"What?" you may be thinking. "I thought fiber was HEALTHY! Why would I be cutting fiber from my diet? How is that a healthy choice?"
For the average person, fiber is one of the most important nutrients of all. It plays a role in digestion, metabolism, cholesterol levels, detoxification, and so many other internal processes. Without fiber, your body wouldn't work properly.
However, there are a few people for whom fiber actually does more harm than good. For them, a low-fiber diet is a key to better health. Though it may sound like "opposite day", the truth is that there are some who would benefit from cutting back on fiber.
Why Go On a Low Fiber Diet?
There are only very few reasons to go on a low-fiber diet:
- You've had bowel surgery -- If you've just undergone bowel surgery, the last thing you want is to increase your bowel movement. The incision site needs time to heal so your doctor will recommend a low fiber diet. If you've had part of your large intestine removed, your body may not be able to absorb water from the food you eat as efficiently as it once did. This can lead to diarrhea, which can, in turn, increase your risk of infection or post-surgical complication. For this reason, you'll be prescribed a low fiber diet to reduce stools.
- You've undergone bowel cancer treatment -- Cancer treatments can be quite hard on your body, even more so if the body part being treated is also the part that works to expel wastes. You may need to have part of your bowel removed (via surgery). Just like with a bowel surgery, you'll need to give your intestines a rest after cancer treatment. High fiber foods can upset your delicate digestive system, which needs time to recover. Your doctor is likely to recommend a low fiber diet to give your body that chance to recover.
- You suffer from a narrowing of the bowel -- There are some things that can cause narrowing of your bowel, but the most common causes are tumors and inflammatory diseases. If your bowels are narrowed, a high fiber diet can increase both discomfort and your risk of infections. It's recommended that you cut back on fiber if you're experiencing intestinal narrowing.
- You have inflammatory bowel disease -- Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common inflammatory bowel diseases that could cause you to go on a low fiber diet. The inflammation in your bowels will make it hard for stools to pass through the intestines and out the waste disposal exit so you will cut back on fiber to reduce the amount of stool produced by your body. A low fiber diet can also help to reduce bloating, gassiness, and other side effects of inflammatory bowel disease.
If you fall into any of the categories mentioned above, you may need to go on a low fiber diet!
The Low Fiber Diet Details
Your low fiber diet is broken down into four primary components:
- Frequency and size of meals
- Foods you are allowed to eat
- Foods to avoid
- How to cope with the low fiber diet
Below, we'll zoom in on each of these components of the diet and provide you with everything you need to know about eating a diet that is low in fiber. It's a difficult change to make, but we're here to help make the transition as smooth and painless as possible.
Frequency and Size of Meals
Knowing what to eat is important, but first, you have to know WHEN and HOW MUCH you are permitted to eat.
Your doctor will usually give you recommendations on meal frequency, and size, but here are a few good rules of thumb to follow:
- Eat every 3-4 hours. This way, you will avoid overfilling your stomach and overwork your digestive system. Meals eaten at regular intervals will make digestion easier.
- Eat small meals and snacks. Don't overeat! Your goal should be to consume between 300 and 700 calories per meal. You're going to be eating 4 to 6 meals and snacks per day, so you don't have to worry about going hungry. Keep the meals small, and it will be easier on your digestive tract.
- Make sure the meals are balanced. You need to make sure to get enough fat, protein, and carbs in your diet, along with as much fruit and vegetables as you are permitted. All of these nutrients will play a role in your healing, so it's vital you get enough of each macro and micronutrient.
Follow these rules, and you should have no problem with your low fiber diet!
Foods You Can Eat
The good news is that there are A LOT of foods you are permitted to eat. You may not be able to eat as many foods as you were once able to, but there's still plenty of variety to add to your diet. Below, you'll find a list of dozens of foods you can eat.
Veggies are high in fiber, so you're going to have to be very careful with the veggies you add to your diet. In fact, there are only a few veggies you're permitted to eat on a low-fiber diet:
- Strained tomato sauces (think pasta sauce)
- Soups (without the chunks of veggies)
- Strained vegetable juices (straining removes all the pulpy fiber)
- The flesh of squash, zucchini, and other similar veggies (NO peels, seeds, or stalks)
Not a very long list, is it? Thanks to the high fiber content of most veggies, you're going to have to be very careful with the vegetables you eat!
