Young female doctor consulting an elderly patient in her office on a low-residue diet

Low Residue Diet: What is it and Who is it for?

CDHF

Written by: CDHF

Updated: January 19th, 2023

If you suffer from certain digestive medical conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or diverticulitis, you may have heard the term ‘low-residue diet’ floating around. In this article, we will discuss what a low-residue diet is, what types of food to avoid, what foods to eat, as well as the recommended duration of a low-residue diet.

What is a Low Residue Diet?

A low residue diet is a type of diet that limits the number of indigestible materials3 (materials not digested by our body) in the food you eat. The objective of the diet is to decrease the size and frequency of bowel movements in order to manage painful symptoms. This is a diet that should only be considered if recommended by a healthcare professional.

Because this diet limits food that are high in fibre, it is extremely important to work with a healthcare professional to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need. Health Canada recommends women get 25 grams of fibre in their diet per day and men should be getting 38 grams of fibre per day, so this diet is not recommended long term, and should only be done under the supervision of your doctor or with the help of a registered dietitian.

It is similar to a low fibre diet, but differs in that it also limits other foods, which we will cover below!

Reasons Why a Low Residue Diet may be Recommended:

A low-residue diet is not recommended for weight loss. It is a diet recommended by healthcare professionals to patients with a variety of digestive health conditions for a short period of time who are having painful symptoms, or in an active flare. It can also be recommended to those who are preparing for a colonoscopy.

Some conditions that a low-residue diet may be prescribed for include:

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): A low-residue diet can help to reduce symptoms of IBD, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Diverticulitis: A low residue diet can help to reduce the risk of complications from diverticulitis, a condition in which small pockets in the colon become inflamed.

Bowel Surgery: This diet may be recommended before and after bowel surgery to allow the bowel to heal and reduce the risk of complications.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): A low-residue diet can help to reduce symptoms of IBS, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation.

Anal fissures: Symptoms of anal fissures may be relieved by reducing the bulk of the feces and make them softer.

Foods to Avoid and Eat on a Low Residue Diet:

Image of bowls full of nuts, dried fruit and other high fibre snacks to help illustrate what not to eat on a low-residue diet

Before taking on this diet, make sure to ask your doctor or dietitian to help build a menu for you. Below is a very high level look at what foods you may be asked to avoid, and what foods you may want to include.

List of foods to avoid:

When a patient is put on a low-residue diet to help manage their symptoms, they are instructed to avoid foods that contain what doctors call ‘indigestible materials.’ Some examples of foods that should be avoided on this diet are:

Fibre: Foods high in fibre, such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as whole grain cereals, breads, and pastas, nuts, and seeds, and popcorn.

Skin and seeds: Fruits and vegetables with skin and seeds, such as berries, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and dried fruits.

Tough meats: Tough meats, such as stew meat or ground beef should be avoided as they can be difficult to digest.

Dairy products: Dairy products that are high in fat, such as whole milk or cheese.

Fast Foods: Foods that are fried, greasy, or spicy.

It is extremely important that this diet is only pursued under strict supervision from a healthcare professional, and only at your doctor’s recommendation. If you are experiencing severe symptoms in relation to a previously diagnosed digestive health condition, talk to your doctor to see if this type of diet is right for you.

So, What Can you Eat on a Low Residue Diet?

Ensuring you are consuming foods that are very easy to digest is important if your doctor has recommended. Below is a list of foods that are usually recommended for patients on a low-residue diet.

Foods that are typically allowed:

Cooked fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables that are cooked and peeled, such as applesauce, canned fruits, cooked carrots, and cooked spinach, are generally safe to eat.

Lean meats: Lean meats, such as chicken, fish, and turkey, are easy to digest and can be a good source of protein on a low-residue diet.

Dairy products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt are generally safe to eat on a low-residue diet if they are low-fat1.

Refined grains: White bread, pasta, and rice are easy to digest and can be included in a low-residue diet.

Other options include: Eggs, tofu, pudding and custard, clear soups, broths and bouillon, tea and coffee (without cream), and juice without pulp.

