If you have problems with your bowels, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), every trip to the bathroom can feel like torture. You may want to stop eating altogether just to avoid the experience.
Your doctor may recommend a low-residue diet to provide short-term relief and generally improve your overall gut health. If they don’t recommend it, it may be worth asking them about it or speaking to a dietician.
However, it is worth noting that the low residue diet is a response to a specific medical condition and is not recommended for everyone. It can have several negative side effects, and you should not embark on this diet if you do not need to.
What is a Low-Residue Diet?
What is residue? It is the undigested food, including fibre, that makes up your stool.
The goal of the low-residue diet is to have fewer, smaller bowel movements that will also ease symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, gas, and stomach cramps.
The principle of the low-residue diet is that you prioritize foods that are low in fibre and therefore easy to digest and cut back on the foods that are high in fibre, and therefore produce more waste that you need to expel from your body.
We’ll take a closer look at what exactly that means, but it basically means fewer whole grains, legumes, and produce, and more meat, eggs, dairy, and refined carbs, such as white rice and bread. Adapting to this diet can feel strange if you have been brought up with the idea that “processed carbs are bad”!
The advice to avoid fibre is also pretty much the opposite of what most nutritionists will tell you to do. Fibre makes you feel fuller for longer and helps you control what you eat. But with the low-residue diet you are trying to deal with a very specific issue. It is not for everyone.
The low-residue diet is generally only recommended to those with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s and Colitis, or with diverticulitis, which is an infection or inflammation of the pouches that form part of your intestines, or those recovering from bowel surgery or preparing for a colonoscopy.
In addition, the low-residue diet is only recommended for a limited period to deal with specific issues as it cuts out many foods that contain essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for our overall health.
Ideally, most of the foods that you cut out should be incorporated back into your diet. You may choose to do this on a food group by food group basis, rather than all at once, to identify if a certain food group is causing you digestive issues.
Side Effects of the Low Residue Diet
If you do decide to spend time on a low residue diet, what can you expect to happen?
Obviously, you are on the diet for a reason, and you can expect quite a few positive side effects.
- Fewer trips to the bathroom, which can be more comfortable for you, and can give your intestines and bowels a rest if they have been struggling with something like IBD.
- It can reduce bloating and gas making you feel lighter and healthier.
- The diet will help prepare your bowels for surgery or a colonoscopy making the experience more comfortable.
- If you are moving from a liquid to a solid diet after surgery, it can make the transition more comfortable for the gastrointestinal tract.
But there are several negative side effects to spending time on the low residue diet as well.
- You will probably feel less satisfied after meals, and you will feel hungrier again sooner, making it more difficult to control your appetite.
- Since you don’t have fibre slowing down the overall digestive process, you can expect fast blood sugar responses, meaning big highs and big lows.
- You can also expect the bacteria balance in your digestive tract to change, and not generally for the better. It can have an impact on immunity and moods, so you might not feel your best when on the diet.
What To Eat On A Low Residue Diet?
When you are on a low-residue diet, you need to be looking for foods that are low in dietary fibre of all sorts.
While it is usually recommended to consume 25-38 grams of fibre per day, on the low residue diet you need to limit yourself to around 10-15 grams per day.
Below is a list of things that you can eat. Some of the options might seem quite unhealthy in terms of traditional diets, but remember, the diet should only be followed for a limited period.
Meat, Fish, Poultry, and Protein
Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle, and why your protein options are limited on the low residue diet, there are plenty of viable options.
- Tender cuts of meat
- Ground meat
- Smooth peanut butter
- Protein shakes
The good news is that protein shakes are permitted on the low-residue diet, though you should check the fibre content of your favourite brand. This is good news if your preferred sources of protein are off the menu. Find our guide to the best protein powders here.
Eggs are also a great source of protein, and you can have them almost any which way on this diet.
If you are eating one of the meat or fish option, bake, broil, or poach rather than frying and use mild seasoning. Stews and soups are also allowed, if all the ingredients are low residue recommended.
Avoid all processed meats such as sausages and cold cuts as well as meats with gristle. Many vegetarian sources of protein are also off the menu while on the diet, including beans, nuts, peas, lentils, and legumes.
Dairy, Milk, and Cheese
Dairy can be a tough one, as it can be a stomach irritant. But if you don’t have a problem with dairy, you can incorporate a modest amount of it into your low residue diet.
- Milk and milk drinks (but check the fibre levels on prepared drinks)
- Yogurt (without seeds or granola)
- Sour cream
- Cottage Cheese
- Ice cream (without buts)
Ice creams, yoghurts, and the occasional chocolate milk can help satisfy your sweet tooth when on the low residue diet since processed sweets are best avoided. Clear jelly, honey, and syrup can also be used to satiate the sweet tooth.
Breads, Cereals, and Grains
This is probably the most counter-intuitive element of the low residue diet, as many of the foods that we try to avoid are on the list. This is where you can treat the low residue diet as a bit of a cheat from your normal regime.