Fruit is another high fiber food, meaning you'll have to cut back on the amount of fruit you consume. There are only a few fruits you can eat on the low-fiber diet:
- Most canned fruits (depending on your dietician's recommendation)
- Smooth coconut milk
- Fruit juice (without the pulp)
With these fruits, you can at least get some of the antioxidants and vitamins without eating too much fiber.
Thankfully, most dairy products are permitted on the low fiber diet, because there is no fiber in milk. You can eat milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, and other dairy products without too much worry.
However, you CANNOT eat any dairy products that are made with fruits, nuts, seeds, or grains. Plain yogurt is always the best choice, but you can enjoy fruit-flavored yogurt provided it doesn't have any fruit chunks in it.
Note: Some people have a hard time processing dairy. In many cases, it will contribute to discomfort and diarrhea. If you notice your body is struggling with eating dairy products, cut back on the amount of milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream you eat.
The good news is that most beverages are made without fiber so you can drink pretty much anything without worrying about their fiber content.
Drinks you can enjoy include:
- Pulp-free fruit and veggie juices
- Herbal Tea
- Wheat tea and Wheat coffee
Some dieticians may allow you to drink soda, though you need to realize that the carbonation will increase your risk of bloating and gassiness. If you notice any discomfort, stop drinking soda immediately.
Thankfully, proteins contain no fiber, so you'll be able to enjoy all of your favorite cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and turkey while on the low fiber diet. In fact, the majority of your nutrition will come from proteins, which contain a lot of amino acids, B vitamins, and minerals that will promote healing of your intestinal tract.
Eggs and tofu are also permitted on the low fiber diet.
Need something sweet to snack on while on your low fiber diet? You can enjoy most desserts:
- Ice cream
- Milk-based pudding
- Plain cakes (made with white flour, not whole wheat) without fruit filling or topping
- Clear jelly (made without fruit)
All of these desserts are permitted, thanks to their low fiber content.
Here are a few other foods you are allowed to eat while on the low-fiber diet:
- Soups and stews made without veggies (or simply don't eat the veggies)
- Spices and herbs
- Soy sauce
- Pretzels and chips made without nuts or seeds
All in all, not a bad diet, right?
Foods to Avoid
We know what foods you're allowed to eat, but now it's time to look at the LOOOONG list of foods you have to avoid while on the low fiber diet.
Remember, most of the foods listed below contain a lot of fiber, so you need to avoid them to avoid them in order to reduce the risk of bowel irritation. However, there are a few that can worsen the inflammation in your intestines even though they contain no fiber. You're avoiding these to speed up healing!
If it's green, leafy, and food you'd be highly recommended to eat on a normal diet, you probably want to avoid it!
You have to avoid ALL:
- Vegetable skins/peels
- Vegetable stalks
- Vegetable seeds
Pretty much ALL raw veggies need to be eliminated from your diet, along with all pulses: kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, chickpeas, and so on. These are all high in fiber, and thus a "no no" on your diet!
Fruit is another food you're going to have to be VERY careful with!
It's best to avoid all fruits while on the low fiber diet, as fruit seeds, stalks, skins, and stones contain a lot of fiber. You'll also want to avoid any dried fruits, as they're essentially concentrated fiber and sugar.
Another food you won't be able to eat: smoothies. Fruit smoothies that are made with real fruit will contain too much fiber.
Fruit juices that contain pulp are also off limits. You can strain out the pulp or buy pulp-free juices, but the pulp is concentrated fiber.
For the most part, dairy is safe to consume. However, any dairy made with fruits, nuts, seeds, and cereals are off limits.
- Yogurt with fruit chunks
- Cheese with pieces of spicy pepper
- Fruity yogurt drinks
- Yogurt with grains and nuts
Dairy alone shouldn't be a problem, but if there are any added ingredients that even LOOK like nuts, seeds, fruits, or veggies, avoid like the plague!
