broccoli with spikes

Low Residue Foods: Let's Dig In

There are so many things we’re not told at the beginning of our diagnosis of IBD (no matter what the type), that it quickly becomes confusing, anxiety-inducing, and soon, very frustrating to find foods that will be nice to your gut.

And taking advice from others, unsolicited or otherwise, can be confusing - IBD is different in literally every patient.

Foods and diets for IBD differ person to person

What foods & diets may work very well for some and help keep them near or in remission, may have very serious consequences for others, resulting in blockages, partial obstructions and may even lead to surgery to fix the issue if things get to be that bad.

I’m not saying food is a direct correlation to flares and certain complications or surgeries in IBD, but there is definitely a factor that can help be avoided in order to prevent such things from happening.

It’s known that many foods, in people with or without IBD, can have issues digesting certain foods that have a certain “roughage” to them.

What is roughage and why do people avoid it?

Roughage is a term I will use that is easy for others to understand and is also used by many doctors in our community. They can be extremely high in fiber, very hard for the human body to consume and digest if eaten raw or prepared in certain ways.

In order to avoid such previous issues mentioned, I’ll refer to alternatives to avoiding roughage-type foods by introducing you to low residue foods; things that are easier for your digestive tract to break down, digest & absorb.

Again, I’m going to mention again that for some IBD patients, they don’t have many issues and are able to avoid certain issues digesting and expelling certain foods from their bodies. Others... We have lots of issues - that may change day to day.

Many people living with IBD have their own list of “safe foods” to consume when they are not 100% sure what is going on with their body; perhaps beginning stages of a flare, mid-flare or simply, just trying to take things slow so their digestive system can do a "catch-up and cleanout" (and not a dramatic one).

Whether you are a newly-diagnosed inflammatory bowel disease patient or a seasoned “how much more do I need to know!?” patient, we'll go into detail in this series for you to keep in mind the next time you find yourself at the grocery store, a new restaurant or just wanting to dig into some new-to-you information.

Low residue foods and ingredients

Part 2 of this series will be a list of foods that will help you write your grocery lists and may even be worth sharing with immediate family and friends, so when they ask how they can help, they will know which foods, in particular, to avoid serving you or including in your dish. The internet is a great tool and resource for finding substitutes, my friends. Use it to your advantage!

It's also gathering crops & gardening season, so this is a great time to have a refresher on what types of foods we might be consuming more in the summer months after we harvest or take a stroll down to the Farmer's Markets in our areas.

So let's break it down:

Low versus high residue diet

Low residue = Helpful for slowing down the digestive tract and preventing blockages. If you are prone to blockages and obstructions, you may be very familiar with this type of diet. Theses foods are typically easy to chew, softer in nature, and slow the more dramatic movements of the stool in our digestive tract.

High residue = Lots of roughage in your diet. If you find yourself eating raw vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli, you're definitely eating some foods that are much higher in residue. Not chewing them all the way and taking your time? It's sounding more and more like you'll be having some issues in the bathroom later on.

How does fiber play a role in digestion?

To put it simply, fiber is the component in foods that is difficult to digest but also the important feature of a healthy diet and one that is required for normal bowel movements. Kind of a double-edged sword, especially for IBD patients, right?!

Even more confusing, these foods include fruits, vegetables, and grainy-like substances. Contrary to what it may sound like, low residue and low fiber are not exactly the same, but you'll see them used interchangeably often. Here's why:

Low residue and low fiber diets

According to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, a low fiber diet may be necessary when you are experiencing complications of IBD, called strictures. Strictures are defined as "narrowing of the passageway, making it difficult for digested food to pass easily through the intestine."

When inflammation occurs, patients often need to take several steps back in terms of the diet they may have been consuming before and during the time of the stricture. The University of Chicago Medical Center explains residue is the solid content of our stool that has the ability to reach the lower intestines.

To put it into simple terms, fiber is the bulk of our stool due to the contents that are to able to be completely digested in our colons. The residue includes all of the undigested fiber and other food (broken down or not) remaining in our colon after we've been through the digestion process and may increase the output of our stools, depending on the type of diet you are working with.

Eating to cope with the pain of strictures

That being said, along with medications, a low fiber & low residue diets have a better likelihood of getting you back on your feet quicker after experiencing the pain and struggles of what strictures can cause to your digestive system. Low fiber diets may actually complicate things and stimulate more bowel movements, according to GI Associates.

With all of this being said, does this make you rethink your choices in the foods you're consuming and most importantly, how they might be prepared?

Being on a low fiber and low residue diet doesn't mean completely cutting out all roughage and foods that may cause you issues. You may have to take it (very) easy on your GI tract during flares and especially after procedures and surgeries. More to come on which particular foods can be found in Part 2 of Low Residue Diets: Let's Dig In!

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