Q. I’ve heard my 20 something, backpacking children speak of the BRAT diet for gastro. What is it?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 02 April 2014.
Tagged: diarrhoea, healthy cooking, healthy eating, tips, travel

Q. I’ve heard my 20 something, backpacking children speak of the BRAT diet for gastro.  What is it?

The BRAT diet was originally used to treat diarrhoea in children. However it is now recommended that it should only be used for 24 hours and children should resume their normal diet after this period as it doesn’t provide enough protein and other nutrients to help a child recover from illness.

The acronym BRAT stands for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. These are the ‘light’ bland low-fibre foods to treat yourself with if you get gastro. For example:

Breakfast

Half a mashed banana on

Dry toast, no butter or margarine

Weak black tea with half spoon of sugar or honey

Morning tea (or two hours later)

Half a cup of applesauce or however much you can manage

Diluted flat lemonade

Lunch

Small bowl of boiled white rice

Rehydration drink

Afternoon

Half a cup of applesauce or however much you can manage

Diluted flat lemonade

Dinner

Boiled or steamed chicken breast

Bowl of boiled white rice

Mug of clear chicken broth

In between meals

Suck on ice blocks (assuming the water is clean)

Frozen ice cordial

Rehydration drink

Boiled tea or herbal tea or water with sugar/honey

Fluid is very important

Keep your fluid intake up, eat what you can. Little and often is better than big and once only.

There are many variations on this diet; a friend’s doctor prescribed honey, rice and salt for gastro problems years ago and I remember as child being given dilute flat lemonade and dry crackers or plain toast.

The idea behind them all is to provide electrolytes, fluids and starch in bland low fibre form.

Other similar foods include crackers, cooked cereals, and pasta – all made from the low fibre white flour NOT wholegrain.

BRAT is not the whole answer

Pardon the pun but BRAT is only half the solution. The other half is an electrolyte solution. In addition to the BRAT components it is advisable to give children suitable, paediatric electrolyte drinks to keep up their fluids. For children 12 months and over you can give diluted fruit juices or diluted lemonade (1 part juice or lemonade to 4 parts water). Avoid using full strength juices and lemonade as the high sugar content can make the diarrhoea worse.

The main danger in diarrhoeal illnesses is dehydration as most of the fluid ingested can be lost through the bowel in the runny stools. This is especially a problem if the child is vomiting as well. As the child’s stools become more solid you can slowly return to a normal diet but leave high fibre foods like whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables until your child is almost completely recovered.

BRAT variations

According to Wikipedia variations to the BRAT diet include BRATT which adds Tea, BRATTY which includes Tea and Yoghurt, and BRATCH which adds boiled chicken to the mix. In some BRAT diets the T may stand for Tapioca.

For more advice on what to do for diarrhoea see my post Eat to beat gastro and diarrhoea. The Australian Government’s Health Direct website also has some useful advice.

So why are your 20 somethings talking about BRAT?

Many young backpackers find themselves with a tummy upset of one sort or another while they’re travelling around the world. This is especially so if they’re travelling in developing countries where access to clean food and water coupled with poor sanitation might pose a problem. The BRAT diet is a sort of diarrhoea first aid diet treatment. If it helps then medical treatment may not be required. But remember, as I stressed above, BRAT is only half the answer. Rehydration is a crucial part of the treatment of any diarrhoeal illness. If the diarrhoea lasts for more than 24 hours or is accompanied by vomiting and fever then medical attention is advised. To learn more about this topic read my post Eat to beat traveller's diarrhoea.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.