Reader Mary K. asks, “Can you tell me what is a bland diet for a senior citizen? Thank you.”
Senior citizen or not, some people think a bland diet is one that is tasteless and boring. Not necessarily so. In the field of clinical nutrition, a bland diet — also referred to as soft or low residue — is actually a special diet for certain medical conditions. It is meant to protect the digestive tract from irritation after surgery, for example, as a patient transitions back to a regular diet. People with active ulcers, heartburn, nausea, or vomiting may also fare better with a bland diet. In other words, a bland diet is a way to help the tummy rest and feel better until it heals.
Perhaps it got the name “bland” because it discourages spicy foods such as pepper and chiles which can stir up stomach juices. And as good as they are for our health otherwise, high fiber foods are eliminated on the bland diet, again, to lessen irritation in the intestinal tract. Raw vegetables are discouraged (cooked is fine) to protect the intestinal tract from too much tough roughage.
What can you eat on a bland diet? Eggs (not fried), low fat milk, mild cheese, yogurt and tofu. Cooked, canned or frozen vegetables such as cooked carrots, green beans or spinach. Creamy peanut butter. Lean tender meats, poultry and fish. Bread, pasta, rice, crackers and cereal made with refined (white) flour. Soups. Tea. Apple juice. Decaf coffee.
What is generally off the menu when you follow a bland diet? Alcohol. Caffeine. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. Pickles, onions and garlic. Tomato juice. High fat ice cream and other rich desserts. Gassy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and cucumbers. Fried foods (For example: cooked potatoes are OK; potato chips are not.) Whole grain breads, crackers or cereals. Nuts and seeds.
Hopefully you will not have to be on a bland diet forever since it is low in dietary fiber and eliminates some very good-for-you foods. Come the think of it, maybe this diet is a bit “bland.”
Experts give us these other tips to help a sore tummy in addition to a bland diet: Eat small meals. Avoid eating a heavy meal right before bedtime. Chew your food slowly and well. Don’t smoke. (Smoking irritates the digestive system.) Sip fluids slowly; don’t gulp.
And follow your health provider’s advice on how to advance to a regular diet if and when the time is right.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.