What should you eat after a colonoscopy? This post will discuss what foods to eat and what foods to avoid after having this procedure.
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a medical test or medical procedure that is used for screening, treatment and diagnostic purposes. It utilizes a scope with a camera on the end of it to visualize the inside of your colon, the rectum, and part of the terminal ileum. During the procedure the doctor can take biopsies of the tissues in the colon and can even perform certain treatments such as polyp removal if needed.
The test is done under conscious sedation by a gastroenterologist. It can be used to diagnosis and detect health problems in the colon including but not limited to polyps, colon cancer, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, collagenous colitis, infectious colitis and more.
Before you have a colonoscopy you have to follow a specific diet for days before the procedure, and then you will be asked to drink a laxative type drink that causes a lot of diarrhea, to help clean out your colon before the procedure. This allows the doctor to be able to actually visualize the tissues of the colon. If you don't prepare for the test properly, stool will still be in the colon and will obstruct the view of the camera and not allow for a proper test.
Who should have a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy can be used for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. There are many reasons for why someone may need a colonoscopy, including but not limited to:
- Screening or surveillance for colon cancer.
- Lower gastrointestinal bleeding.
- Lower gastrointestinal symptoms such as chronic, unexplained diarrhea, unexplained anemia or unexplained weight loss.
- Abnormal imaging findings - if you have had other imaging such as a CT scan, barium enema, MRI, or PET scan that indicated abnormalities in the colon a colonoscopy may be recommended for further evaluation.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's).
- Evaluation of the terminal ileum.
- For therapeutic reasons such as foreign body removal, hemostasis, decompression of sigmoid volvulus or colonic pseudoobstruction, balloon dilation of strictures, palliative treatment of bleeding or stenosed neoplasms, and percutaneous endoscopic cecostomy tube placement.
What to do before a colonoscopy
Before a colonoscopy you will be asked to follow a specific protocol which includes a low-residue diet or clear liquid diet for a few days prior to the test. Typically you will be asked to avoid food for four to eight hours before the procedure (sometimes longer if there is known or suspected delayed gastric emptying) and have no liquids (other than sips with medications) for two hours before the test.
You will also be asked to do a bowl preparation before a colonoscopy where you take an oral laxative to clean out the colon before the procedure. There are different types of oral laxatives that can be used, and when you need to start your prep will depend on which type of laxative the doctor recommends. It can be anywhere from about 24 hours before the test to 6-8 hours before the test. Be sure to follow the directions given to you to ensure the test is successful.
What foods to eat after a colonoscopy
Because the prep for a colonoscopy can be dehydrating, what you eat after the test is very important. You will want to replenish fluids and electrolytes. As well, because of the extreme diarrhea that the preparation causes, this can change the bacteria or microbiome in your colon. It essentially wipes out the bacteria in your colon, so you will want to focus on foods to help replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut.
In the hours immediately after a colonoscopy, your doctor may recommend that you eat sparingly or not at all. They may suggest a soft or liquid diet that’s low in residue, but this isn't always the case. I have personally had two colonoscopies, and was not told to follow a soft diet or low residue diet after my procedures, but of course, always follow the instructions that your doctor gives to you.
If you are asked to follow a low-residue diet, this means eating foods that are low in fiber and avoiding excessive amounts of dairy.
Foods that are typically recommended after a colonoscopy include:
- Drinks high in electrolytes - you can buy pre-made electrolyte drinks, or make your own.
- Herbal tea (without milk or cream)
- Vegetable juice
- Fruit juice
- Popsicles made with real fruit
- Smooth, unsweetened nut butter
- Plain crackers (lightly salted or unseasoned)
- Soup (you will want to avoid creamy soups made with dairy products)
- Scrambled eggs (without added seasonings or dairy products)
- Canned fruit (peaches, pineapple, and fruit cocktails)
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Mashed or baked potatoes
- Cooked, pureed vegetables such as carrots or squash
- Soft white fish with minimal seasoning (wild Alaska pollock, bass, cod, grouper, haddock, and halibut)
After a few days you will be able to start eating a wider variety of foods. During this time you will want to focus on foods that help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and a healthy microbiome. These foods include, but are not limited to:
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha etc. These foods contain bacteria which can help re-populate your intestinal tract.
