What Is a Low-Residue Diet?

Banana, toast, potato, asparagus, and egg in low-residue diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

A low-residue diet consists of foods that are easy to digest and tend to be naturally lower in fiber. “Residue” refers to undigested material, including fiber, that passes through the large intestine. A low-residue diet aims to decrease the amount of residue by limiting fiber intake, resulting in less bulky stool and fewer bowel movements.

On this diet, you can expect to eat select fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, meat, oils, condiments, and drinks. Foods that are difficult to digest or high in fiber—whole grains, raw vegetables, beans, lentils, and more—are not permitted while following a low-residue diet. 

If you have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, your doctor may recommend a short-term low-residue diet to ease gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and cramping.

A low-residue diet allows some nutrient-rich foods, but it is also restrictive and may make it difficult to meet your nutritional targets. This diet is not recommended long-term and should be followed under the guidance of a doctor or dietitian. Usually, followers of a low-residue diet can gradually return to their normal diet once their symptoms improve.

What Experts Say

"A low-residue diet is a diet that restricts the ingestion of indigestible material, such as fiber. Oftentimes the goal of a low-residue diet is to reduce stool quantity and frequency. In addition to having therapeutic roles, this diet can have diagnostic roles, too. It is sometimes used in bowel preps and is often followed temporarily. Someone who needs to follow a low residue diet should do so under the guidance of a registered dietitian. They will provide education and individualization to assure the diet is medically sound and healthy." 

Barbie Cervoni, MS, RD, CDCES, CDN

What Can You Eat?

The main foods to eat on a low-residue diet include those that are generally easy to digest. This includes low-fiber foods like white rice, ripe bananas, squash, tomato sauce, avocado, refined pasta, and more.  All the main food groups are allowed on a low-residue diet, but there are limitations within each of them.

What You Need to Know

A low-residue diet is designed to provide temporary relief from digestive symptoms like stomach cramping, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. It is not intended to be a long-term lifestyle change.

Many of the foods on a low-residue diet are low in fiber, which is an essential part of a healthy diet. While a low-fiber diet may provide relief from gastrointestinal symptoms, it is not sustainable long-term.

What to Eat
  • Some peeled and seedless fruits (avocado, ripe bananas, cantaloupe, peeled seedless grapes, etc.)

  • Some seedless and thoroughly cooked vegetables (seedless squash, asparagus tips, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, peeled potatoes, tomato sauce, etc.)

  • Refined grains (white rice, white bread, refined pasta, crackers, etc.)

  • Dairy products (unless lactose intolerant)

  • Tender but well-cooked poultry, fish, and beef

  • Eggs

  • Oil, butter, and margarine

  • Smooth peanut butter

  • Pulp-free fruit juice

  • Canned or cooked fruits that are peeled and seedless

  • Sauces and condiments

  • Decaffeinated coffee

What Not to Eat
  • Raw vegetables

  • Some cooked vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) 

  • Whole grains

  • Tough meats

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Legumes

  • Dried fruits

  • Fruits with skins

  • Crunchy peanut butter

  • Caffeine

  • Alcohol

  • Fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut

  • Popcorn

It can be difficult to know what to eat on a low-residue diet since most food groups are allowed, but there are restrictions within each food group. There are some patterns to help understand what is allowed on a low-residue diet.

Refined Grains

Opt for refined grained instead of whole grains. For example, white rice is preferred over brown rice since it is lower in fiber.

Root Vegetables

Root vegetables like potatoes and carrots are recommended over cruciferous vegetables since they are easier to digest. Be sure to cook them thoroughly, always peel them, and remove any seeds.

Limited Dairy

Though dairy is allowed, it should only be eaten in moderation since milk can trigger some gastrointestinal symptoms.

Protein-Rich Foods

While following a low-residue diet, it is important to eat enough calories since foods may have different nutritional profiles than your regular diet. Foods that are higher in calories yet low in fiber include meat, fish, and eggs. Avoid tough meats and deli meats that are more difficult to digest.

