There are many reasons a patient may need to follow a bland diet. It is typically prescribed in the initial weeks after stomach or intestinal surgery, or more typically if you are suffering from stomach ulcers, or from other gastric upsets like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas or heartburn, many of which can be side effects of chemo. Bland foods are soft, not very spicy, and low in fat and fiber. It is best to consume small, frequent meals while following this diet. We recommend 4-6 small portion meals per day.
When patients are told they must follow a bland diet, the restrictive nature of the food list can leave them wondering if they will ever enjoy their food again. Even the name ‘Bland Diet’ inspires dread, as you expect to be eating a lot of tasteless foods. While it is true that some foods must be avoided on this diet, the good news is there are lots of tasty items you can have that are both nutritious and enjoyable.
As with any dietary change, the secret lies in being prepared. Here are some of the bland diet heroes we feature in many of our bland diet recipes. Keep these staples on hand and you’ll always be able to create a fabulous dish that’s anything but “blah!”
The fiber from grains can be both beneficial and detrimental to a patient undergoing cancer treatment. While we usually recommend increasing your fiber intake, during times of gastric upset this is not always advisable. When following a bland diet keep your pantry stocked up with low fiber ‘white’ grains. These include white flour, white pasta, and regular couscous, white rice, and rice noodles – are all excellent low-fiber sources of carbohydrate which won’t irritate your gut. Keep a stock of refined cereals like cream of wheat, farina, and cornflakes for a quick meal or snack options. Pass on the whole wheat bread too. Look for good quality white bread; softer sourdough is our favorite.
Fruits and Vegetables
While following a bland diet, fresh, raw fruits and veggies can be hard to digest. Steaming, poaching, or baking them can provide nutrition that’s easier on the system. To minimize the amount of fiber you’re getting, peel all fresh fruits and veggies and remove any small seeds before cooking. Starchy vegetables like white potatoes and sweet potatoes are great to have on hand as they store well and can be used in a variety of dishes that provide comfort – just remember to peel them. Frozen fruits and veggies are an easy, nutritious standby. Frozen vegetables cook quickly, and frozen fruits make great compotes that keep well in the fridge. However, you will need to avoid frozen raspberries and strawberries unless you strain them once they’re cooked to remove their seeds. Canned vegetables are another easily digested option – especially staples such as carrots, green beans, and peas. Canned applesauce and fruits in water such as fruit cocktail or peaches work well too – try eating them with plain yogurt or added to a smoothie for a sweet treat. Applesauce is very easy to make at home, keeps well, and will have a lot less added sugar than store bought.
Fridge & Freezer Foods
Lean proteins like fish or poultry are suitable for the bland diet, so make sure to keep these in your freezer for fast high-protein meals. Eggs are another nutritious bland diet favorite as they are naturally low fat, high protein, and fiber free. For vegans, tofu offers high quality, low fiber vegetable protein. When buying dairy, choose low fat or fat-free options to minimize the risks of adverse effects. Unsweetened milk alternatives such as soy or other types of nut milk are also suitable.
Fats: Although high-fat foods can cause gastric issues, small amounts of extra virgin olive oil can be used to add both healthy monounsaturated fats and delicious flavor to your food. Coconut oil can also be used. Coconut oil is high in MCT fats that are more easily absorbed in the body than other fats, but unlike olive oil, it is a saturated fat that should be used very sparingly.
Spices: While very hot spices are not recommended on the bland diet, there are still many herbs and sweet spices you can use to add flavor. Stock up on fresh sweet spices like ginger root, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, cloves, and star anise; dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, fennel seed, bay leaves; and where you can, try fresh herbs like parsley, basil, mint, and dill. Onions and garlic should be avoided unless cooked whole and removed before eating. If tolerated, leeks or scallions can be used in small amounts to add flavor, however, a pinch of the South Asian spice asafetida (a.k.a. “hing”) can safely be used to add onion/garlicky flavor to soups, veggies, and stews. And last but not least, let’s not forget good old sea salt. It will help bring out the flavor in your food without upsetting your system.
Anyone on a bland diet should avoid alcohol and caffeine as they are gastric stimulants, which can increase the frequency of diarrhea or cause stomach cramping. Instead, choose soothing fruit and herbal teas that provide the same warm pick-me-up, and if you need to, sweeten them with a touch of honey or sugar. Fennel seed, fresh ginger root, lemon zest, and mint leaves can all be used to make soothing digestive teas.
Once you have the basics in place, you will find a bland diet is quite enjoyable. Our bland diet recipes will inspire you to get started.