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.

What Is a Low-Residue Diet?

A low-residue diet consists of foods that are easy to digest and tend to be naturally lower in dietary 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. 

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

The 7-Day Diet Plan

Creating meals on the low-residue diet is not overly complicated, but may require more prep time. There are no limitations on timing or meal quantities. Below is an example of a 7-day meal plan but keep in mind this may not be ideal for you and different options may be better. This diet is not to be followed long term and is typically used only when recommended and supervised by a healthcare professional.

Day 1: Yogurt, very ripe banana, white toast with butter; white bread, canned tuna with mayo, applesauce; cooked tomato soup, white rice, boiled broccoli

Day 2: White flour waffles, peeled cooked apple slices, pulp-free orange juice; white rice, cooked salmon, mayo and sesame oil sauce, cooked spinach, cooked mushrooms; white pasta, tomato sauce, ground beef, cheddar cheese, boiled green beans

Day 3: Scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, cooked peeled mashed sweet potato; poached chicken thigh, boiled green beans with butter, white rice; meatloaf, mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach

Day 4: White toast, boiled eggs with mayonnaise, avocado; smooth peanut butter on white bread with ripe banana slices, applesauce; poached chicken, tomato sauce, and cheese stuffed in a cooked sweet potato (do not eat skin)

Day 5: Applesauce, white English muffin, pulp-free orange juice; egg salad made with mayonnaise, white bread, peeled grapes; minestrone soup made with white pasta, cooked peeled vegetables and canned tomato sauce, white dinner roll with butter

Day 6: White flour pancakes, cooked and strained blueberries, ripe banana, yogurt; white tortilla, cooked ground beef, cheese, cooked diced tomatoes, sour cream; tuna casserole made with white egg noodles, cream, peeled cooked carrots, mayonnaise, sauteed asparagus tips

Day 7: Scrambled eggs, sauteed asparagus tips, peeled mashed sweet potato; sweet potato and cream soup, sauteed spinach, white dinner roll; chicken soup with peeled cooked potatoes and carrots, white dinner roll, boiled broccoli

What You Can Eat

The main foods to eat on a low-residue diet include those that are generally easy to digest. 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.

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 grains instead of whole grains.

  • White rice
  • White bread
  • Refined pasta
  • Refined crackers

Fruit and Vegetables

Root vegetables are recommended over cruciferous vegetables since they are easier to digest. Be sure to cook vegetables thoroughly. Always peel fruits and vegetables, and remove any seeds.

  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Seedless squash
  • Asparagus tips
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomato sauce
  • Avocado
  • Ripe bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Peeled seedless grapes
  • Canned, cooked skinless fruit or vegetables
  • Pulp-free juice

Dairy

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

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt

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. Choose foods that are higher in calories yet low in fiber. Make sure they are tender and well cooked.

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs

Fats

As with protein foods, foods with fat can help ensure you are consuming enough calories on a low-residue diet.

  • Oils
  • Butter
  • Margarine
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Sauces

What You Cannot Eat

All the main food groups are allowed on a low-residue diet, but there are limitations within each of them. The following foods are high in fiber or are considered hard to digest according to this diet type.

High-Fiber Fruits and Vegetables

  • Raw vegetables
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Dried fruit
  • Fermented fruit or vegetables
  • Fruit with skins

Whole Grains

  • Whole grain bread products
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Crunchy nut or seed butter

Beans and Legumes

  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans

Alcohol and Caffeine

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Spirits
  • Coffee (decaffeinated may be allowed)
  • Soda with caffeine

How to Prepare the Low Residue Diet & Tips

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.

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.

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.

Sample Shopping List

Shopping for the low-residue diet is fairly easy. The work is in how you prep the foods you buy (by, for example, removing skins and cooking everything thoroughly). This is not a definitive shopping list and if following the diet, you may find other foods that work best for you.

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Canned cooked tomatoes
  • Fruit (bananas, grapes, canned fruit, applesauce)
  • Potatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Green beans
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Pulp-free orange juice

Pros of the Low-Residue Diet

The low-residue diet has benefits for specific circumstances. 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 help with IBD: 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.
  • May reduce gas and bloating: The diet 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.

Cons of the Low-Residue Diet

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 and for certain circumstances.

  • Low in important fiber: Fiber is important for heart health and lowering the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
  • 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.
  • May cause nutrient deficiencies: When you consume refined grains, you are eliminating the part of the grain that contains nutrition. This could lead to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. As well, avoiding the skins of fruit and vegetables means avoiding the most nutrient-dense parts.
  • May cause hunger: Without the bulk of fiber, you may feel hungry. Refined foods may cause your blood sugar to spike, leaving you hungry soon after. Higher fiber diets are associated with healthy body weight.

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 it with your doctor. A very low-fiber diet should not be followed long-term or without a doctor or dietitian’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 number of food residues produced while passing through the gastrointestinal tract.

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% of women and 97% 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.

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. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight-loss methods, 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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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Miketinas DC, Bray GA, Beyl RA, Ryan DH, Sacks FM, Champagne CM. Fiber intake predicts weight loss and dietary adherence in adults consuming calorie-restricted diets: the POUNDS lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) studyJ Nutr. 2019;149(10):1742-1748. doi:10.1093/jn/nxz117

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Ninth Edition.

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