How to Eat (and Recover from) a Low-Fiber Diet

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on June 27, 2017Written by Corey Whelan on June 27, 2017

What’s a low-fiber diet?

A low-fiber diet (also called a restricted-fiber diet) limits the amount of high-fiber foods you eat each day. This helps give your digestive system a rest. A low-fiber diet should:

  • reduce the amount of undigested food moving through your intestines and bowels
  • ease the amount of work your digestive system isn’t doing
  • reduce the amount of stool you produce
  • ease abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms

Only eat a low-fiber diet if your doctor tells you to. This is often to treat symptoms like diarrhea and cramping, before colonoscopies, after certain surgeries, or if you have a flare-up of one of the following gut issues:

  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • diverticulitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis

This diet is restricting, nutritionally limiting, and not intended for weight loss. If you don’t do it right, it may cause more unintended side effects and symptoms in the long run. Read more to learn how to do a low-fiber diet right.

What can you eat on a low-fiber diet?

Typically, a low-fiber diet limits fiber intake to around 10 to 15 grams per day for both men and women. A low-fiber diet is made up of foods you shouldn’t eat in large quantities or rely on for your health. This includes white bread, ice cream, and protein. As long as you stick to a low-fiber diet for a short amount of time — until your bowels heal, diarrhea resolves, or you’re healed from surgery — you’ll be OK.

Low-fiber foods

  • white bread
  • white pasta
  • white rice
  • foods made with refined white flour, like pancakes
  • low-fiber hot and cold cereal
  • eggs
  • well-cooked canned or fresh vegetables in small amounts
  • potatoes without the skin
  • fats like olive oil, mayonnaise, gravy, and butter
  • dairy products if you can tolerate them
  • tender protein sources like eggs, tofu, chicken, and fish
  • creamy peanut butter

Low-fiber fruits

  • fruit juices without pulp
  • canned fruit
  • bananas
  • cantaloupe
  • honeydew melon
  • watermelon
  • nectarines
  • papayas
  • peaches
  • plums

Low-fiber vegetables

  • well-cooked or canned vegetables without seeds or skins
  • carrots
  • beets
  • asparagus tips
  • white potatoes without skin
  • string beans
  • lettuce if you can tolerate it
  • tomato sauces
  • acorn squash without seeds
  • pureed spinach
  • strained vegetable juice

You may eat cucumbers without seeds or skin, zucchini, and shredded lettuce raw.

Any food that you know is difficult for your system to handle should also be avoided. When you’re going on a low-fiber diet, certain foods — like spicy foods — may affect your digestive system more. Tea, coffee, and alcohol may need to be avoided during this time.

Foods to avoid

  • onions and garlic
  • potatoes with skin left on
  • bran
  • raw or cooked cruciferous vegetables
  • raw and dried fruit
  • beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds
  • whole grain foods
  • wild or brown rice
  • anything spicy, fried, or tough
  • processed or tough meat

Ask your doctor about these foods and any other foods you’re wondering about before you begin the diet. Also make a point to keep your fluid intake high. This will help you avoid constipation while on this diet plan.

Always talk to your doctor about your specific needs and the type of plan which will most benefit your overall health before you hit the grocery store. Make sure to read labels and avoid any food that contains more than 1 gram of fiber.

You can also meet with a dietitian for specific meal plans and guidance on eating a low-fiber diet.

Need a starting point?

Breakfast: Try scrambled eggs with buttered white toast and vegetable juice.

Lunch: Have a tuna salad sandwich on an unseeded white roll with half a banana.

Dinner: Make a piece of lightly seasoned, broiled salmon with mashed potatoes.

Why is a low-fiber diet beneficial?

You should only go on a low-fiber diet if your doctor tells you to. Your doctor may recommend this diet if you have:

  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • diverticulitis
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • constipation
  • trouble with digestion
  • irritation or damage in your digestive tract
  • narrowing of the bowel caused by a tumor
  • post-surgical recuperation from gastrointestinal procedures like colostomy and ileostomy
  • gone through radiation or other types of treatments which might affect your gastrointestinal tract

You may also need to eat a low-fiber diet for 2 to 3 days prior to getting a colonoscopy.

How to start eating fiber again

Once you’ve reset your digestive system, you should slowly return to eating fiber-rich foods by introducing a small portion of one fiber food per day. If the food doesn’t cause symptoms within 24 hours, it can be added to your diet.

How much fiber you need is based on your age and sex.

Adults (50 years or younger)Adults (over 50)
men38 g30 g
women25 g21 g

Avoid eating all your fiber in one sitting or meal. The best way to get lots of it is by eating fruits with skins left on, raw vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Know your fibers

There are two types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber foods absorb water during digestion, which turns them into a soft, gel-like substance. Soluble fiber foods, like apples, peas, or beans, are less irritating to the digestive tract and can often be eaten in small amounts.
  • Insoluble fiber foods don’t dissolve completely in the stomach. The small bits of undigested food that remain can be irritating to the intestines. On a low-fiber diet, you’ll have to be especially careful to avoid foods like whole wheat, grains, and raw veggies.

Takeaway

Only eat a low-fiber diet if your doctor has recommended it. Your doctor will be able to tell you how long you need to be on the diet. It’ll depend on your situation or condition.

Work with a dietitian to create an individualized plan. 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, like pudding and white bread, shouldn’t become a staple to your regular diet, especially after you start slowly reintroducing fiber.

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