What is a low-residue diet?
A low-residue diet is a temporary low-fiber nutrition plan, designed to give the digestive system a rest. The term ‘residue’ refers to any solid contents that end up in the large intestine after digestion, which includes undigested and unabsorbed food (consisting mostly of dietary fiber), bacteria, and gastric secretions (4). The main purpose of a low-residue eating plan is to decrease the size and frequency of bowel movements to relieve painful symptoms. It’s important to limit the consumption of foods that your body can’t digest properly not to irritate an inflamed bowel.
A low-fiber diet is not intended for weight loss and should be followed under your doctor’s supervision only. However, even though this eating pattern restricts high-fiber foods, it doesn’t mean that you should avoid all the foods that contain fiber. You can include low-fiber foods into your menu, as they will slow your bowel movements and relieve symptoms of diarrhea. It is recommended to limit fiber intake to around 10-15 g per day on a low-residue diet. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, healthy people should consume about 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily (6).
Why eat a low–residue diet?
Usually, physicians can prescribe this diet before or after certain medical procedures like colonoscopy, bowel surgery or in case of tumors or narrowing of the intestine. It may also be suggested to treat symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis. It’s important to follow this diet precisely when it’s prescribed, as it might cause unpleasant side effects and symptoms if you stick to it incorrectly.
Benefits of low–residue diet
- reduce the bowel movements by cutting down on foods that are poorly digested
- reduce the amount of stool your body produces
- ease abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms
- ease the amount of work your digestive system isn’t doing
How to follow a low-residue diet?
If your doctor recommends you to follow a low-residue diet, it would mean that you have to consume less vegetables, fruits, and grains. In some cases, doctors also advise avoiding milk and dairy products. Although milk doesn’t contain fiber, it may cause discomfort, abdominal cramping, or diarrhea (1). However, your physician or nutritionist may prescribe you a diet, which would include more or less restrictions, depending on your medical condition and tolerance.
Here is the list of non-compliant foods you should avoid on a low-residue diet:
- Whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, cereals, and pasta
- Brown, wild rice and other whole grains (oats, kasha, barley, quinoa)
- Dried fruits and prune juice
- Raw fruit, berries
- Raw or undercooked vegetables
- Dried beans, peas and lentils
- Seeds, nuts, peanut butter, nut butter
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale
What products can you find on the low–residue diet food list?
The complete list of foods that are allowed on this nutrition plan may vary from person to person and should be checked and compiled by your doctor. Here are products that are generally allowed on a low-fiber diet:
- White bread with no nuts or seeds
- White rice, plain white pasta, and crackers
- Refined hot cereals, cold cereals with less than 1 gram of fiber per serving
- Pancakes or waffles made from white refined flour
- Most canned or well-cooked vegetables without skin or seeds (e.g., beets, beans, carrots, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, etc.)
- Fruit without peels or seeds and certain canned or well-cooked fruit (e.g., peeled apples, seedless peeled grapes, banana, cantaloupe, etc.)
- Raw, ripe bananas, melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, plums, peaches, and apricots
- Raw lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, and onion
- Cooked spinach, pumpkin, seedless yellow squash, carrots, eggplant, potatoes, and green and wax beans
- Tender meat, poultry, fish, tofu
- Milk and dairy products (yogurt, pudding, ice cream, cheeses, sour cream) — if tolerated
- Butter, margarine, oils and salad dressings without seeds
Safe beverages include:
- Decaffeinated coffee (caffeine can upset your stomach), tea, and carbonated beverages
- Milk (if tolerant)
- Pulp-free fruit juice
- Fruit-flavored drinks and flavored waters
- Strained vegetable juices
Make sure to be vigilant and read food labels carefully when buying or eating any product. It’s in your best interest to steer clear of foods that contain more than 1 gram of fiber. Most food labels include information about the percentage of fiber in the product. If you find it challenging to digest certain foods, make an effort to completely scrap them from your diet. Go easy on spicy foods, coffee, and alcohol, as they may take a toll on your digestive system as well.
