Diet for Diverticulitis: What can help and what should you avoid?
Learn how changing your diet for diverticulitis can help improve your symptoms. A dietitian or nutritionist can be an excellent resource to help you.
·September 2nd, 2021
Dietary changes can be particularly effective for chronic conditions and diverticulitis
Diverticulitis occurs when one or more of the diverticula in your colon become inflamed or infected
Introducing easier-to-digest foods can help give your system a chance to rest while the infection or inflammation is cleared.
To help you identify and stick to the diet that’s best for you, a dietitian or nutritionist can be an excellent resource
We know that diet changes can be particularly effective when managing painful or chronic conditions, including Crohn’s disease and IBS. But what about diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis occurs when one or more diverticula (or pouches) in your colon become inflamed, and in some cases infected.
An estimated 200,000 people are hospitalized for diverticulitis each year, and the risk of developing diverticulitis increases with age. Though not every case of diverticulitis leads to hospitalization, finding and treating your diverticulitis early is key to managing your symptoms and clearing the infection as soon as possible.
In this article, we’ll discuss the cause and symptoms of diverticulitis, the difference between diverticulitis and diverticulosis, and whether specific diet changes can help manage symptoms and prevent you from developing the condition.
Diverticulitis vs. diverticulosis: what’s the difference?
Diverticulosis describes the presence of diverticula, or small bulging pouches, in your large intestine (or colon). Though they can form anywhere in the lining of your colon, they are most commonly found in the lower-left side of your colon, also called the sigmoid or S-shaped colon.
Most people don’t experience symptoms with diverticulosis and therefore don’t require treatment. However, in some cases, diverticulosis can lead to diverticulitis, a more serious condition that can be painful and requires treatment.
Simply put: Diverticulitis occurs when one or more of the diverticula in your colon become inflamed or infected. This happens when diverticula tear, causing inflammation, and in some cases, infection. Though experts aren’t exactly sure what causes these tears, some theories include increased pressure on the colon walls and bacteria from stool that gets pushed into the diverticula.
The symptoms of diverticulitis include:
Abdominal pain and tenderness, usually on the lower left side of the abdomen (however, data shows that people of Asian descent are more likely to experience pain on the right side of the abdomen)
Constipation (less commonly, diarrhea)
Who is at risk for diverticulitis?
Though anyone can get diverticulitis, there are several factors that can increase your risk:
Age and gender: The risk of developing diverticulitis increases with age. Interestingly, after age 50, women are more likely to develop diverticulitis, but in adults under 50, men are more likely to develop the condition.
Weight: Data shows that your odds of developing diverticulitis increase if you are at a larger weight.
Smoking: Smoking tobacco also increases your risk of developing diverticulitis (in addition to many other health conditions).
Movement: Lack of exercise can also increase your risk.
Certain medications: Some steroids, opioids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (including ibuprofen and naproxen) are associated with a higher risk of developing diverticulitis.
Diet: Research shows that eating a diet high in animal fat and low in fiber can increase your risk (but the jury’s out on whether a low-fiber diet alone can increase your risk as well).
The diverticulitis diet: can it help?
Though diet recommendations aren’t always given when diverticulitis is diagnosed, if your case is mild, your doctor may suggest making some temporary dietary changes to complement a prescription of antibiotics and plenty of rest.
Here’s why: The pain and stress of diverticulitis can be tough on your colon. Introducing easier-to-digest foods can help give your system a chance to rest while the infection or inflammation is cleared.
To help you identify and stick to the diet that’s best for you, a dietitian or nutritionist can be an excellent resource. Typically, they’ll work with you to create a specific plan that works within this broad framework?
1. Clear liquids
The first step of the diverticulitis diet is to eat only clear liquids for a couple of days. Because you can’t get all the nutrients you need from liquids alone, be sure to follow this diet for a few days only (or as recommended by your doctor). During this time, you may eat:
Jell-O or other clear, liquid-based gelatin foods
Water or ice-chips
Tea or coffee (without cream or milk)
Once you start to feel better, you can begin to transition to slowly eating solid, low-fiber foods.
During the second step of this temporary diverticulitis diet, you’ll want to transition to eating solid, low-fiber or GI soft foods. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend limiting your daily intake of fiber to anywhere between 8-12 grams.
Some examples of easy-to-digest, low-fiber foods include:
Simple carbohydrates: Including white bread, white rice and pasta.
Low-fiber vegetables and grains: Think yellow or white potatoes, carrots, and low-fiber cereals.
Tender proteins: Low-fat is best, so options may include shredded chicken breast, eggs, lean beef, and soft white fishes
Certain fruits: Some fruits can contain a high amount of fiber, so be careful to choose accordingly. Low-fiber fruits include bananas, melons, peaches, and pears. Cooking fruits can also make them easier to digest, just be sure to remove all skins and seeds before eating.
Dairy: Low-fiber, high-protein dairy foods can help you recover from a diverticulitis flare-up. This includes cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese, and milk.
Foods that you’ll want to avoid during this time include high-fiber items, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables with the skin and seeds, nuts, beans, and popcorn.
You should start to feel better two to three days after starting the diverticulitis diet. If symptoms worsen or you haven’t started to feel better, reach out to your provider immediately.
What can I do to help prevent diverticulitis?
Ironically, while a low-fiber diet can help you recover from diverticulitis, a high-fiber diet may help prevent you from developing diverticulosis (therefore reducing your risk of diverticulitis) in the future.
Constipation puts extra strain on the walls of the colon and can lead to a build-up of waste. For this reason, eating a low-fiber diet (which can lead to constipation) is linked to a higher risk of both diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Once you’ve recovered from a flare-up, eating a diet high in fiber (including whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans) can help prevent you from developing diverticulitis.
Other lifestyle changes that can help prevent diverticulitis are:
Exercising regularly: Moving for at least 30 minutes each day can help promote normal bowel function and reduce pressure on your color.
Drinking adequate fluids: Drinking water is important for your health, especially when eating a high-fiber diet. Fiber absorbs water to increase the softness of the waste in your colon. But if you don’t drink enough fluids, fiber can increase the risk of constipation.
Not smoking: We said it once and we’ll say it again: Smoking can increase your risk of diverticulitis.
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to our health. If you’re experiencing symptoms of diverticulitis, reach out to your provider today.