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A low residue diet is followed to put as few demands on the digestive tract as possible. It’s similar to a low fiber diet, but it also excludes some foods that can stimulate bowel contractions.

Residue refers to material left in your digestive tract after the initial stages of digestion are finished. These materials often contain a lot of fiber because the body can’t fully digest fiber.

A low residue diet restricts foods that contain indigestible material. This causes the body to produce smaller amounts of stool less frequently.

A low residue diet is typically recommended for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) flares, for bowel surgery and colonoscopy prep, and for patients with infectious colitis or acute diverticulitis.

The daily recommended amount of fiber that people should ideally consume is about 25 to 38 grams. However, this may not be right for people with IBD. A higher fiber diet should be avoided for people undergoing bowel surgery or if experiencing a flare of IBD symptoms.

When following a low residue diet, typical advice is to consume no more than 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day.

You should also avoid dairy products and certain types of carbohydrates. They may provoke abdominal cramping and diarrhea.

A healthcare professional or dietitian should supervise you if you decide to follow a low residue diet. Low residue diets are usually only recommended for short-term use.

It can also change the gut microbiome. Your individual needs should determine the amounts and types of food, as well as how long you follow the diet.

This diet is usually not followed long term.

These are general guidelines for a low residue diet. They can be changed based on how your body reacts to the diet and what your healthcare team recommends.

There are many healthy food options on a low residue diet. It’s a good idea to talk with a dietitian before starting this type of diet, but here are some good options they may suggest:

  • refined carbohydrates including white bread, white rice, pasta, and refined cereal
  • clear juices, broths, and strained soups
  • small amounts of certain raw vegetables, including shredded raw lettuce and skinless and seedless cucumber
  • well-cooked or canned vegetables, no skins or seeds, including yellow squash, spinach, pumpkin, eggplant, green beans, asparagus, beets, carrots, and potatoes
  • some raw fruits, including ripe apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, nectarines, papayas, peaches, and plums
  • butter, vegetable oils, and margarine
  • limited amounts of cooked fruits, without seeds or skins
  • finely ground, well-cooked meat
  • fish, eggs, and poultry
  • up to 2 cups per day of smooth milk products, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese

Good cooking methods for a low residue diet include:

  • steaming
  • braising
  • poaching
  • simmering
  • microwaving

It may be necessary to drink additional fluids, especially water, to avoid constipation when reducing the volume of your stools with a low residue diet.

Meals to try on a low residue diet

For breakfast:

  • scrambled eggs
  • pancakes or french toast with butter
  • pulp-free juice or decaffeinated coffee with milk and sugar

For lunch:

  • baked chicken breast with cooked carrots
  • cheeseburger with a seedless bun, onion, lettuce, and ketchup
  • turkey or chicken sandwich on French bread

For dinner:

  • white rice, steamed vegetables, and baked chicken
  • baked potato with the skin removed, butter, and sour cream
  • broiled fish, asparagus, and pasta with butter or olive oil

A dietician can also help you identify foods you should avoid on a low residue diet. Here are some foods that should typically be avoided:

  • legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • most raw fruits and vegetables
  • popcorn
  • unprocessed coconut
  • most whole grains, including breads or pastas
  • figs, prunes, and berries
  • dried fruits
  • deli meats
  • spicy foods and dressings
  • caffeine
  • prune juice or juice with pulp
  • chocolate

Low residue foods should be well cooked. Avoid cooking methods such as roasting, broiling, or grilling, which may make food tough or dry.

Certain circumstances and conditions may benefit from a low residue diet. Here are some situations where your healthcare team may recommend it.

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation that damages the digestive tract. People with a family history are more likely to develop it. It’s unclear why the body attacks its own tissues.

There’s currently no cure for Crohn’s disease. However, diet changes may help you achieve remission.

Some people living with Crohn’s disease experience bowel obstructions and narrowing of the ileum, or lower small intestine. A low residue diet may aid in a reduction of symptoms like pain and cramping.

However, research has been inconclusive or contradictory on the diet’s effectiveness for inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s.

More evidence on if the low residue diet is appropriate and effective for people with Crohn’s disease is needed.

Ulcerative colitis

A low residue diet may also be helpful for those with ulcerative colitis, though a similar lack of consensus exists here, too.

This IBD causes inflammation and ulcers on the inner lining of the large intestine.

The irritation may cause some people to lose their appetite and eat less. This could lead to malnutrition.

Special diets can sometimes help. A low residue diet could potentially aid in staying well nourished while recovering from a bowel obstruction or surgery.

In preparation for a colonoscopy

The goal of a low residue diet is to limit the size and number of stools. Therefore, it may be prescribed to someone who’s about to undergo a colonoscopy.

This procedure is used to detect abnormalities in the large intestine and rectum.

Recovery after recent bowel surgery

A medical professional might recommend that you temporarily follow a low residue diet if you’re recovering from recent bowel surgery (e.g., ileostomy, colostomy, or resection).

Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes supply important antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and more.

Normally, you should try to consume a balanced diet, unless your healthcare team tells you otherwise, as the low residue diet may not provide enough of certain nutrients your body needs to function optimally.

All of these nutrients are essential for good health. Supplements may be necessary to correct deficiencies.

Always talk with your healthcare team before making any changes to your diet or adding supplements.

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