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This short paper is to give you information and general advice on how to follow a low-fibre diet. For recipe ideas, also look at my new, work-in-progress page, Easy and Delicious Low-Fibre Diet Recipes. But please read this page first. Visit your nearest Maggies Cancer Caring Centre, or click on their website/on-line community, for personal support.  This article is based on clinical and patient-derived information, but be aware that a low-fibre diet can be quite variable from person to person and situation to situation. Take into account your own intolerances, likes and clinical advice.


It is well-known that a diet high in dietary fibre is a healthy one, helping to prevent colorectal and breast cancers, Type 2 diabetes, diverticulitis, cardiovascular disease, varicose veins – among other illnesses. However, for some people it is necessary to at least temporarily curtail their intake of fibre in order to rest the bowel and/or intestines. 

What is a low-fibre diet? Simply put a low-fibre diet decreases painful gut irritation by reducing the amount of insoluble fibre/undigested food that passes through your system. This restrictive and short-term diet is designed to ease discomfort and allow tissue healing. A low-residue diet is similar but slightly more restrictive; differences are noted below.

Who needs a low-fibre diet? You may have been put on a low-fibre diet because of a risk of bowel blockage or to recover from digestive tract surgery. Or you may be having treatment-related diarrhoea, or difficulties in digesting your normal diet. Flare-ups in inflammatory bowel disease  (IBD), diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may also require a temporary low-fibre diet, too. Eating less fibre can help with the bloating, wind, cramping, pain and fullness associated with these situations. Below are general guidelines only: follow the advice of your doctor if it differs from what you read here. If you have been told to follow a low-fibre diet but haven’t been told how to do this, discuss these guidance notes with your doctor. 

The following information also applies if you are to follow a low-residue diet, except that you will be avoiding all caffeine (tea, coffee, chocolate, energy drinks) and most likely all dairy products too – these are all gut-stimulants.  Those needing to follow a low-residue or a liquid diet should seek professional advice.

•Eat little and often; this helps with discomfort. Aim for three small but calorific meals and 2-3 snacks or nourishing drinks (milkshakes, fortified milk) meals a day. OR any permutation of this ideal. Some people find it easiest to eat a little something every two hours rather than think in terms of meals as such. Whatever suits you and keeps you comfortable and nourished is good.

* Digestion starts in the mouth so make sure and chew your food well before swallowing. This can really help with symptoms of bloating and discomfort, as can eating more slowly. After you finish eating resist the temptation to rush to the kitchen and wash up – relax for a bit to allow the body to concentrate on the initial stages of digestion. 

•Have no more than 10 grams of fibre per day (and not all at once!), or as advised by your treatment team. Some people may be able to have more, but 10 grams is often a benchmark number that doctors use. Here is an excellent website with a chart of some commonly eaten foods and the number of grams per serving they contain. Please do look at this.

•Try to drink as much as you can without filling yourself up, choosing ‘food’ drinks such as clear fruit and vegetable juices rather than just water. Drinking is very important to prevent constipation. Making your own clear and strained juice from combinations of peeled fruits and vegetables will maximise your nutrient intake during this restricted diet, but commercially produced clear juices are a good second option. If you are losing weight, drink your calories – milkshakes and prescription fibre-free supplement drinks. 

•Choose a variety of foods from the low-fibre list. Grazing from this list will keep things from getting boring and will give a fair spread of nutrients. I am planning an ebook of suitable recipes. But in the meantime please have a look at Easy and Delicious Low-Fibre Recipes. I am gradually adding more (started the page on 26 April 2012) so please keep checking back for more tasty and family-friendly low-fibre recipes. If you have any that you would like to share, a suggestion for a recipe that you would like me to ‘doctor’, or if you have anything to say about the recipes, please leave a comment: I appreciate comments and always reply.

•If you are advised to follow a restricted diet for more than five days ask your treatment team about multivitamin/mineral supplements. You are at risk of not getting enough of the water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C (cooking destroys them) if this diet is followed long term.

•Steer clear of foods that worsen your symptoms. Everyone’s situation is different and some of the foods on the list may be difficult for you – you know best.

•With your team’s approval, and as your symptoms improve, gradually increase the amount of ‘approved’ fruits and vegetables from 2 servings. As these are tolerated, add small quantities of other foods into your diet, but stay away from high fibre foods for now. Keep a note of what you introduce and how you react to them. If a food doesn’t ‘work’ try it again some other time. Many people find that keeping a food diary helps them keep track of food and symptoms. This can also be very useful to show your treatment team or GP.

