What Foods Are Good for Short Bowel Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2022
What Foods Are Good for Short Bowel Syndrome
Learn about what foods are good for short bowel syndrome

Short bowel syndrome is a condition in which the body does not absorb enough nutrients due to the surgical removal of part of the small intestine. Malabsorption due to short bowel syndrome can cause diarrhea, weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration.

The remaining intestine adjusts to the shortened length over time through a process called gut adaptation, which may take up to 2-3 years following intestinal resection. Gut adaptation improves the intestinal ability to absorb foods and fluids. 

Following a specific diet and working with a dietitian can help you improve your nutrition and maximize your food intake. Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, you should consume small, frequent meals to help reduce symptoms and promote digestion and absorption. To compensate for your intestine's inability to absorb nutrients correctly, you will probably need to consume more food and calories than someone with a normal-sized gut would.

Learn about what foods are good for short bowel syndrome.

5 nutritional guidelines for short bowel syndrome

1. Eating habits

  • Keep a food journal and track everything you eat and drink
  • Chew your food thoroughly
  • Eat up to 6-8 smaller meals throughout the day, consuming the most nutritious foods first. Smaller meals can help you manage symptoms and digest and absorb your food more effectively.
  • Limit fluid intake and drink 4 ounces (approximately half a glass) of liquids or less during meals and stick to isotonic drinks, such as oral rehydration solutions.

2. Carbohydrates

To prevent diarrhea and bloating, limit or avoid the following types of carbs:

  • Simple carbs:
    • Juice
    • Soda
    • Table sugar
    • Syrup
    • Honey
    • Cookies
    • Candy
    • Jam
  • Fermentable carbs:
    • Lactose (you may need to follow a low-lactose diet if you are lactose intolerant)
    • Sugar alcohols (such as xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol) found in:
      • Chewing gum
      • Diet candy
      • Certain diet baked goods
      • Apples, pears, and fruits containing a pit or stone, such as apricots, cherries, and peaches

3. Fiber

  • Insoluble fiber
    • Difficult to digest and can speed up the passage of food through the bowels, which may aggravate diarrhea
    • Limit or avoid foods high in insoluble fiber, such as:
      • Fruit and vegetable skins
      • Nuts and seeds
      • Maize and high-fiber cereals
  • Soluble fiber: 
    • Well tolerated and causes the stomach to take longer to empty.
    • Consume more soluble fiber-rich foods, such as:
      • Oats
      • Bananas
      • Ground flaxseed
      • Psyllium
      • Carrots

4. Fats and oils

  • If your colon is removed, you do not need to limit your intake of fats and oils.
  • If your colon is retained, you must limit your intake of fats and oils, such as:
    • Butter
    • Margarine
    • Vegetable oil
    • Mayonnaise
    • Fried foods

5. Oral rehydration

  • Improves liquid absorption in the small bowel even during diarrhea
  • Prevents dehydration
  • Common commercial oral hydration solutions include:
  • Oral hydration liquids can be prepared at home with water, sugar, and salt. Mix and stir the following until combined:


Super Tips to Boost Digestive Health: Bloating, Constipation, and More See Slideshow

What foods are recommended for short bowel syndrome?

Table 1. Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, and noodles
Foods to eat Foods to avoid
Bread Brown rice
Pita bread Whole grain breakfast cereals
Naan bread Whole grain, multigrain, soy, and linseed bread
Tortillas Muffins or cakes made with whole grains
Bread stuffing Muesli bars
Plain banana, carrot, or zucchini bread Noodles in broth
English muffins Whole grain pasta
Bagels Wheat germ
Cornbread Bran
Waffles or pancakes without syrup Jam or jelly, both sugar-free and regular
Pasta, macaroni, and noodles Donuts
White rice Pancakes or waffles with syrup
Table 2. Fruits, nuts, and seeds
Foods to eat Foods to avoid
Banana (not overripe) Dried fruits
Apples (red or green) Figs
Plums Fruit juice
Kiwi fruit Canned fruit in syrup
Melons Nuts
Berries Nut butter
Stone fruits Coconut
Citrus fruits
Table 3. Vegetables and legumes
Foods to eat Foods to avoid
Leafy greens Brussels sprouts
Broccoli Vegetable soup
Cauliflower Onions, leeks
Cabbage Legumes
Avocado Rhubarb
Peas Celery
Asparagus Beetroot
Mushroom Spinach
Squash Soy products
Bell pepper
Table 4. Meat, poultry, and fish
Foods to eat Foods to avoid
Beef Raw meat, fish, or poultry of any kind
Pork, bacon, ham Fried meat, fish, or poultry
Chicken Meat in sauce
Venison (deer meat)
Buffalo or bison
Fish, fresh or canned
Table 5. Milk and dairy products
Foods to eat Foods to avoid
Plain cow, soy, or rice milk Cream, half and half
Plain yogurt, yogurt sweetened with artificial sweeteners Flavored soy or rice milk (including vanilla)
Regular cheeses (American, cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, feta, Parmesan, cottage cheese, ricotta) Highly sweetened yogurt or kefir
Buttermilk Custard
Ice cream
Table 6. Other foods
Foods to eat Foods to avoid
Water Alcohol
Oral rehydration solutions Sugary sports drinks
Unsweetened iced tea Vitamin water
Milk and formula Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate
Low-sugar sports drinks, such as Gatorade G2 and Powerade Zero Butter, margarine, mayonnaise, oil
Cheeseburgers, hamburgers, BBQ chicken, and fried chicken Sugar, jam, honey, syrups, ice cream toppings
Salt, pepper, and dried herbs Pies and pastries
Hard candy

Individual dietary advice should be provided for people with short bowel syndrome considering the following factors:

  • Extent of resection
  • Reason for the procedure
  • Nutritional and hydration status
  • Nutritional preferences
  • Need for parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding)

It is vital to consider the social and emotional context of food consumption when planning nutritional management. This affects the quality of life of people with small bowel syndrome.

Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Nutrition Guide for Small Bowel Syndrome (SBS). https://uihc.org/health-topics/nutrition-guide-small-bowel-syndrome-sbs

Short Bowel Syndrome: What to Eat and Drink. https://columbiasurgery.org/news/2016/11/16/short-bowel-syndrome-what-eat-and-drink

Management of short bowel syndrome in children. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/management-of-short-bowel-syndrome-in-children