Why You Should Think Twice Before Trying The Low-Residue Diet

Have you ever heard of the so-called low-residue diet? A low-fiber or low-residue diet may relieve diarrhea, constipation, cramps, and other digestive problems, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Its role is to reduce the amount of food waste in your colon, which gives the digestive system a break from working.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are chock-full of fiber. This nutrient adds bulk to your stool and helps move food through the digestive tract. When consumed in adequate amounts, it may improve bowel health, blood lipids, and blood sugar levels. Dietary fiber also increases satiety, making it easier to lose excess weight. Most health organizations recommend 25 grams of fiber per day for women aged 50 or younger and 38 grams per day for men in the same age group (via the Mayo Clinic). 

A low-residue diet is based on easily digestible foods containing little or no fiber, should a person need to lessen their fiber intake. But despite its potential benefits, a low-residue diet may not be safe in the long run.

What does a low-residue diet look like?

Dietary fiber passes intact through the digestive tract, explains the Mayo Clinic. Since your stomach is rarely empty, you likely still have some fiber and food waste in the bowel at any given time. "Eating high-fiber foods leaves a residue in the gastrointestinal tract that adds bulk to the stool, draws liquid into the bowel, and pushes stool out," said registered dietitian Katrina Hartog in an interview with U.S. News & World Report. A low-fiber diet can help reduce these residues and take some of the stress off your digestive system.

Fiber-rich foods are perfectly healthy, but they may cause problems in those with a sensitive gut. Gas, bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea are all potential side effects of a high-fiber diet, especially in those with GI sensitivity. Duke University warns that high-fiber intakes may also cause unwanted weight loss or mineral deficiencies. Just think about how you feel after eating oatmeal or salads.

Low-residue diets limit fiber to 10 to 15 grams per day, notes the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (CSIR), which may help reduce bloating and stool frequency. Most diet plans that fall into this category exclude whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, fatty foods, and tough meats. Some also restrict the consumption of dairy products. You may still eat cooked fruits and vegetables, but you'll first have to remove the seeds and skins. Lean meat, lean fish, eggs, and refined grains are allowed, too. 

Potential drawbacks of a low-residue diet

Low-residue diets are typically recommended for those with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, or stomach cancer (via U.S. News & World Report). Sometimes, these diets are needed after bowel surgery or prior to a colonoscopy, says the CSIR. Eating a low-residue diet won't reduce inflammation or eliminate the cause of your condition; its sole purpose is to make your symptoms more manageable during flare-ups.

The duration of the low-residue diet is patient-specific, according to U.S. News & World Report. And if your doctor tells you to cut back on fiber for more than two weeks, you may need to take a daily multivitamin, suggests the University of Michigan Health System. In the long run, low-residue diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies because they limit your food choices. Since you'll eat less fiber than normal, you may also experience constipation.

Note that low-residue diets are high in starch. White rice, flour, bread, pasta, potatoes, and other starches may lead to weight gain and affect blood sugar levels, warns U.S. News & World Report. For this reason, it's best to consult a dietitian and stick to your exercise routine. The transition to normal eating can be tricky, too. Try to gradually introduce more fiber into your diet –about 5 grams weekly — and add lots of liquids to your fiber intake (via CSIR).