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Bland Diet: What You Can and Cannot Eat For A Healthy Digestive System

bland diet

 

The goal of eating a bland diet is to give your digestive system a rest.  Take note that high-fiber foods are harder for the body to metabolize, while heavily spiced nutriments may aggravate the symptoms or flare-ups associated with gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s diseases.

As with any special diet, you’ll need professional guidance from a nutritionist or dietician who can help you create a list of foods you can and cannot eat, which will depend on your symptoms and food intolerance.

What Is a Bland Diet?

In a nutshell, a bland diet involves foods low in fiber, soft in texture, high in pH, and are mildly seasoned. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that your meal should be flavorless, since you may use a bit of spice, provided that it won’t aggravate your gastric symptoms.

It is important that you keep a food journal where you can jot down foods that trigger your gastric symptoms, such as heartburn, nausea, cramping, and vomiting. For instance, some people with Chron’s disease can tolerate highly spiced foods, but have trouble digesting high-fat dairy foods.

Simply put, a bland diet may slightly differ from person to person.

People with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can benefit from a bland diet, which gives their digestive system a rest during flare-ups. This condition is linked to inflammation of the intestinal tract, usually affecting the small intestine and/or colon. During flare-ups, Crohn’s sufferers may need to reduce the number and size of their bowel movements, which is one of the auspicious effects of a bland diet. This special diet also gives them relief from diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and pain.

Following this diet has also been shown to minimize the production of stomach acid, which makes this ideal for people with gastrointestinal irritation. People who will undergo gastric bypass or other types of surgery involving the digestive system may also benefit from eating a soft or bland diet. Oftentimes, they are required to stick to this special diet a few days or weeks prior to surgery, and during recovery before solid food is slowly reintroduced in their diet.

 

Other Tips:

If your doctor and nutritionist tells you to follow a bland diet, they may also give you additional tips to further alleviate your symptoms:

Eat smaller portions a few times a day instead of three large meals to prevent gastric symptoms such as nausea, gas, heartburn, and vomiting. Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly so your digestive tract will have less work to do. Avoid eating late at night.  A good rule of thumb is to avoid eating within two hours of going to bed.  Anecdotal reports show that going to bed with a full stomach is tied to higher risk of gastric symptoms.

Certain supplements such as licorice root and aloe vera have been shown to alleviate gastric symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes such as weight reduction and stress management. Sometimes, you may need medications such as acid blockers to further alleviate your digestive symptoms.

The bland diet is only recommended for a short time.  The idea is to give your digestive tract a rest, or to wait until your condition improves before a certain amount of fiber is gradually introduced in your diet.

While fibers are hard to break down, your body still needs them because of their many health benefits.  According to studies, eating fiber-rich foods promotes stable blood sugar levels, helps maintain a healthy weight, and decreases the levels of LDL cholesterol or “bad cholesterol.”  Furthermore, prolonged use of this diet could result in constipation since fibers promote healthy bowel movement, or even lead to malabsorption and malnutrition because they play a critical role in the production of healthy gut bacteria.

What Can You Eat?

To reiterate, your “food list” will depend on your doctor and nutritionist’s advice and how you “react” with certain foods. Hence, the list of things stated below should only be seen as a general guideline.

Certain Veggies

A good rule of thumb is to pick vegetables that are low in fiber and are steamed and boiled (whether you purchased them fresh, frozen, or canned). However, never eat them raw, since they may cause irritation or aggravate your gastric symptoms. You may add a bit of seasoning or a very little amount of butter if you want your boiled or steamed veggies to taste better.  While some people with gastrointestinal condition can’t tolerate spices or even a bit of fat, this is not true for all.

Oftentimes, people who follow a bland diet are advised to stick to these vegetables: carrots, green beans, peas, beets, pumpkin, peeled white or sweet potatoes, and spinach. Meanwhile, some individuals can tolerate a small amount of lettuce and other salad greens. Always refer to your food journal.