* Your appetite will probably fluctuate but do try and keep eating regularly. Regular eating helps with appetite and bowel function.

* Capitalise on eating when you are hungry, not when you think you should eat. With that in mind, don’t worry about eating at the ‘wrong times’ or eating meals out of sequence: if you fancy having a bowl of Rice Krispies at 2 a.m., just do it. Have quick snack and easily heated meals available for any time that hunger strikes.

* Make efforts to enjoy your food: nice presentation, pleasant eating environment, a stress-free atmosphere – all of these things will help with appetite and digestion.

•If your symptoms rapidly worsen, despite the restrictions, SEE YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY.
 

FOOD TO INCLUDE/AVOID ON A LOW-FIBRE DIET

o All fruits and vegetables should be peeled, deseeded and membrane-free
o Vegetables should be well-cooked (except as listed below)
o Limit fruits and vegetables as indicated below, or as advised by your treatment team;

o A serving is roughly 80 grams

Vegetables –  1-2 servings per day + peeled, mashed potato (if liked); all skin and seeds removed. Those with recent bowel obstructions may not be allowed vegetables.

Okay raw or cooked: lettuces; de-seeded and peeled cucumber, courgettes/zucchini and tomatoes

To be well-cooked or tinned/canned: asparagus, aubergine, beetroot, carrot, celery, tinned green beans, leek, lettuce, mushrooms, (bell) peppers/capsicums, white potato, pumpkin, radish, spinach, squashes, swede, tinned wax beans

Caution OR have very small amounts (these are very individual foods, tolerated well by some people and not others): other fine, green, French and runner beans; cabbage; cauliflower; onions (check with your doctor on this one); mangetout/snowpeas; parsnips; sweet potatoes (not yams)

Fruits – 1-2 servings per day; all seedless, skinless and membranes removed. Those with recent bowel obstructions may not be allowed fruit.

Okay raw or cooked: very soft ripe apricots and peaches; ripe melon; ripe banana (1/2 small); very soft avocado (1/4 piece)

Well-cooked, poached or tinned/canned: applesauce/stewed apples/pears; tinned cherries; tinned lychees, mango (Pakistani and Alphonse are least fibrous), pineapple (the latter not a low-residue diet); poached/tinned rhubarb; tinned skinless fruit cocktail 

Fruit and vegetable juices (clear/pulp-free/strained): apple, orange, grape, grapefruit, cranberry; tomato, carrot & vegetable based juices

Bread: all white (refined) and seed-/nut-free breads – white loaf, plain bagel, soft pretzels, matzoh, melba toast, zwieback toast, waffles, French toast (‘eggy bread’), white English muffins and crumpets; white flour tortillas, naan, chapattis, roti, lavash and pitta. Some other breads may be suitable but read the label – flours made from/with legumes are unsuitable.

Cereals: any cereal less than 1 g of fibre per serving, e.g. cornflakes, puffed wheat, Rice Krispies, Special K, Cheerios. 

Pasta and Rice: white rice, plain white pasta, noodles, macaroni, orzo.

Meat, Fish and Other Proteins: well-cooked, ground/minced beef, turkey, pork, chicken; cooked eggs; fish and seafood; tofu and tempeh; smooth peanut butter (up to 2 tablespoons per day). Tip – use moist heat to cook proteins; avoid grilling or roasting as it can make food crispy or tough. Avoid: Nuts, crunchy peanut butter, seeds, legumes and pulses (e.g. chickpeas, baked beans, lentils)

Dairy and Dairy Substitutes: up to 480 ml/2 cups of any milk, plain yogurt (add unseeded jam for fruity taste) and yogurt/kefir drinks; mild cheese. Most dairy is fine unless it has ‘bits’ in it. Usual precautions for live/probiotic dairy products if on chemotherapy. Low-residue: avoid dairy but non-dairy is fine, e.g. soy or rice milk (check fibre per serving on non-dairy milks and products).

Fats, Oils, Sauces, Gravies and Dressings: all allowed except spicy dressing and sauces. Low-residue: avoid dairy but non-dairy is fine.

