How to Follow a Low-Residue Diet

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Usually, fiber is a good thing for your colon. Eating more plant fibers can help lower your blood sugar, makes your bowel movements more regular, and may even help lower your cholesterol and weight. However, if your bowels are healing or you have suffered complications from radiation—such as a narrowing of the bowel—you might have to put the roughage on hold for a while. In this case, you might need a low-residue diet.

When You Might Need a Low-Residue Diet

There are a few times in your life that you might need to adhere to a low-residue diet.

  • Before a colonoscopy, for instance, your doctor may order a day of low-residue foods to initiate the bowel preparation and cleansing for your test.
  • If you've recently had bowel surgery, including a colostomy or resection, this type of diet may be ordered to help your colon rest or transition from a clear liquid to a regular diet.
  • Sometimes this diet is ordered for people suffering severe cases of diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's.

What Does Low Residue Mean?

Low-residue diets are very similar to low-fiber diets. The word residue refers to the undigestible portion of food remaining in your colon, which is mostly made up of plant fibers. By eating less fiber, the stool takes longer to travel through your colon and your bowel movements will not be as large or bulky as they were on a regular diet.

Although you probably will not be on this diet for long, it's important to stock up on the right foods. Having acceptable choices on hand can help you adhere to your doctor's recommendations. Ask your doctor for specific recommendations and restrictions, but the following is a list of foods to choose and foods to avoid while on this diet:

Foods to Choose

  • White bread or rolls
  • Canned or thoroughly cooked fruits and vegetables (without seeds or peels)
  • Mashed, boiled or baked potatoes (without skin)
  • Poached, soft or hard boiled eggs
  • Pulpless juices, milk (less than two cups per day)
  • Pasta and white rice (no whole grain or whole wheat)
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Soft or pureed meat
  • Nutritional shakes (Ensure, Boost, Glycerna)

Foods to Avoid

  • Whole grain bread, pumpernickel, rye
  • Nuts, seeds, legumes
  • Dried or raw fruits and vegetables
  • Prune juice and alcohol
  • Meats with gristle or that are chewy
  • Oatmeal
  • Sauerkraut and pickled vegetables
  • Berries
  • Popcorn

Also, remember that if you are on a low-residue diet in preparation for a colonoscopy, you must avoid any foods with red or purple coloring (such as beets). The dye can stain your colon and camouflage irregularities.

Diabetic Considerations

If you're a diabetic, adhering to this diet will be a little more tricky, but not impossible. Many of the recommended foods—white bread, rice, pasta—are simple carbohydrates and will impact your blood sugars. You must continue to mind your portion sizes, count carbohydrates and make vegetables and lean proteins the mainstay of your diet. Try experimenting with soft-cooked fish or poultry, yogurt, and canned vegetables.

Feeling Hungry

A common complaint on low-residue diets is the fact that they don't keep you feeling full. It is largely the fiber in our diets that keeps satiated longer, so naturally consuming less fiber makes you feel hungrier, faster. Consider eating five or six small meals daily, as opposed to two or three larger ones. You can also incorporate a cup of gelatin or bouillon for a snack — the liquid volume alone will trick your stomach into fullness for an hour or so in between meals.

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