Low-Fiber Fruits

With this diet, it is ideal you stick to low-fiber fruits, such as avocados, melon, applesauce (no sugar added), baked apples (skinless and seeded), and canned pears and peaches (no sugar added). A good rule of thumb is to stick to canned and cooked fruits that are seeded and low in fibers.

Protein Sources

Good protein sources approved for this diet include tender or ground meat, skinless chicken, egg, shellfish such as lobster, crab, and shrimp, fish like salmon, cottage cheese, and silken tofu.  In general, lean protein sources are safe to eat provided that they are cooked with minimal seasonings and no or very little fat.

You may also consider plant-based milk alternatives, such as coconut milk, coconut yogurt, almond milk, and walnut milk.

Carb Sources

Processed grains, such as seedless rye, white bread, and refined wheat products are often a good choice, although take note that some people cannot tolerate gluten in their diet.  If you don’t have issues with gluten, you’ll have no problem eating soft white pasta, plain soda crackers, cold cereals with very little sugar content, and cooked cereals such as processed oatmeal, farina, and cream of wheat.

Other Food Items You May Want to Consider

Smooth soups and broth are often safe to eat, although some people may not tolerate tomato soup.  Smooth nut butters like almond butter and peanut on white bread are also a good option.

banana breakfast

What You Can’t Eat

Again, the list of food stated below is a general guideline, as opposed to a rigid diet rule.  Always check with your food journal, doctor, and nutritionist to make sure that your bland diet meets your nutritional needs, medical condition, and gastric symptoms.

High-Fat Dairy

Daily products, particularly when they are high in fat and are strongly flavored, often exacerbate flare-ups of Crohn’s sufferers and people with digestive issues. Hence, you may want to avoid or at least limit your consumption of whole milk, ice cream, bleu cheese, whipped cream.

Meanwhile, some people have no problem with cottage cheese and other mildly flavored cheese.

Certain Vegetables

It is best to avoid cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts altogether because they cause gas.  Bland diet also typically excludes cabbage, onion, garlic, and peppers.  Meanwhile, some people can tolerate tomato and tomato products, while others have to avoid them entirely because the high acidity of these foods may irritate their digestive tract.

Certain Fruits

The general rule of thumb is to avoid fruits with too much fiber, seeds, skin, and acid because they are known to exacerbate gastric symptoms. They typically include grapes, prunes, all berries, grapefruits, oranges, limes, and lemons. Also, avoid or minimize the consumption of dried fruits and fruit juices and shakes.

Fatty and Tough Protein Sources

Chicken with skin on, beef, and dried fish may irritate your digestive lining, while dried and canned beans and lentils may result in flatulence. Hence, you may want to avoid these foods altogether.

Also avoid meat sauce, fried and greasy protein sources, and processed deli meats.

Whole Grains

Because the core principle of the bland diet is to reduce the amount of fibers, avoid or at least limit your consumption of whole grain foods such as barley, rye, brown rice, quinoa, wheat, high-fiber or steel cut oatmeal, whole wheat pasta and bread, and any product whose packaging states added fiber (e.g., cereals).

Other Foods You May Want to Avoid or Limit

Caffeinated beverages, such as tea, soda, and coffee, carbonated drinks, all types of alcoholic drinks, most dressings, and sauces like ketchup and mustard are known to irritate the gut of people with gastric issues. The same is true for nuts, granola, chocolate, popcorn, fatty and creamy desserts such as cheesecake, and foods with strong seasonings (chili pepper and garlic).

berries diet

Conclusion

A bland diet is ideal for someone with a compromised gastrointestinal system, who needs a diet that will give his or her gut a rest. It is composed of foods that are easy to digest and are “non-irritating” in order to prevent or lessen the gastric symptoms.

Despite the many benefits of the bland diet, it is only recommended for a short time. After all, fibers are a critical part of your diet because they promote the proliferation of good bacteria in your gut, help maintain a healthy bowel movement, and contribute to a healthy weight.

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