Eating and digestion with a ileostomy

After healing is complete and the ostomy is working normally, most people with ileostomies can return to foods they normally eat. If you’re on a special diet because of heart disease, diabetes, or other health problems, you should ask your doctor about a diet that will work best for you. Here are a few simple guidelines about your diet:

  • Doctors often have their patients follow a low-fiber diet the first 6 weeks or so after any abdominal surgery. This includes only foods that are easily digested and don’t leave much waste behind, which means no raw fruits and vegetables. Be sure to find out when you can start eating regular foods. Eat foods that you like unless they’re restricted by your doctor.
  • When going back to foods you haven’t eaten since surgery, try one of these foods a day. Eat small amounts at first, then slowly increase the amount. Chew your food well and drink plenty of fluids. If a small serving gives you cramps or diarrhea, cut out that food for now, but try it again in a few weeks.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. At least 10 to 12 eight-ounce glasses of water per day are recommended as long as you’re eating normally (food contains liquid too). It’s OK to drink alcohol but it doesn’t “count” as daily fluid intake. Because alcohol makes you lose more fluids, you’ll need to drink extra water after you drink alcohol. Dehydration and loss of electrolytes (salts and minerals) are possible if you don’t take in enough fluids each day. Drink even more fluids if you are sweating or in a hot climate. Good options for replacing fluids are broth; sports drinks; and fruit/vegetable juices such as tomato juice, V-8, and orange juice.

A warning: Beets turn ileostomy output a reddish color much like blood, but this is not harmful. Tomato juice and food dyes may change the usual color of ileostomy output, too.

In its original form this document was written by the United Ostomy Association, Inc. (1962-2005) and reviewed by Jan Clark, RNET, CWOCN and Peg Grover, RNET. It has since been modified and updated by:

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: December 2, 2014 Last Revised: December 2, 2014

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