- White breads, including waffles and French toast
- Plain pasta or noodles
- White rice
- Crackers or melba
- Cereals without whole grains, added fibre, seeds, or raisins
In any recipe that you are making yourself, use white flour, this includes when making sauces.
Avoid whole grains, which include brown rice, cracked grains, whole wheat products, cornmeal and cornbread, bran, wheat germ, nuts, and granola.
Coconut, dried fruits, and seeds are also off the menu.
Vegetables can be a tough category as it is often about how you prepare the veg as well as the vegetable themselves. Often, most of the dietary fibre is in the skin.
- Tender, well-cooked fresh vegetables without seeds, stems, or skin
- Canned vegetables without seeds, stems, or skin
- Cooked sweet or white potatoes without skins
- Strained vegetable juices without pulp or spices
These are the vegetables to be adding to casseroles, soups, and any other dish that you choose to prepare.
Avoid raw vegetables, all types of beans, potato kins, peas, corn, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, greens, sauerkraut, and onions.
Fruits tend to be high in fibre, so you may have to skip some of your favourite healthy treats while on the diet. But you can have some things, though it should always be in small quantities.
- Soft canned or cooked fruits without seeds or skins
- Well ripened banana
- Soft cantaloupe or honeydew melon
Avoid all raw and dried fruits, berries, prunes, and raisins. Fruit juices are also on the menu if they are without pulp.
While you might worry that you will have to give up almost all your favourite foods, there are plenty of things that are OK on the low residue diet.
Most sauces are fine, including mayonnaise, tomato sauce, sour cream, and soy sauce. Salad dressing is also permissible, though you should be avoiding the accompanying greens. However, avoid marmalade and other fruit preserves.
Margarine, butter, and oils are also fine, though steer clear of coconut oil.
In terms of sweet things, plain chocolate is allowed (hooray), as are sugar, honey, and syrup. Hard candy and marshmallows are the best sweet treats if that is what you need.
Savoury treats, however, should be avoided. No popcorn or potato chips. Pickles, olives, relish, and horseradish are also temporarily off the menu.
You will want to stay hydrated while on the low residue diet or you can become constipated rather than pleasantly enjoying fewer trips to the bathroom.
But the big question. Is coffee on the menu?
It is a complicated one, while the caffeine in coffee, tea, and soda can trigger bowel movements in some people, they don’t contain fibre. So, you can have them on the diet, depending on your personal response to them.
Best to stick to water, and small amounts of milk drinks and fruit juices without pulp while looking to cleanse your gut.
What Kind of Meals Can You Eat on Low Residue?
Not sure what to prepare for yourself on the low residue diet? Consider the following meals.
- Scrambled eggs
- French Toast
- Baked chicken breast
- Cheeseburger (no seeds on the bun with onion lettuce, and ketchup)
- Turkey or chicken sandwich on white bread
- White rice with steamed vegetables and baked chicken
- Skinless baked potato with sour cream and butter
- Broiled fish with pasta and olive oil
You can find all our diet advice articles here.
How Long Should You Use the Low Be on the Low Residue Diet?
The low residue diet is usually recommended for about 5-7 days. This is long enough to clear out your system and give your intestines and bowels, but it is not so long that you are likely to suffer serious side effects such as malnutrition.
What foods can you eat on a low residue diet?
Focus on foods that are low in fibre. This means refined grains and plenty of protein, but the seeds and skins of most fruits and vegetables are best avoided.
Can you eat mashed potatoes on a low residue diet?
Yes, you can eat mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes on a low residue diet, just be sure to remove the skins before cooking.
Can you eat cheese on a low residue diet?
Yes, cheese and most dairy products are acceptable on the low-residue diet because they are low in fibre but should be eaten in relatively small quantities. However, many people are sensitive to dairy, so if dairy already causes you digestive issues it is best avoided.
Can you eat salad on a low residue diet?
Leafy greens are best avoided on a low residue diet, but you can make yourself a salad from acceptable vegetables as long as they are properly prepared. Salad dressing is also allowed on low residue.
Can you drink coffee on a low residue diet?
Coffee, as well as tea and soft drinks, do not contain fibre, so technically you can drink them on a low residue diet. But whether you should depends on your response to them. If you generally find yourself running to the bathroom about half an hour after a caffeinated beverage, then cut them out for the period of the diet. Soft drinks are best avoided as they can be a gut irritant due to the gas.
Can you eat Lasagne on a low residue diet?
Lasagne, as long as it doesn’t contain too many spices in the sauce, is a perfectly acceptable meal on the low residue diet.
If you are having trouble with your gut, or you need to prepare for stomach or gut surgery, a low residue diet can be a great way to clean your gut and give it a rest.
The diet basically means avoiding dietary residue that your body expels as waste so that your intestines and bowels don’t have to do the work of passing it. This can be a great relief if you have irritable bowel issues.
The diet requires you to avoid fibre and limit yourself to less than 10-15 grams per day. This means that you can eat many of the foods that you might otherwise avoid, such as white bread and refined grains.
The low residue diet is not recommended as a healthy and nutritious diet and is only recommended to deal with specific digestive issues. You should also only ever stay on the low residue diet for a limited period.