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What Foods to Eat During a Bowel Obstruction

author image Kathryn Vera
Kathryn Vera holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, as well as licensure as a Registered Dietitian. Currently, she works as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation, where she provides care to patients living with chronic heart disease.
What Foods to Eat During a Bowel Obstruction
A young woman drinking a large glass of orange juice. Photo Credit: Zinkevych/iStock/Getty Images

Making smart choices when it comes to your diet can be difficult. This process can become even more challenging when certain chronic and acute health conditions -- such as bowel obstructions -- occur. Individuals who have been diagnosed with a bowel obstruction will need to make significant changes to their diet.

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Bowel Obstruction Basics

A bowel obstruction is a partial -- or complete -- blockage of the bowel that can make the passage of intestinal contents difficult or even impossible. While a bowel obstruction can be caused by a number of factors, mechanical blockages are often to blame. Depending on the severity of the bowel obstruction, dietary recommendations may vary substantially. Individuals who experience mild, moderate or severe symptoms of a bowel obstruction are generally encouraged to follow a low-residue, minimal-residue or fluid-based diet, respectively. Residue includes fiber and other foods that may increase fecal output.

Low-Residue Diet

A low-residue diet may be best for those who have been diagnosed with a bowel obstruction and experience occasional abdominal cramping, excess gas and bloating. A low-residue diet is used to reduce the size or number of expelled stools, which can improve symptoms. Individuals who are on a low-residue diet should eat refined grains, soft or well-cooked fruits and vegetables, ground or well-cooked meats, and dairy products that are free from fruit or nuts.

Minimal-Residue Diet

A minimal-residue diet is used to decrease fecal output as much as possible and may be used as a "bridge" between fluid and low-residue diets. This type of diet will generally be recommended for those who regularly experience abdominal pain, cramping and bloating that does not go away. Individuals who are on a minimal-residue diet may drink clear, caffeinated or carbonated beverages and fruit juices and eat eggs, tender meat and certain white grains like pasta, bread, saltine crackers and strained oatmeal. At least one serving of citrus juice each day is recommended for individuals following a minimal-residue diet.

Fluid Diet

Individuals who have been diagnosed with a bowel obstruction and experience severe abdominal pain, heartburn, significant bloating, nausea and cramping may be encouraged to follow a fluid diet. As suggested by the name, fluid diets prohibit solid foods; they also provide little to no residue. Those who follow a fluid diet may consume any milk-based beverages; refined, cooked cereals like farina; fruit and vegetable juice; broths or strained soups; pudding, custard, yogurt, and ice cream; and liquid nutritional supplements. Individuals who follow a fluid diet should work closely with a registered dietitian to ensure nutritional needs are met.

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