Diverticulitis Diet – What to Eat and What to Avoid?

Diverticular disease was rare before the 20th century, but now it has become a common problem in western countries. The culprit is our diet, which is low in fiber and our unhealthy lifestyle. The diverticular disease can manifest into a more severe and painful condition known as diverticulitis.  While severe cases of diverticulitis need to be treated with antibiotics and even surgery, in most cases, the doctor may recommend a diverticulitis diet for your treatment. In this article, you will learn more about this disease that affects your digestive tract and ways to treat it with diverticulitis diet.

What is diverticulitis?

Sometimes people develop small bulging pouches in the lining of their colon. These pouches are known as diverticula, and the condition is called diverticulosis. There are usually no symptoms of this condition. In some cases, people may experience constipation or bleeding.

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When the diverticula become inflamed or infected, it leads to a condition known as diverticulitis. The symptoms of diverticulitis include pain in the left lower abdomen, nausea, vomiting, bloating, fever, constipation, or diarrhea. If you have diverticulitis, you may need to take antibiotics or stay in the hospital for a while.

If left untreated, diverticulitis can lead to several severe complications like abscesses and scarring, which may lead to intestinal blockage. Fistulas can also develop if an infected diverticulum reaches an adjoining organ and forms a connection between them. It can also lead to severe bleeding.

What causes diverticulitis?

Lack of fiber in your diet is the main reason why pouches start to protrude from the colon. Fiber helps to soften stools, and not having enough fiber in the diet lead to hard stools. Hard stools put a strain on the colon as muscles push the stool down. Diverticula develop when weak places in the colon give way under pressure.

Other than low fiber diet, many other factors increase the risk of developing diverticulitis. These include –

  • Aging – The incidence of diverticulitis increases as you age. Almost 70 percent of people above 80 years have this condition.
  • Obesity – Being overweight increases the odds of developing diverticulitis.
  • Smoking – Smokers are at a higher risk of developing diverticulitis than non-smokers.
  • Lack of exercise – People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing diverticulitis.
  • High-fat diet – A diet high in animal fat and sugar and low in fiber increases diverticulitis risk.
  • Medications – Steroids, opioids, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are associated with an increased incidence of diverticulitis.

What is the purpose of the diverticulitis diet?

The primary purpose of the diverticulitis diet is to give your digestive system a rest. Your doctor will put you on only clear liquids for the first few days. As you start feeling better, the doctor will add low-fiber foods to your daily meal plan. Follow this diet until you start feeling better.

Foods to eat

1. Clear liquids

The liquid diet is the first stage of this diet. The doctor may prescribe it for a short period. A clear liquid diet consists of –

  • Water
  • Ice chips
  • Ice pops without fruit
  • Broth
  • Gelatin
  • Clear electrolyte drinks
  • Tea or coffee without cream
  • Fruit juice without pulp

2. Low-fiber foods

When you start feeling better, the doctor will ask you to add low-fiber foods to your diet slowly. These include –

  • White bread, white pasta, noodles, or white rice. Avoid adding foods that contain gluten if you are intolerant.
  • Dry, low-fiber cereals
  • Cooked fruits without skin or seeds
  • Cooked vegetables like beets, carrot, and potatoes without skin.
  • Cooked spinach or asparagus
  • Zucchini, yellow squash and pumpkin, peeled and without seeds
  • Egg, fish, and poultry
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Fruit and vegetable juice without pulp

Drink enough water throughout this diet. Once your condition improves and you start feeling better, your doctor will ask you to resume a regular balanced diet.