Pros and Cons

  • May soothe digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea

  • Recommended by doctors for certain patients with IBD

  • Solid food allowed unlike some liquid-only diets

  • Can be used to prep bowels for surgery or colonoscopy

  • Short-term

  • Limits nutrient-rich food groups like fruits and vegetables

  • Not recommended long-term

  • Low in fiber

  • Allows many refined foods

  • Limited evidence

  • Difficult to follow

  • Lack of a scientifically accepted definition

Is a Low-Residue Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

A low-residue diet is recommended as a temporary solution for people with severe IBD symptoms, such as gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.

It may also be recommended for people before undergoing a colonoscopy since the goal of the diet is to reduce the amount of residue in the intestines, therefore resulting in fewer bowel movements before a procedure.

A low-residue diet is not recommended for people who are not experiencing any digestive symptoms. People with constipation should not follow a low-fiber diet.

If you think a low-residue diet might be right for you, discuss with your doctor. A very low-fiber diet should not be followed long-term or without a doctor or dietician’s guidance.

Though a low-residue diet is recommended to some patients with IBD, it should not be followed without the guidance of a doctor or dietitian. A low-residue diet is not a lasting lifestyle choice since it is a low-fiber diet that does not meet the USDA recommendations for fiber.

Keep in mind that the low-fiber diet is the preferred alternative to the low-residue diet. While some healthcare providers may still refer to this diet as low residue, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics removed the diet from their Nutrition Care Manual because of a lack of a scientifically accepted quantitative definition and the unavailability of a method to estimate the amount of food residues produced while passing through the gastrointestinal tract.

Health Benefits

The main health benefits of a low-residue diet relate to digestion. People with IBD can expect to experience the most benefits from this diet. This is not a diet that is designed for weight loss.

May Reduce IBD Symptoms

A low-residue diet is specifically tailored to provide relief for patients with IBD. Adopting a diet low in fiber gives the digestive system, specifically the large intestine, an opportunity to rest. While the bowels are not required to break down high-fiber foods, healing can occur. This is beneficial for people who experience frequent bowel movements and have inflammation in their bowels, as it gives the large intestine a break. With fewer stools, people following a low-residue diet may experience relief from symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, gas, and cramping.

Can Prep Bowels Before Surgery or Colonoscopy

A liquid-only diet is often recommended before bowel surgery or colonoscopy. This is known as bowel prep. Up to a week before your procedure, you may be asked to avoid high-fiber foods, so your bowels are as empty as possible. This will reduce the number of bowel movements you take leading up to the procedure. You may need to modify the diet to incorporate more liquids than solids as the procedure gets closer.

May Act as a Transition From Liquids to Solids

People who have followed a liquid-only diet may need a gradual return to foods containing fiber. Adopting a low-residue diet as part of that transition can help followers of a liquid diet return to their normal way of eating over time. Going from a liquid diet to a high-fiber diet could cause discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract, so slowly increasing the amount of fiber is recommended.

Health Risks

A low-fiber diet is restrictive and can reduce the number of bowel movements that occur. For some people, a low-residue diet poses more risks than benefits, which is why it is only recommended for a short period of time.

Low in Fiber

The USDA's 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize the importance of getting enough fiber, stating that underconsumption of fiber is a public health concern. According to the guidelines, approximately 90 percent of women and 97 percent of men do not meet the recommended intakes for dietary fiber.

For adult women, the USDA recommends between 20g and 28g of fiber per day. For adult men, the USDA recommends between 28g and 34g of fiber per day. 

While there is not a definitive limit on how much fiber is recommended on a low-residue diet, followers may consume as little as 10g per day.

Fewer Bowel Movements

If you are experiencing diarrhea, fewer bowel movements can be a productive step towards regularity. If you have regular bowel movements, a low-residue diet can negatively impact your regularity. Digestion is a vital part of the body’s natural system to remove waste that could otherwise build up in the body and cause damage.

A Word From Verywell

Before starting a low-residue diet, consult with a doctor or dietitian. A low-residue diet may be right for you if you experience IBD symptoms like diarrhea or if you are preparing for bowel surgery or a colonoscopy. 

People without digestive symptoms like gas and bloating likely do not need to consider a low-residue diet since fiber is an important yet under-consumed nutrient on a Standard American Diet.

Remember that following a short-term diet like one low in residue or fiber may not be necessary for you. We do not endorse sustainable diets, though we present the facts so you can make an informed decision. The best diet for you is one that is balanced and sustainable. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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  1. USDA. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Published December 2020.

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