with healing and preventive powers too numerous to list. I’m pretty sure it’ll fix you up in a matter of days.

Stop it before it stops you

Of course, the more you practice good health, the less likely you are to need any of these fixer uppers.

  • Seven to eight hours sleep a night.
  • No smoking, moderate alcohol, limited caffeinated and sugary drinks.
  • Half an ounce per pound of body weight per day. So: 140 pounds? 70 ounces of water—paced through the day. Easier than it sounds.
  • Whole, fresh foods—lean meats and poultry, organic fruits and vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy (or alternatives e.g., almond or rice milk).
  • Good fats like avocado and olive and sesame oils.
  • Celery, garlic, raw cacao, cayenne pepper, and eggs.
  • No high-sodium foods, fast food, sugar, processed food, or trans fats.
  • De-stress with therapy, meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, deep breathing, visualization, and exercise.
  • Walk for 10–15 minutes a day, increasing your time and distance, or interval and weight training.

Be sure to see your doctor if your symptoms last more than a couple of days, or include fever, lightheadedness, or any other symptoms that aren’t directly stomach related.

Take good care.

References

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