Though fiber is an important part of most people’s daily diet, and a nutrient that many people don’t get enough of, there are some cases that call for a low- or restricted-fiber intake to better health. We will explore some of the reasons why a fiber diet might be necessary, and then provide a list of low-fiber vegetables and foods that people can choose from while on a restricted-fiber diet.
Fiber is a nutrient found in plants that the body cannot digest. Plant roughage is the part of many plants we do not eat, like the peels of bananas, the green tufts on strawberries, or the rind of a watermelon. Those parts we don’t eat, but the edible fruits and leaves we do consume often have a good amount of fiber still in there, and our digestive process will separate out the vitamins we need, then send the rest of the dietary fiber out with our waste.
That might make it sound like fiber is useless, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We all need a certain portion of fiber in our diets. It’s what cleans out our intestines and makes our trips to the bathroom comfortable and efficient. Without enough fiber, you might find yourself painfully constipated, and desperate for a bran muffin or some prune juice to get some help.
So: if fiber is so important, why restrict it? There are some people who need their fiber intake to stay low and carefully managed sometimes.
Why a Low-Fiber Diet?
Also called low-residue diets, low-fiber diets help with the ease of digestion and seek to prevent irritating the gastrointestinal system. There are some temporary and chronic conditions that benefit from restricting fiber intake at times. Here are a few of the circumstances under which a doctor may recommend you follow a low-fiber diet:
- If you have a flare-up of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a disorder of the large intestine, with symptoms that include cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, as well as diarrhea and/or constipation.
- If you have a bout of diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is an infection or an inflammation of the diverticula, which are small pouches that exist along your intestinal walls.
- If you have a flare-up related to Crohn’s disease. A form of IBD or inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive tract, leading to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, malnutrition, and weight loss. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can be so severe that areas of the digestive tract will sometimes need to be surgically removed.
- If you suffer from ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is another inflammatory bowel disease that causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the innermost lining of the large intestine (the colon) and areas of the rectum.
- If you’re recovering from gut surgery. Specifically surgeries that involve cutting through the abdominal wall to bring a portion of either the small intestine (ileostomy) or large intestine (colostomy) to the surface so that the body’s waste is removed into an external pouch.
Eating low-fiber foods helps slow down bowel movements and decreases bloating, diarrhea, and gas. The less upset caused to the digestive tract in the above-listed circumstances, the better, and going on a temporary low-fiber diet gives the bowel a chance to rest.
Under a doctor’s care you may be referred to a dietician for help with meal planning and food choices, but if this diet is something you’re managing on your own, here is a list of low-fiber vegetable options. Because vegetation is particularly rich in plant fiber, your daily veggies might be the hardest adjustment to make on a low-fiber diet.
You can eat the following vegetables raw.
Shredded iceberg lettuce is in the low range on fiber, but even so still needs to be eaten minimally—not a whole salad, but a handful on your plate so that you don’t lose all vegetable content completely is within bounds.
Mushrooms have the lowest amount of fiber provided among vegetables. Just beware that cooking mushrooms will marginally increase their fiber content, though could still be allowed if it stays within your doctor-prescribed daily limits.
The fiber in zucchini is mostly found in its skin, but even that provides only a small amount of fiber. Remove the skin and you remove the issue and still put a vegetable on your dinner plate.
Cucumbers (minus seeds or skin)
Cucumber skin has even less fiber than zucchini skin does, but for both of these foods, removing the skin will cut down on the fiber content even more effectively. With some cream cheese, cucumbers could be a tasty snack, and if you’re allowed to eat white bread, you could even have a cucumber tea sandwich.
It’s not a long list, to be sure, but you may have noticed that they have a little bit in common: these veggies are light in color and filled mostly with water. Other raw vegetables are forbidden, along with their seeds and skins, as those are too full of fiber for a strained digestive tract to handle.
You can eat these vegetables if well-cooked or canned, and without seeds.
The tips of asparagus contain the least amount of fiber, and if thoroughly cooked can be eaten on a low-fiber diet.
Sautéed or layered into a casserole with other safe ingredients, eggplant is another vegetable that can still be carefully enjoyed on a low-fiber diet.
Green beans might be very welcome to see on this list if you’re accustomed to green veggies on your plate. Thoroughly cooked, you don’t have to go without them.
Potatoes (without skin)
As with the zucchinis and cucumbers listed above, potatoes are low in fiber when the skin is removed, though it’s the skin of potatoes that contain most of its nutrients.
Not the seeds, but yes the pumpkin flesh can still be incorporated into your diet due to its low-fiber content.
Cooked down enough, spinach is the darkest green you’ll find on the list, but still okay if prepared properly.
Yellow squash (without seeds)
Yellow squash can be cut in half to remove the seeds, and when baked, can turn into an approximation of spaghetti to enjoy with some olive oil and maybe a little cheese.
Vegetable juices made from this portion of the list are also allowed, but again only without seeds or pulp, and none of them can be eaten raw or fried.
Other Low-Fiber Food Options
Here are other low-fiber foods you might be able to eat on a low-fiber diet. Of course, if a doctor forbids any one of them, their advice supersedes our suggestions.
- Cottage cheese
- Creamy soup
- Hard cheese
You’ll need to avoid milk products with any added seeds, nuts, fruit, vegetables, or granola in them.
Breads and Grains
- Dry cereals (corn flakes, puffed rice)
- White breads (refined)
- White pasta
- White rice
The above grains will need to have fewer than 2 grams of fiber per serving. You cannot eat whole-grain breads, crackers, cereals, brown rice, barley, popcorn, oats, or whole-wheat pasta.
Meats and Protein
- Fish and shellfish
- Ground meat
- Smooth peanut butter
- Tender cuts of meat
Naturally low in fiber and high in protein, these are the animal products and protein sources generally allowed on a low-fiber diet. It’s suggested by The American Cancer Society to bake, broil, or poach meats, to use mild seasonings, and to prepare meats as stews, meatloaves, roasts, and soups to soften them. Processed meats like hot dogs or sausages are not approved, nor are tough, gristly cuts of meat. Also no beans, nuts, peas, lentils, etc. that are high in fiber and/or might encourage gas.
- Apricots (ripe)
Fruit juices without pulp may be allowed, or canned fruits and applesauces. No other raw fruits are permitted, and it’s suggested you avoid any fruit canned in heavy syrup and be especially wary of fruit seeds, dried fruits, and particularly pineapple, fresh figs, prunes, and berries.
Low Fiber, High Priority
If you need to be on this diet, it’s important that you stick to it as faithfully as possible. Smooth condiments are allowed, such as oils, mayonnaise, and butter, but any acidic foods or dressings might further inflame your digestive system.
Avoid pickles and relish, all fried foods, and alcohol and caffeine for the time being.
Hopefully this list has supplied some welcome news—that there are still low-fiber vegetables and foods out there for you to enjoy.