Posted: Sep 27, 2013 7:00 AM
When it comes to a stomach bug, for decades parents have sworn by the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, apples/applesauce and toast. But research is starting to show that this information may be not only outdated, but may hinder your child’s recovery.

What is BRAT?

The BRAT diet consists of bananas, rice, apples, applesauce and toast: bland, low-fiber foods that give the gastrointestinal tract a chance to rest and recover, while reducing the amount of stool produced. The popular guideline came into use to help guide parents through the unpleasant task of dealing with viral gastroenteritis in their children, and is still widely used to this day. But is the information even still valid?

Is BRAT outdated?

Once a staple recommendation to get food into children with upset stomachs, information is now surfacing that claims that the BRAT diet is not only outdated, but it also isn't all that advantageous. The foods included do contain some benefits: All four foods are bland and easily digested, and bananas and applesauce both contain pectin, an agent that slows movement in the gastrointestinal tract. But as a whole, the diet is not considered especially helpful to the body's immune response and lacks important nutritional value to help a child's gastrointestinal tract recover when it needs it most.

As a whole, the diet is not considered especially helpful to the body's immune response and lacks important nutritional value to help a child's gastrointestinal tract recover when it needs it most.

So why are doctors and parents still recommending an outdated remedy? "Official recommendations when it comes to medicine can lag behind a bit," states Melissa Arca, M.D., a board certified pediatrician. Medical professionals seek reliable evidence-based recommendations that have proven true time and again. Unfortunately it may take several studies that are often years in the making to bring medical recommendations current. And even then, Dr. Arca admits that it can take time for medical professionals to grow accustomed to new information that may differ from what they have previously thought to be the best way.

What is recommended?

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that most children can continue a normal, age-appropriate diet as soon as they can manage. BRAT foods may be included, as they are easily digested and carry some benefits, but they should not replace normal, tolerated foods that are part of a complete diet.

sports drink

"The goal is to get kids back to eating their normal diet as soon as they can, with some caveats," advises Dr. Arca, who recommends complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread, as well as lean meats, yogurts, fruits and vegetables. Just stay away from the high-fat foods and simple sugars to best help your child recover.

Getting plenty of fluids is especially important when recovering from a gastrointestinal virus. "What we worry about most is dehydration," states Dr. Arca. "Our focus is on keeping kids hydrated through it all which can be a challenge in the midst of vomiting and diarrhea." Broth, low-sugar sports drinks and nutritional drinks such as Pedialyte are all recommended to help keep kids hydrated.

Trust your gut

In the end, the idea behind the BRAT diet still holds, though the diet itself has been found to be too restrictive. In the meantime, parents are encouraged to keep kids suffering from gastroenteritis away from spicy, high-fat or sugary foods, and keep them well hydrated. In other words, let them eat what they can keep down, and don't depend solely on a restrictive diet lacking in proper nutrition.

And when it comes to available medical information, Dr. Arca remains flexible. "We should always be willing to challenge the status quo in favor of medical advancement and improved patient outcome," she says. "It just doesn't happen overnight."

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