These guidelines can vary depending on the specific medical condition and individual person. A registered dietitian or a doctor can provide guidance on which foods are safe to eat on a low residue diet for you and in what quantity.

How long should you follow a low-residue diet?

The duration of a low residue diet will vary depending on the individual and the specific medical condition. In general, this diet is typically recommended for a short period of time, ranging from a few days to a few weeks, to help manage symptoms.

Low Residue Diet and IBD Flare

If you have a flare-up of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), your doctor may recommend a low residue diet for a week or two to help reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms. Similarly, if you’re preparing for bowel surgery, you may be asked to follow a low-residue diet for a few days leading up to the procedure, and for a few weeks after the surgery to aid in healing.

It’s important to note that a low-residue diet is not a long-term solution and it’s not designed for weight loss. The diet is intended to give the gut a rest and to help manage symptoms. Once symptoms are relieved and the gut has healed, you should work with your healthcare professional to gradually reintroduce high fibre foods into your diet.

Can a Low Residue Diet Cause Constipation?

A low-residue diet may cause constipation in some individuals, as it typically limits foods that are high in fibre5, which can help to promote regular bowel movements. Fibre is important for keeping stools soft, bulky, and easy to pass. When not consuming enough fibre, stools may become harder and more difficult to pass.

Additionally, constipation may occur if not enough fluids2 are consumed.  If constipation is a problem, your healthcare professional may recommend increasing your fluid intake, adding a stool softener or a mild laxative or adding a small amount of fibre to your diet.

Can a Low Residue Diet Cause Diarrhea?

This diet is not typically associated with diarrhea. In fact, it’s often recommended for people with diarrhea-predominant conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diverticulitis. A low residue diet limits foods that are high in fibre and indigestible materials, which can help to reduce the amount of stool produced and make it easier to pass.

In some cases, a low residue diet may cause diarrhea if it is not properly balanced and does not provide enough nutrients or fluids. Individuals used to a high fibre diet may experience diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset due to this sudden change.

If diarrhea is a problem, your healthcare professional may recommend increasing your fluid intake, adding probiotics, electrolytes, or a mild anti-diarrheal medication.

Conclusion

A low residue diet is a type of diet that limits the number of indigestible materials in the food you eat. This diet is often recommended for people with certain medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diverticulitis to help reduce symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

To follow a low residue diet, you will need to avoid certain foods that are high in fibre and other indigestible materials, such as raw fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Instead, you will need to focus on eating foods that are easy to digest, such as cooked fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and dairy products.

A low residue diet is not meant to be a long-term solution, it’s typically used as a short-term option to help manage symptoms of a medical condition. As always, your doctor or registered dietitian can help provide guidance on what is best for you and your condition.


References:

  1. Christian GM, Alford B, Shanklin CW, DiMarco N. Milk and milk products in low-residue diets: current hospital practices do not match dietitians’ beliefs. J Am Diet Assoc. 1991 Mar;91(3):341-2. PMID: 1997558. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1997558/
  2. Ho, S., Mei Tan, C. Y., Mohd Daud, M. A., & Seow-Choen, F. (2012). Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms. World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG, 18(33), 4593-4596. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4593
  3. Kong F, Singh RP. Disintegration of solid foods in human stomach. J Food Sci. 2008 Jun;73(5):R67-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00766.x. PMID: 18577009.
  4. Sorathia AZ, Sorathia SJ. Low Residue Diet. [Updated 2022 Apr 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557693/
  5. Yang, J., Wang, P., Zhou, L., & Xu, F. (2012). Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG, 18(48), 7378-7383. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378

Related Articles:

View all News & Articles

Young female doctor consulting an elderly patient in her office on a low-residue diet

Low Residue Diet: What is it and Who is it for?

coffee beans in mug

Is Coffee Bad for Digestion?

