Short bowel syndrome (SBS) happens when your small bowel (intestine) is not able to digest and absorb enough nutrients from foods and beverages to support your health. SBS can result from surgery that has removed many segments of the small bowel or can also result from poor function of the small bowel. Learn more about short bowel syndrome.

What is the diet for short bowel syndrome?

The types of food you can eat and beverages you can drink depend on the health of your small bowel, whether you have a colon attached to your small bowel, or whether your colon has been removed and there is an ostomy in place.  

If you still have your colon, your diet should be:

  • Low in fat (less fried, greasy or creamy foods). 
  • Low in sugary foods and beverages (e.g., candy, cake, fruit juices, sodas). 
  • Higher in fiber (e.g., banana, cooked vegetables, brown rice). 
  • Low in oxalates if you’ve had a kidney stone. Oxalate in foods combine with calcium in urine to form a common type of kidney stone. Learn more at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. 

If you have an ostomy, your diet should be:

  • Higher in fat (can have a bit more foods that have fat). 
  • Low in sugary foods and beverages (e.g., candy, cake, fruit juices, sodas). 
  • Lower in fiber (e.g., remove skins from fruit/vegetables, nuts, seeds). 

Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are recommended as the main beverage in SBS when there is diarrhea. ORS have specific amounts of water, sugar and salt to improve hydration. Readymade ORS as well as recipes to make ORS at home are available. Learn more by reading Short bowel syndrome (SBS): Oral rehydration solutions.

Getting started on diet for short bowel syndrome

The diet is used to help reduce symptoms that may occur from poor digestion and absorption with SBS, such as weight loss, diarrhea, gas, bloating, nutrient deficiencies and dehydration.  

How does the diet work?

Work with a gastroenterology dietitian who will help you create a diet for your SBS to reduce symptoms, especially to slow down diarrhea and help your small bowel adjust or adapt over time. This might help your digestion and absorption of nutrients improve. Most foods in your diet should be eaten as whole foods to stimulate the small bowel to digest and absorb nutrients from the foods.   

Eating healthy with short bowel syndrome

Here are common foods and drinks that can be included in your diet. How well your body handles food is different from person to person and can change over time as your small bowel improves in its ability to digest and absorb more nutrients from your diet.  

Aim to include many food groups at each meal. It is important to chew well and eat small, more frequent meals throughout the day. Large amounts of foods may move through your small bowel quickly and may not digest or absorb well.  

Foods Eat Limit
Meat, poultry, fish
Baked or grilled beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish
Fried beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish
Dairy, dairy substitutes, eggs
Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, plain cream cheese, sour cream, plain yogurt, unsweetened dairy substitutes (e.g., almond milk, oat milk), scrambled/hard boiled eggs, omelets
Sweet milks or cream cheese or yogurt, fried eggs, cheese/cream sauces, ice cream, custard
Grains
Corn or rice-based cereals, crackers, cream of wheat/rice, oatmeal, polenta, pasta, quinoa, brown/white rice, rice cakes, tortilla, wheat or sourdough bread
Sugary, bran or granola cereals
Fruits, vegetables, legumes
Avocado, bananas, blueberries, melon, bell peppers, carrots, potatoes, plantains, squash, sweet potatoes, zucchini, refried beans, lentil soups, hummus, spinach, grilled or fresh tofu, tomatoes, creamy nut butters
Dried fruits, canned fruits, raw vegetables, creamed vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, lettuce, fried tofu, nuts, seeds
Sweets
Angel food cake, ginger snaps, graham crackers, shortbread cookies
Cake, candy, cookies, donuts, jam, jelly, pie, popsicles, sherbet
Beverages
Oral rehydration solutions, small amounts of broth, unsweetened coffee/tea
Plain water, undiluted fruit juices, hot cocoa, sodas, sweetened tea/coffee

Resources about short bowel syndrome

Parrish, CR. A Patient’s Guide to Managing a Short Bowel, 4th edition. Go to “Sign Up” and register for a free book. https://www.shortbowelsyndrome.com 

Now it is time to meet with a GI-expert dietitian. To get more information about this topic, find a dietitian in your area using our Find a Health Care Provider tool.

Written by

Neha D. Shah, MPH, RD, CNSC, CHES, and Lauren Cornell, MS, RD
DIGID Short Bowel Syndrome Workgroup ©2022.