Snacks and Desserts: ‘white’ crackers, ginger snaps/biscuits, plain biscuits and cookies such as vanilla wafers, arrowroot biscuits and ‘rich tea’ biscuits; pancakes and waffles made with refined flour; smooth puddings such as Jello® brand or Alpro® soya; jellies/Jello ®;  approved supplement drinks; rice puddings; ice cream and sherbet (not low-residue), sorbets and ices (with no fruit pieces)

Soups: broth and strained soups from allowed foods (add milk, cream or silken tofu to give ‘body’ and protein); cream soups (aim for no more than 1 g of fibre per serving); noodle and rice soups (ditto). Avoid any beans, whole grains, corn or peas.

Drinks: clear fruit and vegetable juices (freshly pressed and sieved will add nutrients to the body – see ‘Juicing 101’); squashes and cordials; milk and non-dairy milk (check fibre on label); approved supplement drinks (not Fortisip Multi-fibre or any fibre-containing drinks). Tea and coffee are usually fine, but not on a low-residue diet.

Cooking Tips: Make sure all cooked foods are soft and easy to chew. Best cooking methods are those that keep moisture in the food – poaching, braising, stewing, microwaving, boiling and steaming. Roasted, broiled and grilled foods take moisture away from food, making it tough. Fried foods can cause stomach upset and cramping in many people so it is often best to use a moist method and add oil at the end of the cooking time. This may be necessary to ensure enough calories in the day.

Menu Planning: Eating little and often is recommended, perhaps three main meals (but small ones to aid digestions) and two to three snacks. Juicing (not smoothies) of fruit and vegetables is encouraged to help add nutrients that are missing from eating so little whole fruit and vegetables.


FOODS TO AVOID ON A LOW-FIBRE DIET

Whole grain breads, pasta, grains, rice, noodles and anything made with these; herbs (even chopped ones); strong cheeses; yogurt with fruit skin or seeds; most raw vegetables and fruits; tough meat/chunky meat; dried fruit and prune juice (check fibre of any juices you buy), olives, all beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains; food with whole coconut/desiccated coconut; popcorn; horseradish; cocoa powder (high in insoluble fibre), highly spiced food and dressings/sauces. You may or may not be allowed chocolate/chocolate syrup: check. Other foods may be allowed/disallowed by your doctor, so do ask.

Here are some extra resources that you may find helpful:

Addenbrooke’s Hospital NHS (London) Patient Information Sheet on Low-Fibre Diet

Fiber Content of Foods In Common Portions

Fiber Content of Foods (choose foods by clicking on the alphabet selection bar) – comprehensive overview of American products and raw foods

Best wishes, 
 Kellie Anderson 2012 (updated 6 January 2014)
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27 thoughts on “Help with a Low-Fibre Diet

  1. Georgina hunter says:

    pls. email me some receipes as my husband is on a low fibre diet after his surgery.

    1. Hi there. I’m putting some together & will happily send them through once I’ve tested them. In the meantime think the opposite of healthy food really, but not greasy or spicy. Use my guidance notes alongside any instructions from the hospital, with medical advice superseding mine if it differs. Best wishes, Kellie

  2. N.B. says:

    I am interested in this as well, my mom has colon cancer and I am looking to recipes to get her nutrition and go easy on her body!

    1. I’m working on them in the evenings and I will be putting some up on here very soon. Please check back. I will hold your email for when I have a collection for epublication. Meantime I hope you found this page useful.

  3. Jeanette says:

    I am interested in low fiber recipes as I cook for people with cancer, including colon cancer. I’ve made some low fiber foods, but am trying to learn more. Thank you!

  4. Norma Chang says:

    Thanks, this is very informative and useful information.

    1. Thanks, Norma. Is that an issue for anyone you know? It’s quite a tricky diet for sure.

  5. Robin says:

    Thank you. My mother underwent radiation therapy for ovarian cancer and has a bowel obstruction that is devastating. I’m looking for recipes that are low fiber and high nutrient that she can enjoy and not trigger episodes that put her in the hospital with dehydration. ( So keep up the good work. I am grateful for this page and your efforts.)