- Fruits - try to include a wide variety
- Vegetables - include a wide variety - a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been shown to prevent the growth of some disease-causing bacteria in the gut!
- Avoid processed foods and foods high in sugar
- Eat prebiotic foods - prebiotics includes food high in complex carbohydrates and fiber that human cells cannot digest. Instead, certain species of bacteria in the gut break them down and use them for fuel. Studies have shown that prebiotics can promote the growth of several types of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, including Bifidobacteria.
- Eat foods high in polyphenols - Polyphenols are plant compounds that human cells can’t always digest. Because they aren’t easily absorbed, most polyphenols make their way to the colon, where they are digested by the gut bacteria. Certain polyphenols have been shown to help increase certain strains of beneficial bacteria in the intestine. Some examples of polyphenols include cocoa and dark chocolate, grape skins, green tea, onions, almonds, blueberries and broccoli.
Eating a wide variety of foods can also help promote a healthy microbiome. The more varied your diet, the more diverse the bacteria in your gut become and a diverse microbiome is considered a healthy one.
You may also want to take a probiotic. Just be sure to choose a high quality one if you do.
What foods to avoid after a colonoscopy
Besides knowing what foods you should eat after a colonoscopy, it is also important to know what foods to avoid. Since air is introduced into the colon during the procedure, it is common to experience gas or some nausea after the procedure. Because of this you may want to limit or avoid certain foods that could increase gas. The following are some foods and drinks to stay away from for a day or two after a colonoscopy:
- Beer, wine, seltzers, and other alcoholic beverages.
- Soda or fizzy drinks.
- Whole grains (crackers, brown rice, whole grain bread).
- Steak and other tough meats that are harder to digest.
- Dried fruit.
- Legumes and beans
- Foods cooked in a lot of oil or grease.
- Strong spices (eg. garlic, curry, pepper) or spicy foods.
- Raw vegetables.
- Fried foods.
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, chia seeds, chestnuts, dried coconut, flax seeds, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, squash seeds).
Other foods to avoid after a colonoscopy
Besides the foods in the above list, you will also want to avoid foods that promote the growth of "bad bacteria" in your gut. These foods include:
- Foods or drinks high in sugar.
- Refined or processed sugars (ie. corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, etc.)
- Processed foods.
- Foods made with white flour (eg. bread, crackers).
Ways to keep your colon healthy
Colorectal cancer or colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women worldwide. Because it is such a common type of cancer, doing everything you can to decrease your risk of getting this cancer is important.
Besides having screening colonoscopies to look for colon cancer, there are other things that you can do to help keep your colon healthy. A healthy lifestyle can be very beneficial for not only your overall health, but your colon or large intestine health as well.
For example, obesity, especially abdominal obesity, is a known risk factor for colon cancer so trying to maintain a healthy body weight is important to help prevent colon cancer.
Regular exercise is also beneficial for your colon. A 2016 review reported that people who engage in physical activity are 27% less likely to develop colon cancer compared to people who aren’t physically active.
Cigarette smoking is also known to increase your risk of colon cancer, so avoiding cigarettes is another way to help keep your large intestine healthy. Additionally, in patients who do have colon cancer, cigarette smoking increases the risk of death and decreases the chances of survival.
Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of getting colon cancer so this is just another reason to cut down or stop drinking alcohol.
Many studies have also shown a higher risk of getting colon cancer if you eat a lot of red processed meat so avoiding processed meat is another way to help decrease your risk of getting colon cancer.
Frequently asked questions:
How soon you can eat after a colonoscopy will depend on what is found during the procedure or if any interventions were performed during the test. Typically you can at within a few hours of the procedure, or sometimes even right away. Just be sure to listen to the recommendations the doctor gives you after the procedure.
Most people recover quickly from a colonoscopy but in the 1-2 days following the procedure you will want to ensure you drink a lot of fluids and help replenish electrolytes that may have been lost during the prep. You will also want to avoid strenuous exercise for at least 24 hours after the procedure.
Even though a colonoscopy is a regularly performed procedure there are some potential risks associated with it including but not limited to: bleeding, infection, bowel perforation, a reaction to the medications used during the procedure, and abdominal pain.
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