Foods to avoid

Depending on the advice of your doctor, you may want to prevent or minimize the use of these foods for a few days till your diverticulitis symptoms subside. These include –

1. High fiber foods

Fiber adds bulk to your stool and can increase colon contractions,  which may be painful if you have diverticulitis. Avoid the following high-fiber foods –

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, amaranth, spelt, and bulgur.
  • Whole wheat bread or pasta
  • Beans and legumes like navy beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

2. High FODMAP foods

According to researchers, people with diverticulitis can benefit from diets that are low in FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). These are the high FODMAP foods that you should avoid –

  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut
  • Dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and ice-cream
  • Fruits like apples, pears, and plums

3. Foods high in fat

Avoiding foods that are high in fat helps soothe the digestive system. These include –

  • High-fat dairy products like full-fat milk, ice-cream, and butter
  • Red meat
  • Fried and processed meats.

4. Foods high in sugar

  • Cola beverages
  • Foods and drinks with added sugars an syrups

5. Other foods to avoid

You should also avoid nuts, seeds, and popcorns while on diverticulitis diet. The pieces of these foods can get stuck in the pouches and cause infection. Some researchers also suggest that you should avoid alcohol while on this diet.

Supplements to treat diverticulitis

1. Probiotics

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that line the digestive tract and keep you healthy. They help relieve constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. They are found in yogurt and fermented vegetables. You can also take them in the form of powder, capsules, or tablets.

2. Digestive enzymes

Digestive enzymes help break down the large molecules found in foods into smaller particles that can be absorbed by the gut. You can take supplements that contain digestive enzymes to improve your digestive issues.

3. Aloe vera

Aloe vera has many health benefits, including relieving constipation, regularizing bowel movements, and encouraging healthy digestive bacteria.

4. Licorice root

Licorice root helps reduce spasms and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. It lowers stomach acid, relieves heartburn, and acts as a mild laxative. You can take 100 mg of licorice daily when you experience diverticulitis symptoms. However, do not take licorice for an extended period if you have high blood pressure or kidney disease.

5. Slippery elm

Slippery elm is known to protect irritated tissues and promote healing. For diverticulitis, you can take 60 to 320 mg of slippery elm three to four times per day. Take it with a glass of water. You can also use slippery elm for the treatment of GERD, Crohn’s disease, and IBS.

6. Chamomile

Chamomile tea has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe gastric conditions. To make chamomile tea, steep three flowerheads in one cup of boiling water, strain and cool. If you are allergic to ragweed and other related plants, avoid chamomile.

7. Cat’s claw

This woody vine is native to Amazon rainforests. It has been used for many centuries to treat digestive disorders like gastritis, colitis, and stomach ulcers. It is an anti-inflammatory and is also used to treat diverticulitis.

How to prevent diverticulitis?

You must modify your diet and lifestyle to prevent diverticulitis. According to research from the University of Oxford, people who consumed 25 grams of fiber a day had a 41 % lower risk of developing diverticulitis (1).

1. Eat more fiber

Consuming a high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can reduce the risk of diverticulitis. You must add texture gradually to your diet as a sudden switch can lead to bloating and gas.

2. Avoid refined foods

Avoid consuming too many processed foods like white bread, white pasta, and white rice.

3. Drink lots of fluids

Stay hydrated to maintain a healthy digestive system. Drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water. Other healthy drinks include herbal teas and fruits juices.

 4. Prevent constipation

Try natural laxatives like psyllium husk, prunes, and prune juice. Some herbal teas can also help avoid constipation.

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5. Exercise

Exercise daily and maintain an active lifestyle. Exercise helps the muscles in the intestine retain their tone, which encourages regular bowel movements.

Final thoughts on diverticulitis diet

Diverticulitis is an unpleasant condition in which the tiny pouches inside the large intestine called diverticula become inflamed and cause intense abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fever, and rectal bleeding. In extreme cases, people have to take antibiotics or undergo surgery. Usually, these symptoms can be treated with a diverticulitis diet which consists of low-fiber foods and liquid diet.

You need to avoid taking high-fiber food, FODMAP food, and foods that are high in fat and sugar. Some complementary and alternative therapies like probiotics and herbs can also lower diverticulitis symptoms. You can prevent this condition by eating healthy high-fiber foods, staying hydrated, preventing constipation, and maintaining an active lifestyle.

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