    1. You are so welcome, Robin. Low-fibre is quite tricky to make healthy – & interesting. I hope the ideas help. I will try and test and write up some more soon. Best wishes, Kellie

  6. Kate Ross says:

    Kelly its Kate Ross remember me ? I came to your class at Maggies the one how had pancreatic cancer. I do not seem to be able to down load your low fibre recipes. Can you help? Hope you are well Kate

    1. Hi Kate. So good to hear from you. I’m not sure why you can’t grab them. Email me Kellie.Anderson@maggiescentres.org and I will send them to you myself. How’s that? I am teaching in Fife today so it might be this evening before I can get to it.

  7. alcsmith says:

    Hello Kellie. I also cannot access the links to your recipes. I don’t have cancer but I am about to start a low-fibre diet to deal with IBS. I would love to have a look at the recipes if that’s possible (I’m vegetarian so low-fibre is going to be quite a challenge!).

    1. Hi there. I’m not at home until tomorrow so it’s hard to check why that is a problem. But hopefully if you hover over ‘nutrition and cancer’ at the top of the page the page titled ‘easy and delicious low fibre recipes’ is selectable for you. Let me know if this isn’t the case. I’ll check the link within the low fibre diet page when I get home. Thanks for letting me know. And I do have veggie things on.

      1. alcsmith says:

        Hi Kellie

        thanks for the v quick reply! I’ve got it from the top of the page, many thanks.

      2. Great stuff. But I’ll still repair the link. Hope you like it but I want to add more.

  8. Sue Fortescue says:

    I had a severe bowel blockage (renal bleeding, etc). Had CT scan and awaiting colonoscopy to confirm diverticulosis. Trying to manage this by myself until then as getting many conflicting suggestions (no fibre, low fibre, high fibre). Have to take lactalose syrup every day to clear as in constant pain (no bloating) and cannot tolerate many foods. Decided to go for: Oats in the morning; yoghurt with Inner Health Plus for lunch and Fortisip (was prescribed by doc due to weight loss) for dinner and HEAPS of water all day. Heard that it was not a good idea to take Fortisip. Now I am really confused. Exercise daily as well along with stretching and ‘jiggling’. What are your thoughts?

    1. Hi Sue. I am so sorry you are having such a hard time, and receiving conflicting advice. Because I am not a doctor, and I don’t know you or the cause for your problem, my advice has to be quite general and ‘safe’. Until the results come back (and you can get targeted prevention advice) I would steer clear of obvious fibre, including oats, especially if this causes pain. Fibre containing foods should be spaced out during the day (see the link in the article for a list of fibre in foods). I am assuming that the blockage is completely away, and obviously you don’t want it to return, but until the results play it safe with lower fibre and lots of water. And with the doctor’s okay gradually add fibre back in, starting with things like smoothies (where fibre is intact but broken down somewhat) and soothing/ diverticulosis-minimising oats. The last thing to add would be beans and nuts/seeds. For now I would make sure the Fortisip you use is fibre-free and just has much-needed calories and nutrients. Instead of oats, something like a fortified rice-based cereal (hot or cold) would be best; eggs should be okay too. Nourishing soups made with peeled veg and some protein – like ground chicken, broth and rice noodles would be tasty and well tolerated in small amounts at a time. Warm, but not hot, drinks are great. Hopefully this is short term for you and you will soon be back to a normal, fibre-filled diet that will help prevent future incidences. I hope this helps, but please discuss your diet with your physician, who will be best placed to give tailored advice.

  9. karenw kelly says:

    Hi I’m in need of some dietary help for my “sluggish” stomach. I am a medication controlled diabetic of 10+ years. My A1Cs have been very high for the past 6 months because of poor diet and being non-complient with my meds. I’m seeing an endocrinologist and a RD to get things back under control. I also have GERD which has been playing havic with my well being. I saw my internist on the urging of the RD who suggested the possibility of GASTRO PERISIS. Tests did not confirm that but its been decided I have a “sluggish” stomach. Part of the issue is, does the sluggish stomach cause the high sugars or do the high sugars cause the sluggish stomach? I was told to keep to a low fiber and low fat diet. I’m also trying to keep my carbs at 174 grams a day. I have lost 20 pounds in the past 3 months and my sugars are better, just not great yet. I really need help with a diet that will cover all my dietary needs and my medical issues. Any help or guidence would be so appreciated. I look forward to your response, thanks.

    1. I’m only holiday right now and my Dad’s computer keeps crashing and I just lost a long-winded reply to you. So, I will get back to you whenj I return to the UK. Meantime, any chance of a second opinion about the low fibre? If you are not in pain or have symptoms of irritable bowel/blockage, wondering in medium fibre might be better.

