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Fiber is a key component of a healthy diet.
And while most people could benefit from increasing their fiber intake, others may need to lower their fiber intake.
This article explains what to eat and avoid on a low-fiber diet, its uses and downsides, and provides a sample low-fiber diet menu.
What is a low-fiber diet and should follow one?
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate and component of plant cell walls.
Foods that contain fiber include:
- whole grains
A low-fiber diet — also known as a low-residue diet — restricts fiber to 10 grams per day (1).
For reference, the recommended fiber intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories or 28 grams for a person following a standard 2,000-calorie diet (2).
Most Americans fall short of this recommendation, consuming about 15 grams of fiber per day (2).
So while most Americans could benefit from increasing their fiber intake, there are times when a low-fiber diet is needed or can be beneficial.
Who may need a low-fiber diet?
A low-fiber diet may be needed for (1):
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- diarrhea and cramping
- bowel obstruction
The primary purpose of a low-fiber or low-residue diet is to produce smaller and fewer bowel movements.
This allows the intestines to heal during active periods of inflammation or flares, which can be beneficial for people with inflammatory bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or diverticulitis.
A low-fiber diet can also benefit people with gastroparesis by decreasing bowel transit time.
The length of time you may need to follow a low-fiber diet can range from one day as part of the colonoscopy preparation diet to several days during an active flareup from diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease.
Following a low-fiber diet isn’t necessary — and may actually cause more harm than good — for managing an inflammatory bowel condition like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or diverticulitis during periods of remission when you don’t notice any symptoms (1).
A low-fiber diet limits vegetables, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods, and encourages refined grains, animal proteins, and other low-fiber foods.
Look for foods that contain less than two grams or less of fiber per serving.
Low-fiber foods to eat
Low-fiber foods to eat include:
- Fruits: ripe bananas, melons, peeled apples, canned soft fruit in juice, and fruit juice, except prune juice
- Vegetables: well-cooked vegetables without seeds or skins, including potatoes, and strained vegetable juice
- Grains: bread, bagels, rolls, crackers, pasta, made from white or refined flour, cream of wheat, cream of rice, and refined grits
- Proteins: tender, well-cooked meats, eggs, tofu, and smooth nut butters
- Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese, and plant-based dairy alternatives
- Oils: extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil
- Beverages: coffee, tea, and water
High-fiber foods to limit
Here’s a list of high-fiber foods to limit or avoid:
- Fruits: fresh or dried fruit, and fruit juice with pulp
- Vegetables: raw vegetables, cooked beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, greens, onions, and potato skins
- Whole grains: whole wheat or whole-grain bread, rolls, crackers, pasta, brown or wild rice, barley, oats, quinoa, cereals made from whole grains, and popcorn
- Proteins: beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and crunchy nut butters
- Dairy: yogurt with fruit, granola, or nuts
3-day sample low-fiber diet menu
Here’s a 3-day sample low-fiber diet menu that includes lacto-ovo vegetarian and vegan options. Each day contains 10 grams of fiber or less.
- Breakfast (2 grams fiber): puffed rice cereal with milk, 1/2 small ripe banana, and scrambled eggs
- Lunch (3 grams fiber): chicken alfredo with 1/2 cup cooked broccoli
- Snack (0 grams fiber): smooth vanilla Greek yogurt
- Dinner (4 grams fiber): salmon, white rice, and asparagus tips
Day 2 (lacto-ovo vegetarian)
- Breakfast (2 grams): cream of wheat and baby spinach omelet
- Lunch (3.5 grams): tomato soup and grilled cheese made with white bread
- Snack (1 gram): cottage cheese with 1/2 cup of canned peach slices
- Dinner (3 grams): tofu green bean stir fry made with 1 cup tofu and half-cup of green beans
- Breakfast (1 gram): tofu scramble and one slice of buttered toast
- Lunch (2.5 grams): Mushroom burger and 1 cup fries
- Snack (2.5 grams): Plant-based protein shake and cantaloupe wedge
- Dinner: vegan mac and cheese
Downsides of a low-fiber diet
While a low-fiber diet can be beneficial and necessary for certain procedures or conditions, you shouldn’t follow the diet for longer than needed.
This is because a low-fiber diet tends to be nutritionally inadequate and has been associated with obesity, colon cancer, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions like diabetes (3).
Some of the health benefits of a high-fiber diet are linked with the fiber itself but also the vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods provide.
Polyphenols are beneficial plant compounds that possess potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
The bottom line
A low-fiber diet — also commonly referred to as a low-residue diet — restricts fiber to less than 10 grams or less per day.
You may need to follow the diet in preparation for a colonoscopy, to manage flare-ups, or if you have diarrhea, constipation, or other intestinal problem.
Avoid following a low-fiber diet longer than you have to as it tends to lack vitamins and minerals and has been associated with other health problems.