Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods. A low fiber diet, or low residue diet, limits the amount of fiber you eat each day by restricting foods high in fiber.
Fiber is good for your health, but it may be difficult for your digestive system to process at times. Because of this, a doctor might recommend a low fiber diet to treat flare-ups of digestive system problems, including:
Doctors might also recommend a low fiber diet to treat diarrhea and cramping. You might need to follow this diet before having a colonoscopy, after types of surgery, or during certain cancer treatments.
The aim is to give your digestive system a rest. A low fiber diet should:
- reduce the amount of undigested food moving through the gut
- ease the amount of work the digestive system is doing
- reduce the amount of stool produced
- ease abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms
The low fiber diet limits the amount of nutrients you get, and it’s not intended for weight loss. Without proper guidance, the diet it can cause unintended side effects and make symptoms worse in the long run.
People should only follow a low fiber diet under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Read more to learn healthful ways to follow a low fiber diet.
Typically, a low fiber diet limits fiber intake to around
The foods that make up the low fiber diet are not the best options for long-term health.
For instance, whole grain bread has more nutrients and health benefits than white bread, but whole-grains are high in fiber, so people on this diet should opt for white bread instead.
Your doctor will recommend that you only follow the low fiber diet for a short time — until your bowel heals, diarrhea resolves, or your body has recovered from surgery.
Avoid any food that you know your body will find it difficult to digest.
When you’re going on a low fiber diet, certain foods — like spicy foods — may affect your digestive system more. You might also want to avoid tea, coffee, and alcohol during this time.
Before and during the low fiber diet, ask your doctor about any foods you’re wondering about. They can give advice about the type of plan that will benefit your overall health and cater to your specific needs.
It might also help to meet with a dietitian to get specific meal plans and guidance on eating a low fiber diet.
Changing the types of grains you eat is a good starting point to removing fiber. Try switching whole grain foods for products made with white or refined flour instead.
When you hit the grocery store, read the labels and aim to avoid foods with more than 2 grams of fiber per serving.
Make a point to keep your fluid intake high. This will help you avoid constipation while on this diet plan.
Need a starting point? Try this menu.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, buttered white toast, and vegetable juice.
- Lunch: A tuna salad sandwich on an unseeded white roll with a cup of melon.
- Dinner: A lightly seasoned, broiled salmon with mashed potatoes.
A low fiber diet can help give your digestive system a break. Fiber, while it usually has health benefits, takes more effort for your body to digest.
Your doctor might recommend trying this diet for a short time if you have one of the following:
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- abdominal cramps
- irritation or damage in the digestive tract
- bowel narrowing caused by a tumor
- recovery from gastrointestinal surgery, including colostomy and ileostomy
- current radiation therapy or other treatments that might affect the gastrointestinal tract
When you’re ready to start introducing fiber again, it’s best to do this slowly. This is help prevent uncomfortable side effects.
Increase intake gradually by 5 grams of fiber per week. To do this, try introducing a small portion of one high fiber food per day.
If the food doesn’t cause symptoms, you can add it back into your diet.
How much fiber you need is based on your age and sex. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people following a 2,000-calorie diet should get the following amounts of fiber:
- 38 grams per day for adult males, and 30 grams after age 50
- 25 grams per day for adult females, and 21 grams after age 50
The most healthful way to get fiber is by eating fruits with skins left on, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Know your fibers
There are two types of fiber:
- Soluble fiber. This type of fiber absorbs water during digestion, turning into a soft, gel-like substance. For some, soluble fiber is less likely to irritate the digestive tract. Others may notice an increase in gas, bloating, or discomfort since many soluble fiber-rich foods also contain fermentable fibers or prebiotics that feed gut bacteria. Still, during a low fiber diet, small amounts of soluble fiber might be okay. Beans, oats, peas, and citrus fruits are high in soluble fiber.
- Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber does not dissolve in the stomach, and the undigested fragments may irritate the gut. During a low fiber diet, be especially careful to avoid foods like whole wheat, grains, and fruit and veggie skins.
People should only follow a low fiber diet under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Your doctor will be able to tell you how long you need to be on the diet. This will depend on your situation or condition.
During your low fiber diet, avoid foods that have insoluble fiber and be sure to take note of the fiber content in packaged foods.
Many of the foods allowed on a low fiber diet are less healthful than high fiber alternatives. When you start eating high fiber foods again, do so slowly, and if possible, switch back to healthful foods like whole-grains, legumes and vegetables.