A bland diet includes low fiber foods that have a soft consistency and are gentle on the digestive system. Bland diets are also known as soft diets, low residue diets, and gastrointestinal soft diets.
A doctor might recommend a bland diet for people experiencing gastrointestinal inflammation from infections, diverticulitis, or the flares of a chronic condition, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
As well as specific food recommendations, people following a bland diet may also have to eat smaller meals more frequently, eat more slowly, and avoid lying down soon after eating.
In this article, learn about the food options for people following a bland diet, how it works, and recent research into the topic.
It is vital that people check their individual dietary needs with a doctor before changing their diet.
Foods in a bland diet should be soft, low fat, low fiber, and easy to digest. Also, they should not contain heavy spices, flavors, or seasoning.
People tolerate different foods to different extents. Generally, however, a bland diet works to eliminate foods likely to cause digestive issues, such as bloating, diarrhea, gas, and nausea.
Since people may already be experiencing significant symptoms, the goal is to avoid foods that could cause additional symptoms or make existing ones worse.
Recommended foods include:
- tender meats, such as fish, pork, beef, and poultry
- smooth nut butters
- thoroughly cooked skinless, seedless vegetables, such as potatoes, squash, and carrots
- plant-based milk alternatives, such as almond milk, walnut milk, flax milk, and coconut milk
- fruit juices, although people with acid reflux may need to avoid tomato and citrus juices
- puddings and custard
- refined grains, such as rice, white bread, Cream of Wheat, and pasta
- dairy, if a person can tolerate it
- weak black tea, green tea, and some herbal teas
Foods in a bland diet should not be tough, high fiber, high fat, spicy, or gas-producing. Such foods include:
- tough, fatty meats and meats with casings, such as sausages
- fried foods
- spicy, seasoned, cured, or smoked meat, including fish
- vegetables that can trigger flatulence, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cucumber, and corn
- strong cheeses, such as blue cheese
- fatty dairy, such as whipping cream
- high sugar foods
- nuts and seeds
- whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, and pasta
- crunchy nut butter
- dried fruit
- raw vegetables
- gas-producing vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, peppers, and cauliflower
- high fiber cereals
- fried pastries, such as donuts
- gluten, if a person cannot tolerate it
The following foods and drinks may not be high in fiber but can cause gastrointestinal irritation in some conditions, such as acid reflux:
- certain spices and condiments, including pepper, hot sauce, and barbecue sauce
- strong seasonings, such as garlic, horseradish, and chili pepper
- caffeinated drinks, such as tea and coffee
- citrus fruits
- tomato products
The goal of a bland diet is to give the digestive system a rest. Foods with fiber are harder for the body to break down, so people following a bland diet tend to avoid foods that contain fiber.
For people experiencing a flare of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, a bland, low fiber diet may help reduce the number and size of bowel movements.
For people with gastrointestinal irritation, eliminating foods that create stomach acid can help prevent further irritation.
Surgeons may recommend that people preparing for surgery or a medical procedure involving the digestive system should also adopt a bland or soft diet.
Some research suggests that various forms of fasting may be helpful for digestive conditions, because they can promote intestinal cell regeneration and give the bowel a complete rest.
A bland diet is only recommended for a short time when necessary. After a person recovers or their condition improves, their doctor will advise them to start gradually increasing the amount of fiber in their diet.
Fiber offers many health benefits, so following a bland diet for an extended period of time could adversely impact health.
Eating high fiber foods can help lower levels of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol, promote stable blood sugar levels, nourish gut bacteria, and help with weight management.
There are so many diets to choose from. Learn more about the most popular ones, and what the experts say about them, here.
There have not been many scientific studies regarding the effectiveness of a bland diet.
The premise of the diet is that people avoid eating foods that cause gastrointestinal symptoms, such as gas and diarrhea. The diet also promotes eating softer, milder foods, as foods with intense flavors and odors might exacerbate symptoms such as nausea.
Because the symptoms and triggers of acid reflux vary widely, there is currently little evidence to prove that people should avoid specific foods.
Due to this lack of evidence, the American College of Gastroenterology do not routinely suggest that people with gastroesophageal reflux disease eliminate foods such as chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks. However, they do say that elimination diets could be beneficial on an individual basis.
A bland diet could result in constipation, since fiber helps promote regular bowel movements. A long-term bland diet can also cause changes in a person’s overall health because fiber feeds healthy gut bacteria.
A soft, bland diet may benefit people whose gastrointestinal systems are compromised and need time to heal. Foods in a bland diet should be easy to digest and unlikely to cause additional pain or symptoms.