Some people with cancer who are getting certain types of cancer treatment might be told by their doctor to follow a low-fiber diet. There are other health problems that might be managed by eating low-fiber foods, too. Always ask your cancer care team if you should follow any special diet before, during, or after treatment.
A low-fiber diet means you eat foods that do not have a lot of fiber.
If you have certain medical problems, you may be asked to reduce the amount of fiber in your diet to rest your bowels (or intestines). A low-fiber diet reduces the amount of undigested food moving through your bowels, so that your body makes a smaller amount of stool. A low-fiber diet may be suggested after some types of surgery or if you have diarrhea, cramping, or trouble digesting food.
There are 2 kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in the stomach and can have rough hard bits that irritate the intestines as it passes through. Soluble fiber attracts water into the intestines and becomes a gel. Foods with a little soluble fiber can often be eaten in small amounts (depending on why you’re on a low-fiber diet) because the soft fiber gel doesn’t irritate the intestines the same way.
If your doctor tells you to follow a low-fiber diet, here are low-fiber foods you can eat and higher-fiber foods you should avoid. Remember to always choose foods that you would normally eat. Do not try any foods that caused you discomfort or allergic reactions in the past.
If you are on a “low-residue diet,” your food choices are even more restricted than those listed below.
Talk with your cancer care team or dietitian if you have questions about certain foods or amounts.
Bake, broil, or poach meats, and use mild seasonings. Try preparing meats as stews, roasts, meatloaves, casseroles, sandwiches, and soups using ingredients on the approved lists.
Scramble, poach, or boil eggs; or make omelets, soufflés, custard, puddings, and casseroles, using ingredients noted below. You might want to ask your doctor, nurse, or dietitian about other foods may be OK for you to eat, and find out when you can go back to your normal diet.
Only in small to medium amounts and only if they don’t cause problems for you
You can use these items in desserts, snacks, or breads.
Use white flour for baking and making sauces. Grains, such as white rice, Cream of Wheat, or grits, should be well-cooked.
Include the above grains in casseroles, dumplings, soufflés, cheese strata, kugels, and pudding.
You can also eat these with cream sauces, or in soups, soufflés, kugels, and casseroles.
Serving suggestions include gelatins, milk shakes, frozen desserts, puddings, tapioca, cakes, and sauces.
Keep in mind that low-fiber foods cause fewer bowel movements and smaller stools. You may need to drink extra fluids to help prevent constipation while you are on a low-fiber diet. Drink plenty of water unless your doctor tells you otherwise, and use juices and milk as noted above.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Low Fiber Diet. Accessed at http://patients.dartmouth-hitchcock.org/colorectal/concord_prep_lowfiber.html on March 6, 2014.
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Low-Residue/Low-Fiber Diet. Accessed at www.upmc.com/HealthAtoZ/patienteducation/Documents/LowResLowFiber.pdf on March 6, 2014.
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Accessed at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ on March 6, 2014.
Last Revised: May 5, 2020
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