A low residue diet is meant 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 people 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. You should avoid a high fiber diet if you’ll be undergoing bowel surgery or if you’re 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 most 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. Your individual needs will determine the amounts and types of food, as well as how long you follow the diet. Low residue diets are usually only recommended for the short 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 to determine exactly which foods you should eat and how much of each. Here are some good options they may suggest.
A low residue diet includes refined carbohydrates that are easy to digest, such as:
- white bread, rolls, biscuits
- white pasta
- white rice
- saltine crackers
- refined cereal, like puffed rice or corn flakes
- skinless, cooked potatoes
Fruits and vegetables
When it comes to fruits, choose ripened, skinless, seedless, varieties that are raw, canned, or cooked. Good options for a low residue diet include:
- honeydew melon
When it comes to vegetable intake, plan to include well-cooked or canned options with no skin or seeds, such as:
- artichoke hearts
- green beans
- yellow squash
A low residue diet may also include small amounts of certain raw vegetables, including:
- shredded lettuce
- skinless, seedless cucumber
Milk and other dairy products
A small amount of smooth milk products may be included in a low residue diet, such as:
- ice cream
- cottage cheese
- ricotta cheese
Meat and other protein sources
When it comes to meat, choose finely ground, well-cooked, or tender options, like:
You may also eat:
- organ meats
Sauces and condiments
Safe choices for sauces and condiments include:
- vegetable oil
- plain gravy
Snacks, sweets, and desserts
If you feel like snacking or having something sweet, try small portions of plain options like:
- hard candy
- ice cream
It may be necessary to drink additional fluids to avoid constipation when reducing the volume of your stools with a low residue diet. Stick with plenty of:
- clear broths
- clear fruit juice
- strained vegetable juice
Here are a few example meals to try on a low residue diet.
- scrambled eggs
- pancakes or french toast with butter
- pulp-free juice or decaffeinated coffee with milk and sugar
- baked chicken breast with cooked carrots
- cheeseburger with a seedless bun, onion, lettuce, and ketchup
- turkey or chicken sandwich on French bread
- 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
Meal prep tips
Good cooking methods for a low residue diet include:
Low residue foods should be well cooked. Avoid cooking methods such as roasting, broiling, or grilling, which may make food tough or dry.
A dietitian 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
- unprocessed coconut
- most whole grains, including breads or pastas
- figs, prunes, and berries
- dried fruits
- deli meats
- spicy foods and dressings
- prune juice or juice with pulp
- tough, fibrous meats with gristle
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 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.
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
More evidence on if the low residue diet is appropriate and effective for people with Crohn’s disease is needed.
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
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.