Low-fiber diet for colonoscopy prep

February 28, 2023 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • A colonoscopy procedure is an important screening to detect colorectal cancer.

  • Your doctor may recommend that you eat a low-fiber diet several days before your colonoscopy.

  • We offer some suggestions and recipes for limiting the amount of fiber you eat.

If you’ve never undergone a colonoscopy, chances are you’ve heard about the procedure from a friend or family member. It’s a relatively simple examination that can save your life (it can detect colorectal cancer in the early, treatable stages) — but that doesn’t change the fact that some people find the preparation regimen mildly unpleasant. Your doctor will instruct you to take very specific steps so your large intestine will be in the best possible condition for the examination.

One important step is to eat only low-fiber foods in the days leading up to your colonoscopy. Here, we’ll give you ideas about how you can temporarily change your diet — and we’ll also share some delicious recipes that will have you looking forward to your low-fiber diet.

What is a colonoscopy?

First, however, let’s take a look at the procedure itself. During a colonoscopy, your doctor uses an endoscope — a flexible tube with a lighted camera on the end — to view your large intestine. They will pass the endoscope through your anus and rectum into your colon, and as they are doing so, the camera sends pictures of the inside of your large intestine to a screen.

The procedure doesn’t hurt because your doctor will either use general anesthesia (to put you to sleep) or conscious sedation (to decrease your awareness so you remember little to none of what occurred after the examination).

While the doctor is examining your large intestine, they may take a biopsy or tissue sample. They will also remove any growths, called polyps, that they find. Colon polyps are abnormal growths that can lead to cancer if left untreated. The colonoscopy allows your doctor to stop cancer before it even has a chance to develop — a practice that has saved many lives.

Who should have a colonoscopy?

Until recently, doctors recommended that men and women who are at average risk for colon cancer begin having colonoscopies at age 50. However, in 2017, the American Cancer Society (ACS) published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that colorectal cancer rates were rising among young and middle-aged adults.

As a result, the ACS changed its guidelines for colon cancer screening. Now, it recommends that average-risk individuals start screening for colon cancer at age 45, with repeated colonoscopies every five years if the doctor finds few to no polyps during the examination. People younger than 45 who are at increased risk for colorectal cancer — such as people with a family history of colorectal cancer or African Americans — should talk to their doctor about earlier screening for their risk factors.

So, if you are 45 or older and have never had a colonoscopy, now is the time to get informed.

How to prepare for a colonoscopy

There are three major steps to preparing for a colonoscopy:

1.     Eating a low-fiber diet for two or three days before the procedure.

2.     Switching to a clear liquid diet on your last day of preparation.

3.     Drinking a laxative formula the night before the colonoscopy for bowel preparation.

Your doctor will likely give you detailed instructions for how to prepare. In many cases, doctors want you to reduce the fiber in your digestive tract to help the bowel cleanse run smoother. Your doctor needs to see your colon clearly during the procedure, and fiber can prevent that from happening.

So, what does a low-fiber diet look like? You should look for foods such as:

  • Cooked vegetables
  • Refined grains
  • Chicken, turkey, lamb or lean pork
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Creamy nut butters
  • Fruit without seeds or skins
  • Juices without seeds or pulp
  • Fish and other seafood
  • Skim or low-fat milk
  • Potatoes without skin
  • White rice

Avoid foods such as:

  • Whole grains
  • Raw vegetables
  • Corn, tomatoes, onions
  • Cucumbers
  • Brussels sprouts and cooked cabbage
  • Lima beans
  • Dried fruit
  • Coconut and popcorn
  • Seeds
  • Nuts and crunchy nut butters
  • Dried beans or legumes
  • Granola
  • Tough meat with gristle
  • Prunes and prune juice
  • All desserts containing nuts, seeds, dried fruit or coconut
  • Tough or chewy cuts of meat

These restrictions may seem like a lot of work, but you can use this as an opportunity to try out new, low-fiber recipes. Of course, you will have to put those recipes aside the day before your procedure, because you will need to be on a clear broth diet.

The night before your colonoscopy, your doctor will prescribe a laxative. Don’t plan anything away from home for that evening, because you will likely be experiencing many bowel movements. The good news is that the more you visit the bathroom, the cleaner your large intestine will be for the procedure!

On the day of the outpatient procedure, you will need someone to drive you to and from your appointment. Once you’ve been released from the hospital or clinic, feel free to eat whatever is most comfortable for you.

Learn more about what to expect from a colonoscopy at Providence.


Find a doctor

You can find a gastroenterologist, general surgeon or other provider who offers colonoscopies in Providence’s provider directory.

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Related resources

Colorectal cancer rates are going down, except in young people

Personalized treatment for colon cancer

Expanding colorectal cancer screenings in communities of color

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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