How to Eat a Low-Fiber Diet
Cut back on fiber
It seems like the opposite of a healthy diet. Who tries to eat less fiber? People with Crohn's disease, that's who.
That's because roughage, which stimulates the bowels, is great for healthy people, but not for those with cramps and diarrhea due to Crohn's.
A diet low in fiber and residue (residue is any indigestible portion of food including fiber, skins, seeds, and hulls), may ease symptoms in Crohn's.
Here are 9 tips for eating a low-fiber diet. (Although your doctor may recommend a diet that is more or less strict, depending on your circumstances.)
It's a short-term diet
A low-fiber diet is best for a short period of time.
It can be challenging to get all the nutrients you need on this diet, so people should only use a low-fiber diet when they are in a flare-up, says Sally Suen, a registered dietician with the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
After you begin to feel better, you should slowly return to normal eating patterns. "When patients are healthy, they should eat fruits and vegetables and if they are having carbs, they should eat whole grains and wheats," she says.
Cook your veggies
On this diet, most raw fruits and vegetables are off limits. One way to fit them in is by eating ones that are cooked or canned.
"With many of these, when they are cooked, there will still be fiber, but not as much residue," says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Vegetables like spinach, butternut squash, pumpkin, parsnips, and carrots should be fine if eaten this way. Potatoes can be eaten without their skins, and broccoli and kale are okay too, if cooked very soft.
You may need vitamins
If you eat as wide a variety of foods as possible on this diet, you should be able to get the vitamins and minerals you need each day. But Gazzaniga-Moloo says it can be difficult to get vitamin B12, calcium, folic acid, and iron, so you may need to take a vitamin supplement. (Check out 10 Vitamins You May Need if You Have Crohn's.)
This diet will also slow down your bowels, so you may want to drink more water and other liquids that you can tolerate to avoid constipation.
Choose lean meat or fish
Fatty foods can be a problem, so Suen recommends chicken and turkey as good protein choices for a low-fiber diet. Remove the skin, and select leaner red meats, like ground sirloin, if you can tolerate them at all. Avoid processed or smoked meats like hot dogs, bacon, deli meat, sausage, and bologna.
Other good protein sources are fish, eggs, and tofu.
Try to poach, stew, or steam your food as other methods—like roasting or grilling—can make food tougher, drier, and harder to digest.
Avoid whole grains
When on a low-fiber diet, it's a good rule to stick to refined, white grains. Things like rice crackers, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, oatmeal, and white breads and pastas are the best options.
Oatmeal contains fiber, but it's the soluble kind, meaning it absorbs water and passes through the digestive tract more slowly than the insoluble type you're trying to avoid.
Look for grains with less than one-half gram of fiber per serving and avoid whole grains of all kinds.
Use caution with lettuce
Almost all raw vegetables are a no-no when on a low-fiber diet. However, if you are craving a salad, iceberg lettuce should be fine if eaten in small quantities, say Suen.
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) also recommends Bibb or Boston lettuce.
Try a salad with iceberg lettuce, chicken, avocado, and low-fat dressing without seeds.
Avoid raw fruit
In general, raw fruit should be avoided if you're on a low-fiber diet. Berries, oranges, and fruits with seeds and more fiber—like prunes, raisins, and figs – can be a particular problem.
However, many fruits can be eaten as long as they are canned, cooked, or pureed, such as applesauce. Fruit juice without pulp or flavored water are also be fine.
Bananas, mangos, papayas, avocados, and cantaloupes are some types of fruit that can be eaten raw, according to the CCFA.
Choose low-fat dairy or dairy substitutes
Many Crohn's patients can't tolerate dairy even when in remission.
If this is the case, lactose-free, soy, or almond milk may be your best bets. If dairy works for you, aim to get no more than about two cups a day.
Also, when eating a low-fiber diet, it's best to stick with low-fat varieties of your favorite ice cream, milk or yogurt.
Use trial and error
A low-fiber diet is very individualized, and you may not be able to tolerate some foods and not others, says Gazzaniga-Moloo.
You may also need to avoid alcohol and high-fat foods like butter and mayonnaise, she says.
"If someone finds a food that bothers them, they can try to cook it, chose a lower fat option or with dairy, go for a lactose-free version."