While most beverages are permitted on the low fiber diet, there are a few you'll have to stay away from:
- Green and black tea
- Caffeine-containing sodas
- Energy drinks
All of these drinks can irritate your intestinal tract and slow down healing. You want to avoid them at all costs until your digestive system is back to running at full steam.
While most proteins are permitted on the low fiber diet, you need to be careful with meat that is very fatty or has a lot of gristle. Gristly and fatty meat is difficult to digest, and may strain your already over-working digestive tract.
Tough skin (like pork skin) is also a no-no on the low fiber diet, as is fish skin and fish bones. If you're going to eat fish, make sure it's only meat (sans bones). Sardines and other small fish are best avoided until you've recovered.
Any fruit, nut and seed-based dessert is off-limits for the duration of your low-fiber diet. This includes:
- Pecan pie
- Fruit-filled cakes
- Ice cream with fruit chunks
- Fruit-based pies
In addition to fresh fruit, you also need to be worried about dried coconut, dried fruit, whole wheat flour, nuts, and seeds. Their high fiber content makes them dangerous for your low fiber diet.
Here are a few more foods you'd do well to avoid on the low-fiber diet:
- Soups with chunks of veggies
- Marmalade or jam made with fruit chunks, pips, or skins
- Pickles, relish, and wholegrain mustard
- Corn chips, popcorn
- Chocolate-covered dried fruits, nuts, and seeds
- All seeds and nuts
Avoid these foods to give your digestive system time to recover.
How to Cope With a Low Fiber Diet
For years, you've heard about the importance of eating plenty of fiber, and now you're having to CUT BACK on that same fiber? It's not an easy adjustment to make, and it will take work to make the shift to avoiding the nutrient that has been such a vital part of your life.
Below, we've come up with a few tips to help you get through your low fiber diet alive:
- Cook right -- You should avoid frying your food, as fried and fatty foods can irritate your digestive system. You should also minimize roasting, broiling, and grilling. Stir-frying, poaching, stewing, and boiling are your best options for cooking healthy, easy-to-digest meals.
- Watch it with the spices -- Most herbs and spices are permitted on the low fiber diet, but food that is too heavily spiced can irritate your digestive system. Don't eat spicy food, and go easy on the stronger spices like garlic, turmeric, and pepper.
- Drink more -- Your digestive system is going to be struggling to keep up with your new diet and recovering at the same time. You MUST drink more water to keep your digestive system working well. Constipation is a very real threat, and the only way to prevent it is to add more water and herbal tea to your life.
- Read food labels -- You'd be amazed where you can find foods with added fiber! If you're going to buy premade juices, soups, stews, and other foods, make sure to read the label to find out if there is any added fiber.
- Chew your food well -- The more you chew, the easier it is for your digestive system to break down and absorb the nutrients from your food. Eat slowly, and make sure to chew each bite at least 20 times before swallowing.
- Mix it up -- If you eat the same thing day in and day out, you're going to get sick and tired of the low fiber diet. Try to add plenty of variety to your meal plan so you enjoy your meals.
- Watch the temperatures -- Food that is either too cold or too hot can cause problems with your digestive tract. Try to eat food that is room temperature, warm, or cool. Frozen, ice, and steaming foods are a no-no!
- Introduce new foods one at a time -- As you are recovering from your surgery, cancer treatment, or inflammatory disease, you want to take things slow. Give your digestive tract time to adjust to the foods you're eating, so introduce new foods one at a time.
- Remember it's only short-term -- This isn't a diet that will last for the rest of your life--only until your intestines are healed. This diet usually lasts for 6-8 weeks, though sometimes it can stretch on for a few months. This is NOT a weight loss diet, but it's designed to combat a specific health issue.
- Get more vitamins and minerals -- You may want to ask your doctor about supplements you can take to ensure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your life. The last thing you want is to add a nutrient deficiency to your existing health problems!
Follow the advice listed here, and you'll be able to get through your low fiber diet and come out the other side healthier and stronger as a result.
Making this diet a routine should do wonders not only on your body and physique, but also to your health. The visible results should inspire you to do better and keep yourself working harder on maintaining it.