The Truth About the Low Residue Diet and Digestive Issues

Dovie Salais

From Men’s Health If you’re prone to digestive distress after a meal (like uncomfortable amounts of it), you might want to look into the low residue diet, which has become popular as a dietary lifestyle for those struggling to find relief. The low residue diet is a low-fiber diet where […]

From Men’s Health

If you’re prone to digestive distress after a meal (like uncomfortable amounts of it), you might want to look into the low residue diet, which has become popular as a dietary lifestyle for those struggling to find relief.

The low residue diet is a low-fiber diet where you minimize that amount of “residue” left over after you digest food. If that sounds strange, it kind of is (more on the inter-workings later), but the strategy isn’t all that complex.

A low residue diet basically means that you’ll swap high fiber foods—such as whole grains, beans and legumes, and produce—for non-fibrous foods, such meat, eggs, dairy and refined carbs like white bread or rice.

For anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to nutrition research in the last several decades, you’ll note that, yes, this is the exact opposite of what good eating instructs you to do.

Fiber is good for you, after all, and a low residue diet can restrict your fiber intake to as little as 10 grams a day.

But a low residue diet is more a diet to deploy for a set of specific symptoms than it is a cure-all.

Approach with caution, armed with the expert advice that follows.

What Is the Low Residue Diet and What Does It Do?

“Low residue diets are usually prescribed by a doctor for those with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and Colitis, as well as diverticulitis, and it is also used for people recovering from bowel surgery or preparing for a colonoscopy,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

Photo credit: Grace Cary
Photo credit: Grace Cary

So your average weight-loss diet this is not.

Fiber—and soluble fiber in particular—slows the movement of food through your digestive tract. This creates a longer transit time for the digestion of food, which may result in more “residue” in the gut.

“However, insoluble fiber, which promotes regular bowel movement is also limited as some people experiencing IBS symptoms such as frequent cramping, frequent bowel movements and diarrhea may benefit,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

The low residue diet is meant to be temporary only, as it significantly limits fiber-rich foods like whole grains, many fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds—all of which you’d ideally like to eat long-term and incorporate back into your diet.

Photo credit: FatCamera
Photo credit: FatCamera

“These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that help to prevent lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” Harris-Pincus says.

“There is no nutritional benefit to a low residue diet other than providing relief to those experiencing gastrointestinal issues,” she says.

If done well though, the low residue diet can help you if you have severe and painful gastrointestinal problems.

Again, this is not a diet for weight loss or to provide any health benefits other than to alleviate gastrointestinal issues.

So, if your doctor doesn’t recommend it to you, don’t do it.

Is the Low Residue Diet Effective?

Well, “effectiveness” depends on the individual and their condition, as well as potential food intolerances that may trigger their IBS symptoms.

Photo credit: boonchai wedmakawand
Photo credit: boonchai wedmakawand

If the low residue diet can be tailored to specific needs and followed closely, it is definitely safe in the short-term if you meet the recommended daily intake of all other nutrients except fiber, says Harris-Pincus.

And you still need to eat enough calories too to keep energy and your metabolism high and to keep your body well nourished.

Are There Any Side Effects to the Low Residue Diet?

“Drawbacks, especially if this is not the right type of diet for someone, include fewer regular bowels, lower satiety levels at meal and snack times, along with faster blood sugar responses, and ultimately a less favorable balance of bacteria in the lower digestive tract, which we know is important for immunity, mental health, and more,” says Jones.

Photo credit: Maskot
Photo credit: Maskot

It’s also important to note that the foods allowed include refined grains like white bread and cereal made from corn and are more highly processed and the lack of fiber may increase blood sugar, adds Harris-Pincus. That may mean eating more sugar in your diet.

“It also takes more preparation and planning as most allowed fruits and veggies need to be well cooked or canned and cannot have any skins, peels or seeds,” Harris-Pincus adds.

If you don’t have time to meal prep during the week, it might not be the best diet for you in order to meet your nutrient macros.

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