Bland Diet: Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid – The Ultimate Guide

Bland Diet: Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid
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A bland diet is often recommended to help treat digestive problems or to assist the stomach or gastrointestinal tract recover after surgery or illness. If you have been told to follow a diet containing bland foods, you may be wondering what exactly a bland diet is and what foods you should or shouldn’t eat on this type of diet. But, don’t worry. A diet containing bland meals doesn’t have to mean tasteless or without any color. Bland diets contain many delicious foods that are easy to digest and won’t irritate the stomach.

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The dictionary describes the word bland as “lacking strong features, uninteresting, and flavorless”. The good news is that a bland diet can be full of flavor, tasty, and appetizing. For example, meals you can cook on a bland diet can contain many types of meat, bread, eggs, fish, and some dairy products. You can also enjoy delicious snacks and desserts like peanut butter, some fruits, and ice cream.

In the context of a bland diet, foods you shouldn’t eat are generally spicy, fatty or fried food that are difficult for the body to digest. Also, many raw vegetables should be avoided in bland meals and these instead should be prepared by steaming or boiling them. So, the bland diet is usually a way to help your digestive system recover by putting less stress on it until you can eat more typical foods again.

In this article, you will find out reasons why some people should follow a diet containing bland meals. I’ll also look at the many different types of food that you should eat on the bland diet and why certain foods should be avoided.

Why Some People Follow the Bland Diet

The bland diet can help to treat various gastrointestinal problems like heartburn, diarrhea, ulcers, vomiting, and a sour stomach. Bland diets are also useful in helping you to recover from a gastric bypass operation or stomach surgery because they eliminate foods that can irritate the gastrointestinal tissue.

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Doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend following a diet containing bland, easy-to-digest foods in cases of gastroenteritis or food poisoning. Eating foods that are soft and not spicy help to reduce inflammation and pain and prevent further vomiting. Until you recover from gastroenteritis, doctors also recommend avoiding dairy products.1

A bland diet can help you recover if you suffer from a peptic or stomach ulcer. For example, The Medical Clinics of North America recommends staying away from foods that increase stomach acid. Some of these are spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks. They say that bland and ulcer diets are useful if used for a short time.2

Registered dietitian, Dr. Jennifer K. Nelson advises that if you have had surgery to remove a gallbladder, avoiding foods that are not allowed on the bland diet can speed up recovery. She suggests eating lean cuts of meat and fish as well as vegetables and fruit. You should avoid fatty and greasy foods. Just after surgery, it is also best to avoid foods containing fiber but to gradually increase fiber intake as you recover.3

Foods recommended on a bland diet can help you recover quicker from an upset stomach and diarrhea. The Schiffert Health Center says that if you have an upset stomach and diarrhea, then bland, low-fat foods can help speed up the healing process. You should avoid fatty, fried foods as well as spicy foods. Also, it is best to avoid milk products because they can make your diarrhea worse.4

Foods You Can Eat on the Bland Diet

There are many delicious and nutritious foods that you can incorporate into a bland diet. Many of these foods can be prepared in a tasty and appetizing way and at the same time not cause extra stress on your digestive system. The foods in a bland diet are all types of food that are easy to digest and won’t cause more irritation to your intestines.

Meat / Fish / Poultry

If you have to follow a bland diet for medical reasons or if you have had stomach upset, it is important that any protein sources are cooked in a way to keep them tender to easily digest. Foods like chicken, beef, and turkey, can all be eaten on a bland diet if they are tender cuts and are boiled, steamed, baked, or roasted. The same is true for fish and shellfish.

Here is a list of protein sources you can use in the bland diet:

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  • Beef
  • Ham (as long as it’s not cured or smoked)
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Veal
  • Eggs (boiled, scrambled, poached)
  • Whitefish
  • Shellfish

Vegetables to eat on the bland diet

Vegetables are a part of any healthy diet and should be incorporated into the bland diet. The vitamins and minerals in vegetables can help your body recover quicker from illness and surgery. To make sure that vegetables can be easily digested, they should be boiled or steamed. Steaming is preferable because it keeps more of the vegetables nutritional content.

Steam cooking is cooking at a lower temperature than boiling or baking, and thus the impact on the vitamins and minerals is smaller. In addition, it saves the cooking water and preserve most of the minerals in the food. You can steam almost all vegetables – zucchini, squash, carrots and so on.

Using canned or frozen vegetables is also allowed in a bland diet.5  The vegetables on the list of allowed foods in the bland diet are the type that won’t increase activity in the intestines that cause gas or bloating. Here is a list of vegetables that you can use to cook bland meals and use as part of the bland diet:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Potatoes
  • Cooked or canned tomatoes

You can also consume vegetables on the bland diet by making delicious vegetable juices. Remember that for some people, tomatoes and tomato juice may cause stomach irritation.

Fruits to eat on the bland diet

There are a number of delicious fruits you can enjoy that are in no way bland or tasteless. As with vegetables, it’s important that the fruits in the bland diet are cooked, canned, or juiced before consuming. It’s also important to make sure and remove any seeds and skin from the fruits to avoid causing irritation in the sensitive gastrointestinal tissue.

