I am on a low fiber diet since cancer surgery. My bowels are so restricted I cannot ingest anything larger than say a kidney bean. How do I get proper nutrition without the fiber?

I work in a cancer center and many of my patients have to follow a low fiber diet. Dietary fiber is the undigestible part of plants that maintains the structure of the plant. Dietary fiber includes cellulose, hemicellulose, polysaccharides, pectins, gums, mucilages, and lignins. Although they are chemically unrelated, they all resist digestion by the human body. It is this resistance that makes these fibers important in both the normal functioning and in disorders of the large intestine or colon. However, certain medical conditions can make the digestion of fiber challenging, and one must restrict its intake. I am unsure how long your doctor told you that you need to follow this diet, but depending upon individual food selection, the Low Fiber, Low Residue Diet is adequate in all nutrients (National Research Council’s Recommended Dietary Allowance). If the diet must be strict and followed over a long period of time, the intake of fruits and vegetables may not be adequate; and/or on a low residue diet, there may not be enough calcium included. In these cases, a multi-vitamin supplement or liquid nutritional supplement may be needed.

In order to get adequate nutrition while following this diet, choose from a variety of food groups and make sure you are not skipping meals. It is important to aim to consume high quality protein (lean meats, low fat dairy products, eggs, smooth peanut butter, etc.) and to drink plenty of water. Limit intake of processed foods like cookies, doughnuts, and potato chips and focus on choosing natural and healthy foods like bananas, yogurt, pulp-free 100% fruit and vegetable juice, seedless-squash, potatoes without the skin, melon, etc. Many of my patients also eat smaller, more frequent meals and they find that helps them digest food more efficiently.

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