  10. judy schoneman says:

    I HAVE HAD BOWEL PROBLEMS FOR MORE THEN 8 YEARS. I STARTED WHEN I WORKED FOR 3 M DISTRIBUTION CENTER. NERVES AND STRESS?
    3 YEARS LATER I HAD UTERINE CANCER STAGE 3 HAD SURGERY , AND 25 RADIATION TREATMENTS. WHICH IN TURN MESSED UP MY SMALL INTESTINE AND HAD TO HAVE ALOT OF THAT REMOVED . IN THE MEAN TIME I WAS SUFFERINGBETWEEN RADIATION AND SMALL INTESTINE SURGERY HAD GALL BLADDER REMOVED.
    SO HERE I AM 5 YEARS LATER STILL HAVE A LOT OF LOOSE STOOLS AND SOMETIMES GO ALOT ON DAYS BUT JUST SMALL AMOUNT ALL DAY LONG, WHICH GIVES ME HEMMROIDS AND TERRIBLE SORE BOTTOM. LIKE MY BOTTOM IS ON FIRE.
    AS OF YET DOCTORING AT MAYO AND IN HOMETOWN CLEAR LAKE IOWA., NO ANSWERS. I NEED TO BE ON A LOW FIBER DIET..

    PLEASE IS THERE ANY HELP?

    1. I am so sorry to read that you have been having such difficulties, and for so long. Please discuss the low fiber diet with your physician & treatment team as they are best placed to safely advise you. Low fiber diet is quite restrictive and one needs to have specific, personalised advice if the diet is to be adhered to long term. Because I don’t know you, & don’t have all of the information that your doctor would, I am unfortunately unable to give specific advice. But if you are told to follow low fibre please discuss this page with your doctor, as well as click on the food list link. And have a look at the low fibre recipes too. I will be adding to them shortly, so check back. I wish you well, Judy.

  11. mali says:

    Maggie,

    My husband developed colon cancer after years with Ulcerative Colitis.. Because of the radiation treatments he developed obstructions of the small intestine (he has no bowel). 5 years ago he underwent surgery which was very successful but now it has all begun again. We are trying to avoid another surgery but on the low fiber diet he is losing weight and is so bored of the food that I make. Another added problem is he is border line diabetic and all of his brothers have heart disease because of diabetes. We are trying to avoid this problem so juicing is pretty much out, ensure has been used but causes diarrhea. Are there any recipes I could try/ I don’t see a link to any site to go thru them.

    Thanks so much for all of your help.
    Mali

    1. I’m sorry to hear your husband -and you – are going through such a hard time. I am a health educationist, not a dietitian, so don’t have the specialist training that would be of benefit to you. If you look at the cancer and nutrition index on my blog you will see a link to a some lf recipes, some of which may help with weight. I am trying to put together an ebook of more recipes but finding the time at night to make and photograph the food is a challenge. But hopefully some of what I already have up is suitable. I would urge you to get a dietitian referral as they would be able to offer bespoke advice for your situation.

  12. Sarah Malcolm says:

    I am type 1 diabetic and I have recently been diagnosed with Enteric Neuropathy. For the last 3 1/2 years I haven’t been able to eat because the nerve damage means I am unable to process real food. so I’ve been drinking 4 Ensure nutrition drinks a day for the whole of that time. I had a loop ileostomy in August which has meant that I am finally able to eat, but I’m struggling to find food and recipes that are both “diabetes friendly” and “stoma friendly” and would really appreciate some advice. The plan is to remove the whole of my large intestine later this year or early next year so the low fibre diet is going to be long term. The nerve damage means that the stoma works very erratically which complicates everything even more complicated and things will change again following the next operation. Any help that you can give would be greatly appreciated

    1. Hi Sarah. That’s a heck of time you have been be going through. Unfortunately the scope of your issues can’t really be dealt with here. I hope you understand. Your medical/dietetic needs definitely require specialist input and guidance. Please do get a referral to a diabetic nurse and perhaps a palliative dietitian as they would have experience of low-fibre and diabetic issues. Some of the recipes on my low-fibre recipes page may be appropriate for you. All best wishes, Kellie

  13. olga says:

    recipes please!

    1. There is a link to my low fibre recipes on this page. I hope you like them.

If you have time, I would love to hear from you. Thanks so much!

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