Some of the best fruits to eat on the bland diet are:

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  • Stewed apples
  • Canned peaches or pears
  • Ripe bananas
  • Citrus fruits (although these may irritate the digestive tract of people with heartburn)
  • Melon

Dairy products to consume on the bland diet

Most low-fat dairy products can be enjoyed as part of a meal, snack, or desserts on a bland diet. So, you can choose from the following “bland” dairy products:

  • Low-fat varieties of yogurt, cheese, and milk
  • Ice-cream that is low in fat and doesn’t contain nuts
  • Cottage cheese

Note – Depending on your reason for following a bland diet, you may need to avoid or limit milk and dairy products. Dr. Neil K. Kaneshiro on Medline Plus says that, in some people, dairy products may cause more gas and bloating and make your diarrhea worse.

Grains to consume on the bland diet

Although many diets encourage the use of whole grain products like wholemeal bread and wholemeal pasta for their fiber content, whole grains are not recommended in the bland diet because they put extra strain on the digestive system.

However, baked products using refined flour are on the list of allowed foods on the bland diet. You can enjoy the following grain foods on the bland diet:

  • White bread, bagels, and other refined white flour baked foods.
  • “White” pasta
  • Refined cereals such as cream of wheat

Other foods for the bland diet

You can also enjoy the following foods if you have been advised to follow the bland diet for gastrointestinal issues:

  • Tofu (unless you avoid soy based products)
  • Peanut butter (smooth peanut butter, not the crunchy variety)
  • Custard
  • Salt and sugar
  • Soup, especially broth
  • Weak tea

Foods to Avoid on a Bland Diet

The purpose of a bland diet is to avoid any kind of food that irritates your digestive tract and causes your intestines to work harder. In general, if you follow the bland diet, you should avoid foods that have strong flavors, are spicy, and high in fat.

It is important to remember that some foods that are allowed to be part of bland diet recipes may not suit everyone. For example, tomatoes are classed as a “bland” food, however, people who have acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease are usually advised to avoid tomatoes because of their acidic content. Also, low-fat dairy products should be avoided if you suffer from diarrhea, even though they are on the “bland diet allowed food list”.6

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If you feel that a certain food irritates your stomach or increases abdominal pain, you should stop eating it to see if it helps.

Here is a general list of foods that are not recommended for consumption while following a bland diet.

Meat / Fish / Poultry

Most meat, fish, and poultry can be consumed in the bland diet. You should avoid adding spices or other strong flavors when preparing bland meals. To prepare these protein sources on the bland diet, avoid frying meat, poultry, or fish.

You should not eat the following on the bland diet:

  • Cured or smoked meats and fish
  • Highly seasoned meat and fish

Vegetables

Vegetables should not be eaten raw if you want to avoid intestinal issues on the bland diet. Some vegetables should be avoided even if they are cooked because they can cause gas and bloating.

You should not eat the following vegetables on the bland diet:

  • Cabbage
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips

Fruits to avoid on the bland diet

The same principles apply to fruits as they do to vegetables when choosing what not to eat on the bland diet. You should avoid eating fresh fruit and also dried fruit like apricots, prunes, raisins, and dried figs.

Also, many berries like strawberries and raspberries contain a large number of seeds and should be avoided because they can irritate a sensitive digestive system.

Dairy products to avoid

Certain dairy product must be avoided on the bland diet. In general, these are dairy products that are high in fat and contain strong flavors. For example, cheeses like Roquefort, Cambozola, Gorgonzola, and Brie are not suitable dairy products.

Grains to avoid

Although a healthy diet should contain wholegrain products, while you are on a diet incorporating bland foods, you should avoid any whole grain foods and other foods that are high in fiber.

Other bland diet foods to avoid

Apart from the foods listed above, you should also avoid the following foods as they are not classed as bland food:

  • Pickled foods like gherkins and sauerkraut
  • Spices like hot pepper and garlic
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Strong black tea
  • Popular snacks like popcorn (seeds) and potato chips (fried food)

Practical Advice for the Bland Diet

The reason for following a bland diet is to help your digestive system heal and become healthy again. After following a bland diet, most people are able to return to eating foods they used to enjoy. Also, many people find that the bland diet helps them make positive lifestyle changes in the long run. For example, many people find that after spending a period of time on the bland diet, they are able to easily cut out a lot of unhealthy foods and fake foods, like fried and fatty foods from their diet for good.

Here are some practical and helpful tips to make the bland diet a success for you:

  • When consuming food and beverages, do this slowly. Always chew food thoroughly before swallowing and don’t gulp down drinks.
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
  • Don’t eat anything 2 hours before going to bed to avoid putting extra stress on your intestines.
  • Cut out smoking and avoid all alcohol. Both alcohol and smoking cause irritation to your insides.
  • If you are unsure if a certain food can be eaten, remember that most soft foods are fine on the bland diet.

Read these related articles:
1. The Most Effective Home Remedies for Gas and Bloating
2. How to Get Rid of Diarrhea Naturally (Based on Research)
3. How to Stop Vomiting: The Best Home Remedies (Backed by Science)

Article Sources

  1. Mayo Clinic. Gastroenteritis. First aid
  2. Med Clin North Am. 1991 Jul;75(4):967-79
  3. Mayo Clinic. Gallbladder removal
  4. Schiffert Health Center. Upset stomach and diarrhea
  5. Atlantic Coast Gastro. The bland diet
  6. Medline Plus. When you have diarrhea
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