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Someone who experiences a gastrointestinal problem such as peptic ulcer disease, chronic gastritis, reflux esophagitis or dyspepsia might be told by his or her doctor to begin an eating regimen called a bland diet. This diet consists primarily of soft foods that have low acidity and minimal seasoning. The consumption of foods such as dried beans, fried meats, whole grain products and most raw fruits and vegetables are heavily restricted on a bland diet. Drinking beverages such as coffee, chocolate and carbonated sodas also is restricted.
Softer Foods, Smaller Portions
While following a bland food diet, a patient eats softer foods such as cream of wheat, mashed potatoes or cooked rice in place of heavier starches such as bread, crackers and grain cereals. Portion sizes are controlled to minimize the effects of digested food moving through the digestive tract, a process known as peristalsis. Patients who are recovering from certain surgeries or other medical conditions such as hemorrhoids also can benefit from a reduction in peristalsis. Foods that have rough skins should be avoided, as should any foods or drinks that are very hot or very cold.
A bland diet also allows for the consumption of soft or processed fruits, such as applesauce, bananas and seedless canned fruits, but it does not allow for the eating of acidic raw fruits or berries that contain seeds. Some mild fruit juices are permitted, such as apple juice or grape juice, but acidic citrus-based beverages such as lemonade or orange juice are not. This is because acidic foods and seeds can irritate the gastrointestinal tract during digestion.
Many milk and dairy products are permissible — or even recommended — on this diet, but there are a few exceptions. Chocolate-flavored dairy products are forbidden, as are any strongly spiced cheeses or high-fat dairy products, such as heavy cream. Mild dairy products tend to soothe irritated linings, but excessive fats, cocoa and strong spices can have the opposite effect.
Perhaps the most difficult adjustment to this diet involves meats and proteins. In a strict bland diet, softer meat substitutes, such as smooth peanut butter, eggs and tofu, are encouraged over any type of fibrous or seasoned meat. Certain meats, such as chicken or fish, are permitted if they are not heavily fried, breaded or processed. Steamed chicken breast served with a salt substitute would be a typical protein serving for someone who is following a bland diet.
Maintenance and Transition
A bland diet is designed primarily to help patients overcome gastrointestinal conditions or other medical circumstances that would be aided by improved digestion. It is not considered to be especially effective as a long-term weight-loss diet. Many people find this diet to be difficult to maintain, although some find that the use of acceptable mild spices, such as salt, paprika, parsley or mace, does make it easier. Most patients slowly return to a more normal diet after their medical issues have been resolved. Experts generally recommend that patients monitor how they feel after eating and avoid foods or drinks that irritate their digestive systems.