Can a Low-Residue Diet Control IBD Symptoms?

Quincy AdamDiet, UC Diet, UC Lifestyle

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, chances are that you have heard some discussion of low-residue diet plans as a way of controlling IBD symptoms.

Perhaps your doctor or nutritionist has made mention of these diet plans, or you have read about them while researching IBD and would like more information. In this article we’ll discuss what a low-residue diet is and how this specialized eating plan, when used in with appropriate medical treatment, may help IBD sufferers better manage their symptoms.

What Is A Low-Residue Diet?

A low residue diet is an eating plan that is designed to minimize demands on the digestive tract as much as possible in order to allow it to heal and recover from IBD flare-ups and ease some of their most uncomfortable symptoms, such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea and gas. The general idea behind these diets is to reduce residue, which is undigested matter that becomes stool, leading to fewer, smaller bowel movements. This is done by limiting the amount of fiber in the diet, as well as excluding some foods that may stimulate bowel contractions. The goal is to increase the time food spends making its way through the digestive tract to encourage efficient nutrient absorption while reducing the stress placed on inflamed tissues by that process.

While this dietary approach to controlling IBD symptoms is customized to some extent for each patient, general guidelines involve restricting dietary fiber to no more than 7 to 10 grams per day, as opposed to the standard recommendation of 25 to 38 grams daily, since high fiber foods can increase symptoms when active inflammation is present in the digestive tract. Foods – besides those with high fiber content – that can stimulate bowel contractions are also limited.

Foods that people with IBD may be advised to eliminate or limit for a typical low residue diet include:

  • Most raw vegetables
  • Most raw or dried fruits and berries
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Popcorn
  • Coconut
  • Whole grain products, such as breads, cereals and pastas
  • Most milk and milk products
  • Tough meats, smoked or cured deli meats
  • Certain cooked vegetables, especially corn, peas, broccoli, winter squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower
  • Spicy foods, dressings and condiments
  • Caffeine

Foods that are typically encouraged in a low-residue diet include:

  • Refined grain products, such as white breads, rice and pastas, and refined cereals, such as corn flakes, puffed rice and farina
  • Clear juices
  • Clear broth
  • Raw zucchini, lettuce, cucumber and onions
  • Lean, tender meats, fish and poultry
  • Eggs
  • Well -cooked vegetables without skin or seeds, such as green beans, yellow squash, asparagus tips, spinach, beets, carrots and potatoes with no skin
  • Some cooked or canned fruits, without seeds or skins
  • Some raw fruits, including bananas, cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, peaches, plums and apricots
  • Butter, margarine and vegetable oils

Can A Low-Residue Diet Help Control IBD Symptoms?

A research study in 1993 involving 60 Crohn’s disease patients showed that those with the highest intake of daily calories from low residue foods were most likely to maintain symptom remission as compared to patients with lower intake of low-residue foods.1 While not many more recent studies have been done, doctors have been using low-residue diets with IBD patients for decades, and they have been shown to significantly improve symptoms and remission rates in many.

Should You Try A Low-Residue Diet?

If you’re suffering with IBD symptoms that disrupt your life or affect your overall health, a low-residue diet may be a good option to consider for relief. However, trying a low-residue diet is not something you should undertake on your own. It’s important to know that, in most cases, these diets are used as a temporary measure to ease symptoms and promote healing during IBD flare-ups, not a life-long diet, since their dietary limitations may lead to nutritional deficits with long-term use. The best thing you can do is to talk to your doctor, and, if possible, a nutritionist who has experience with IBD patients. They can help to determine if a low residue diet might be beneficial to you … as well as supervise you to ensure your health and safety!


1 Koga H, Iida M, Aoyagi K, Matsui T, Fujishima M. [Long-term efficacy of low residue diet for the maintenance of remission in patients with Crohn’s disease]. Nihon Shokakibyo Gakkai Zasshi. 1993;90(11):2882-8. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8271460. [Accessed September 22, 2015].