My doctor told me to go on a bland diet after surgery. What can I actually eat?
When prescribed a bland diet, people often feel doomed to culinary purgatory. Gone are all their favorite foods and spices, like garlic, onions, hot pepper, curry, or pizza. But bland doesn’t necessarily mean blah.
Bland foods, which are generally easier to digest, are recommended for a variety of digestive disorders, including digestive upset, nausea, diarrhea, bowel surgery, or for mouth sores. The range of acceptable foods is wide and will vary from person to person, depending on the severity of your condition. It’s best to start with a strict diet. Once your symptoms are under control and with the guidance of your healthcare team, you can experiment by adding foods that are more challenging.
General guidelines for a bland diet call for low fiber (no high-fiber cereals or whole grains), cooked/soft foods, and very mild spices. Avoid gas-forming vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and beans. You also might do better with canned or cooked fruit rather than raw. I also recommend staying away from fatty foods, such as fried food, nuts, full-fat dairy, cream sauces, rich pastries, potato chips, and other fried salty snacks.
That being said, there still are lots of options. For protein, try baked or poached chicken and mild, white fish. Boiled eggs or mild cheeses might also be tolerated. Starchy foods, like white bread, sweet or white potatoes, low-fiber cereal, and pasta are good choices. You can add mild seasonings, such as salt, rosemary, parsley, basil, dill, ginger, fennel, and bay leaves. Leeks or scallions can add some flavor without being too harsh if used in small amounts and as tolerated. Mild vegetables, such as carrots, string beans, chard, red peppers, and summer squash should be cooked, not raw. Best cooking methods are baking, steaming, boiling, and poaching – in other words, wherever you can minimize the amount of fat.
The goal of a bland diet is to reduce digestive symptoms or for healing the digestive tract. So, start slow and work your way forward as you are directed by your doctor or registered dietitian.
Esther Trepal is a retired registered dietitian who spent the majority of her career working with people affected by chronic illnesses; including HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Through individual counseling as well as community presentations and lectures, Esther’s focus was on maximizing the impact of diet to support the well-being of her clients. She graduated with an MS from Columbia University in New York City in 2001.