The Low Residue Diet

A low residue diet is not intended as a weight loss tool. People follow a low residue diet to help them cope with specific medical issues, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diverticulitis. Typically suggested by a doctor, a low residue diet (also called a low fiber diet) does not cure the medical issue, it just reduces the intensity of some of the symptoms.

When intestinal walls are inflamed, because of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or diverticulitis, doctors recommend reducing your intake of fiber and difficult to digest foods in an attempt to reduce the severity of cramping, bloating, gas and diarrhea. People with Crohn's disease have narrowed small intestines, making a low residue diet a key strategy in treatment. The goal is to get total daily fiber intake below 10-15 grams.  Minimizing dairy products and any foods with seeds or grittiness also helps to reduce IBD symptoms.

Minimizing fiber is directly opposite of accepted wisdom regarding a healthy diet.  A low residue diet should not be taken up without specific instructions from a doctor. Specific dietary supplements are normally prescribed to offset the loss of nutrients found in high fiber foods, including vitamin C, folic acid and calcium. This diet is normally only followed for a brief period while the bowels recover, minimizing the negative health effects from the lack of dietary fiber.

A low residue diet emphasizes white bread, white rice, peeled fruits, tender meats, eggs and limited dairy.  Most cooked and cold cereals and pastas are permitted. Foods to avoid include whole-wheat of whole-grain bread, brown rice, dried fruits and vegetables, uncooked vegetables, seeds and nuts, coconuts and popcorn. Many products, such as cereal, ice cream, yogurts and even beverages have added fiber, so label reading is important. As the digestive tract returns to health, fiber can be slowly reintroduced.

Although the low residue diet is not intended for weight loss, it can play an important part in the recovery from many digestive system diseases. Careful meal planning and diligent label reading are the keys to your success.

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