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 chillies, which can stir up stomach juices.
And as good as they are for our health otherwise, high fibre 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, yoghurt 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. Decaffeinated 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, e.g. cooked potatoes are fine, 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 as it is low in dietary fibre and eliminates some very good-for-you foods.
Come to 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.
The virtuous disease
When does one’s concern for proper nutrition turn into a pathological condition?
When the desire to eat a healthful diet turns into an unhealthy obsession, say experts.
Mental health experts call it “orthorexia nervosa”, which literally means “proper appetite ... carried to the extreme”.
Hey, we all get a little crazy about food at times, right? I went through my share of rigid eating habits in my younger years.
But orthorexia is rigid eating on steroids.
Not to be confused with anorexia or bulimia, which focus on the quantity of food eaten, those with orthorexia focus on the quality of food eaten.
Eating becomes a ritual. And any food believed to be unhealthy or impure is rigidly avoided.
In this desire to achieve a perfect diet, many end up with nutritional deficiencies, medical complications and not much fun in their lives.
That’s why some have described orthorexia as “a disease disguised as a virtue”.
Many experts recognise orthorexia as an obsessive-compulsive-type of eating disorder, although the American Psychiatric Association has not yet made it an official diagnosis.
Nevertheless, in 1997, Dr Steven Bratman coined the term “orthorexia” and devised these questions that indicate a tendency toward this condition:
● Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the plea-sure you receive from eating it?
● Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy foods?
● Do you look down on other people who do not eat like you?
● Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?
● Do you feel intensely guilty if you stray from your diet?
If these are indicators of disordered eating, let’s turn them around to look at what most experts would consider normal eating:
● You’re more preoccupied with living life than you are with food.
You take time to plan balanced meals, shop for and prepare healthful food, but it doesn’t take over your entire day.
● You actually enjoy a variety of healthful foods and you make a point to include fresh ingredients in your meals.
But you don’t necessarily look down on others who may not share the same joy in your dietary choices.
● You don’t preach to your children or others that certain foods are made by the devil.
Instead, you set a good example by choosing healthful foods most of the time.
And you recognise that movie popcorn is not going to kill you.
● You strive to make reasonable decisions about food, such as saying no to fried Oreos at the county fair.
But you might share an ice cream cone with your grandkids without feeling bad about it.
● You don’t avoid social gatherings simply because some of the food may not be up to your standards.
You make reasonable choices within the choices you have.
● You realise that sometimes life happens and perfect meals are not always a reality.
You forgive yourself and go on. – The Monterey County Herald/Tribune News Service
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in the United States.
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