Point often overlooked, it’s important to avoid such cooking methods as roasting, broiling, or grilling while following this diet. These are the recommended cooking methods on this nutrition plan:
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Low–residue diet menu may look like this:
- Decaffeinated coffee (with cream and sugar, if desired)
- A cup of pulp-free juice (orange, apple or cranberry juice)
- Scrambled eggs
- Waffles, French toast, or pancakes
- White-bread toast with margarine and grape jelly (no seeds)
- Baked chicken, white rice, canned carrots, or green beans
- Salad with baked chicken, American cheese, smooth salad dressing, white dinner roll
- Baked potato (no skin) with sour cream and butter or margarine
- Hamburger with white seedless bun, ketchup, and mayonnaise ( you can add lettuce if it doesn’t make your symptoms worse)
- Tender roast beef, white rice, cooked carrots or spinach, white dinner roll with margarine or butter
- Pasta with butter or olive oil, French bread, fruit cocktail
- Baked chicken, white rice or baked potato without skin, and cooked green beans
- Broiled fish, white rice, and canned green beans
Incorporating a low-fiber eating pattern into your lifestyle will aid in relieving symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas formation, infection or inflammation. However, make sure to stick to this diet for as long as your doctor prescribed, as it cannot provide your body with all the essential vitamins, and minerals for long-term and may result in nutrient deficiency. Moreover, your doctor may advise you to add a multivitamin or other supplements to your diet like calcium, potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C to be on the safe side and make certain you’re not skimping on any nutrients your body craves. Once you bounce back to your regular diet, it’s in your best interest to phase fiber in over an extended period of time, in order to prevent any side effects and not to jeopardize your own health.
What is the difference between low residue diet and low fiber diet?
Both of them are quite resemblant, except for the fact that a low-residue diet demands limiting the consumption of dairy products, so you wouldn’t run the risk of increasing colonic residue and stool weight. The bottom line is that you’ll give your gastrointestinal tract a much needed break.
Clear liquid diet for diverticulitis
Diverticulitis is a digestive tract disorder that causes inflamed pouches (also called diverticula) in the lining of your intestine. More than 75 percent of diverticulitis cases are uncomplicated, leaving about 25 percent to develop complications (3). These may include nausea, fever, severe abdominal pain, bloody bowel movements, abscess, etc., but a proper diet can alleviate the symptoms of the disease. There are no specific foods that everyone with diverticulitis has to keep away from. However, as a rule, doctors prescribe low fiber diets during an acute attack of diverticulitis. Moreover, they might even recommend sticking to a clear liquid diet that excludes solid foods altogether.
Following this diet for a few days will help your digestive system to heal, rest and recover. Some studies have linked high-fiber diets to a reduced risk of diverticulitis. Other studies have examined possible benefits of dietary or supplemental fiber for diverticular disease, but they are still unsure whether fiber can help treat it (7).
One study shows that a low-fiber diet can increase the risk of diverticulitis, however, other researches show that there is no link between low-residue and this disease. Diverticulitis and low-fiber diet need to be studied further, as the results of the researches are quite mixed and inconclusive.
How long to stay on the low-residue diet after diverticulitis?
There is no single right answer to this question, as everything depends on your health condition. Most people stick to this eating pattern until all symptoms subside (diarrhea, cramps). Make sure to increase your fiber intake slowly to avoid stomach aches. The safest option is to introduce one new fiber food a day. Drink plenty of water to ease the transition period.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Diet and nutritional factors in inflammatory bowel diseases. (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Diverticular Disease: An Update on Pathogenesis and Management (2018, gutnliver.org)
- Diverticular disease: Epidemiology and management (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Evidence for Low Residue Diet in the Management of Gastrointestinal Related Conditions. (2012, journals.sagepub.com)
- Low-Residue Diet in Diverticular Disease: Putting an End to a Myth. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber. (2008, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Role of Fiber in Symptomatic Uncomplicated Diverticular Disease: A Systematic Review (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)