fast food stacked on table

Low FODMAP Fast-Food Meals

bowel model and fresh fruit

How to Aid Healthy Digestion

Gifts for Guts

man on grey background with puzzle pieces surrounding head

The Link Between the Gut and Mental Health 

low fodmap diet on a phone

Understanding the low FODMAP Diet

Women speaking online on computer with a registered dietitian

Online Nutrition Courses from Registered Dietitians

Family eating healthy meal

Family Friendly Snack Ideas

Yoga for Digestion

5 Strategies for Living Gluten-Free

salad with apple beets and chickpeas

Increase Your Fibre Intake

Types of Berries

The Power of Berries- Colourful and Kick-Ass Nutrition

Porrdge

Creamy, High Protein Breakfast Porridge

Bowl of Slaw

Crack Slaw Stir-fry

Grocery shopping with list

Make your Weekly Grocery Shop a Breeze: Amanda’s Top 5 Tips

Peppermint

Peppermint Fixes More Than Just Bad Breath

Spoons full of different prebiotics

Gut Health and Prebiotics

Family smiling into camera

5 Nutrition Tips for You and Your Family this Summer

Does Hot Weather Affect Digestion?

Women looking at labels in the grocer store

Understanding Fibre Nutrition Claims

Beginning frame of Understanding Fibre Animation

Understanding Fibre Animation

Fibre Benefits

Fibre & Its Benefits

Hand squeezing a grapefruit

Diets Used for IBS

friends smiling in kitchen

7 Day Gluten-Free Diet Plan

Women and male bathroom stall

Managing your Digestive Health in the Workplace Webinar

Taking a photo of food

Diet & Lifestyle Changes for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Cutting up meat and vegetables in the kitchen

Eating for 1 Trillion

Women laughing in yoga pose

Wait… My Gut Affects My Mental Health?

heart shaped bowls filled with fruits

10 Ways to Strengthen Your Microbiome

Kefir

What is Kefir and is it Good for You?

Women holding a salad

Busting Gut Health Buzz Words

Exercising and drinking water

Trying to Eat Healthier? Make it a Habit!

Bowl of healthy salad and tofu

Mental Health and Nutrition

Turkey pesto meatballs

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

Person on computer at home working

Staying Healthy at Home!

Man drinking water

Pre and Post Surgery Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies to Optimize your Recovery

Brown bag of groceries spilling out of bag

How to Manage Stress Eating and Snack Smart at Home

Drinking water side eye pink background

The Importance of Staying Hydrated: General Hydration and Virus Recovery

Egg and leeks

How to Stay Fuller Longer

Pregnant women in pink shirt smiling down at stonach

Prenatal Health and Your Baby

woman comforting elderly man

Preventing GI Disorders in Adults and the Elderly

Candy

Trick or Treating Safely with Digestive Conditions

CDHF Talks: The Role of Nutrition/Diet in a Healthy Gut Microbiota

Bone broth

Is Bone Broth Healthy?

Leafy greens on purple background

Gut Bacteria and Leafy Greens

CDHF Partners with Metro and their Wellness Program Catered to Digestive Health Issues

World Digestive Health Day: Obesity

Person grocery cart shopping

Help with Choosing Healthy Grocery Products

Senior and adult cooking in the kitchen

Diet & Nutrition Tips for Seniors and their Caregivers

Dietary Fibre vs Prebiotics: Animation

CDHF Talks: Protein and Fibre

peaches

Tips for Eating Well with Rising Food Costs

man holding takeout box and clutching stomach

What is a Food Intolerance?

meal planning sheet

Two Day Meal Plan with Lactose Intolerance

Gatepkeeper of your health

How Nutrition Can Support Gut Health and the Immune System

Common food allergies o blue background

What is a Food Allergy?

The Power of Oats: Can They Play a Role in the Gluten Free Diet?

Feeding your Microbiota Fibre, Prebiotics, and Probiotics

Women drinking wine with pink microbe background

Alcohol and IBS

Digestive Health 101 Webinar

healthy foods

Diet & Lifestyle Changes for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Clipboard that says diet plan surrounded by healthy smoothies and vegetables

Diet Plan for Gastroparesis

healthy food at dinner table

Nutrition Tips for Aging Well

Astro yogurt on a kitchen counter

Lactalis Canada Introduces Astro® PROTEIN & FIBRE Yogourt

The Cultured Coconut bottle on a kitchen counter

The Cultured Coconut – CDHF Certified Product

apples and a bottle of apple cider vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar for Digestion. What’s the Deal?