Benefits of a Bland Diet for Symptom Management

Banana porridge with cinnamon.

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A bland diet consists of foods that are low in fiber and fat. Foods that are both low in fiber and fat are easier for your body to digest and are often referred to as low-residue or soft diets. Bland diets can be helpful during some medical conditions, as the foods are relatively non-irritating to the tissue in your mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines. Bland diets are not a dieting method for weight loss.

When Is a Bland Diet Useful?

Bland diets should only be considered for treating the symptoms of an underlying medical condition, and for as short a time as possible. Common reasons that your doctor may recommend starting a bland diet can include:

  • Bacterial food poisoning: If possible, eat a bland diet and slowly return your diet to normal over one to two days as tolerated.
  • Gastroenteritis, also known as infectious diarrhea: Bland diets are usually better tolerated
  • Traveler's diarrhea: Bland diets may provide some comfort and nutrition while the common symptoms of an upset stomach may decrease your desire to eat.
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), also known as hyperemesis gravidarum or morning sickness: Eating a bland diet in more frequent and smaller meals may help to relieve feelings of belatedness and nausea.
  • Intermediate eating step after gastric surgery: A soft or bland diet is often used to advance your diet following surgery before you resume a regular diet.
  • Gastrointestinal bowel disease: A bland diet may be recommended to use during acute cases or flares of Crohn's, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or diverticulitis.

Bland diets are somewhat controversial in relation to diarrhea. Often, it's recommended to maintain a regular diet to ensure proper nutrition. However, due to the upset stomach and nausea that sometimes accompany diarrhea, a bland diet may be better tolerated.

Bland Diet vs. BRAT Diet

A BRAT diet is a diet that solely consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. While the BRAT diet is also considered a bland diet, it is more restrictive than the general bland diet. The intent behind the BRAT diet is to limit foods that are considered "binding," or provide bulking to your stool that make it more firm. Bananas, which are high in potassium, are particularly helpful, as diarrhea will tend to cause you to lose potassium. While this may be a potentially useful diet for adults, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend this diet for children. You may, however, discuss this option with your doctor if your child cannot keep other foods down. Otherwise, children are encouraged to maintain a normal diet.

The BRAT diet should not be used long-term, as it is not sufficiently adequate in dietary requirements, and malnutrition will occur.

When to Use the BRAT Diet

What Foods Can I Eat?

In general, foods that you eat on a bland diet do not have to taste bad or plain. There are many foods that can be eaten on a bland diet that you will likely find tasty to your palate. Listed below are categories of foods and some examples of foods that you can eat if you are on a bland diet:

  • Beverages: Herbal (decaffeinated) tea, water, juice, caffeine-free carbonated drinks, and sports drinks
  • Dairy: Milk (low-fat is preferred), yogurt, and cottage cheese
  • Desserts: Gelatin (flavored or plain), jam/jelly, honey, syrup, pound cake, sponge cake, and non-chocolate or peppermint custard, pudding, ice-cream, cookies, ice milk, and tapioca
  • Fats: Margarine, butter, mayonnaise, olive and canola oil, and mild salad dressings
  • Fruits: Bananas, applesauce, and fruit juices (may prefer to avoid citrus juice)
  • Grains: Cream of wheat, rice, and foods made with enriched flour, which include tortillas, white bread, English muffins, melba toast, rolls, pasta, and crackers
  • Proteins/Meats: Eggs, tofu, creamy peanut (or other nut) butter, and well-cooked meat (with fat trimmed off), including chicken, fish, veal, lamb, and pork
  • Spices: Salt, cinnamon, thyme, allspice, paprika, ground spices in moderation, and prepared mustard
  • Vegetables: Potatoes and yams with skins that are baked, boiled, creamed, diced, or mashed

    As you can see, there are many different types of foods that you can eat while maintaining a bland diet.

    What Foods Should I Avoid?

    • Beverages: Alcohol, chocolate milk, coffee (both caffeinated and decaffeinated), and caffeinated teas or carbonated drinks
    • Dairy: Cocoa and chocolate drinks
    • Desserts: Desserts that contain chocolate, cocoa, or any spices that should be avoided
    • Fats: Strong salad dressings
    • Fruits: Raw fruits, citrus fruits, berries, and dried fruits
    • Grains: Fried foods, whole grains, and brown or wild rice
    • Proteins/Meats: Nuts, processed meat, spiced or seasoned meat, hot dogs, sausage, and fried meat or eggs
    • Spices: Pepper, chili powder, hot sauce, salsa, garlic, nutmeg, and other strong seasonings
    • Vegetables: Raw vegetables, peppers (mild or hot), and fried potatoes

    Bland Diet Recipe Substitutes

    As you can see from the lists above, a bland diet offers more variety than you may have originally assumed. However, there are some limitations that may restrict you from eating some foods that you might usually enjoy.

    • While you can eat chicken while on a bland diet, you may find that you miss being able to add pepper to your meal. Instead, try using dried thyme on your chicken.
    • Nutmeg is a spice often included in many desserts. Try replacing nutmeg with cinnamon as an alternative spice for a tasty treat.
    • While you cannot duplicate the crunchy sensation of nuts in your recipes in a bland diet, you can often find a nut butter that you can use as a substitute to add flavor to your favorite dishes.
    • While you should avoid raw fruits, applesauce or other pureed fruits are acceptable to provide a fruit-filled treat.
    • If you are hooked on caffeine, you may find avoiding caffeinated beverages difficult. Try drinking herbal tea, coconut water, or sparkling water to curb your caffeine fix.
    • While fried eggs, meats, potatoes, or breads are to be avoided, try baking, broiling, or mashing these foods to replace fried substances in your meals.
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    Article Sources
    • BRAT Diet: Recovering From an Upset Stomach. Clinical Key website. https://www.clinicalkey.com (Subscription Required). Updated Aug. 22, 2017.
    • Managing Your Bacterial Food Poisoning. Clinical Key website. https://www.clinicalkey.com (Subscription Required). Updated May 11, 2016.
    • Bland Diet. Clinical Key website. https://www.clinicalkey.com (Subscription Required). Updated June 27, 2018.
    • Moore, SW. Bland Diet. In: Moore, SW. Griffith's Instructions for Patients. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: 9-10