As patients become older or as the result of certain health problems, the diverticula (located in the colon or large intestine) develop weak spots over time, which can cause the colon to bulge. For some, this can cause inflammation and a more serious condition, while for others, pouches and weak spots may form that pose no real threat to health. Diverticulitis is the more serious condition, where the diverticula are inflamed.
Over time, it has been discovered that some of the best treatment is to be on a special diet for diverticulitis. Most foods that you are told to avoid when you have diverticulitis are those that affect colon health negatively across the board, so it’s a good idea to avoid some of these foods either way. Read on to learn more about high-fiber and low-sugar diets, foods you can avoid to help beat diverticulitis, and foods to eat to help promote a healthy colon.
Fast Facts on Diverticulitis
Diverticulitis is a disease that affects the digestive tract, and it is more common in Americans (those who eat a Western diet). The diverticula can form pouches that are either inflamed or not inflamed. The inflamed sections are known as the disease of diverticulitis, while non-inflamed portions are known as diverticulosis, which is a much less serious problem. Inflamed pouches of diverticular can cause a host of other problems, such as tears, blood in the stool, severe pain, and fistula.
While diverticulosis is a common condition of half of Americans over age 60, diverticulitis is less common. One of the easiest ways to treat diverticulitis is to eat a high-fiber diet at the same time, avoiding other foods like those high in sugar. However, because each patient is different, some patients are better advised to eat low-fiber foods instead. While it’s wise to read up on diverticulitis, your primary care physician is always the best source of information to tell you what kinds of foods to eat and what to avoid. It’s also typically suggested to avoid FODMAPs. Those with diverticular disease or serious diverticulitis flare-ups are often advised to have a clear liquid diet, if at least for a few days to a week, to help clear up any issues. However, this is only a temporary fix to heal a flare-up.
What to Eat When You Have Diverticulitis
High-fiber foods are sometimes the foods of choice whether you have diverticulitis or diverticulosis. This is because fiber foods can be helpful in the prevention of diverticulitis (for those who presently have diverticulosis), but can also help to treat milder forms of diverticulitis. Fiber isn’t really something you can get from a supplement or vitamin, so it’s best to turn completely to diet choices when it comes to trying to get more fiber in your diet. You can, of course, take fiber supplements, but this won’t offer the same advantages as receiving your nutrients from foods. Foods high in fiber include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, but soluble fiber is also found in beans and legumes, and these types of fibers are suggested as well.
However, some pieces of medical research disagree on whether you should eat fiber-rich foods or low-fiber foods once you have a flare-up of diverticulitis. It’s predominantly well-known that high-fiber foods can prevent diverticulitis, but some doctors believe it’s good to avoid high-fiber foods during a flare-up. Every single case of diverticulosis and diverticulitis is different, so doctors may recommend an actual diverticulitis diet (clear liquid) or a diet filled with low-fiber foods, especially during a flare-up. The best advice is to speak directly with your doctor about your individual case. However, generally speaking, some low-fiber foods include:
- potatoes with no skin
- white rice
- low-fiber cereal (without milk)
- cooked asparagus, beets, or carrots
- pumpkin seeds
- cooked, fish, poultry, and eggs
There are many more low-fiber foods to help complete a well-rounded diet, and your doctor can tell you the best course of action to take. Based on each individual case, the most likely outcomes are a low-fiber diet, high-fiber diet, or clear liquid diet.
Foods to Avoid If You Have Diverticulitis
There are many foods you should avoid, or try to eat less of, if you have diverticulitis or you have diverticulosis and your doctor is worried it may develop into diverticulitis at some point. Again, depending on your individual case, your doctor may tell you to avoid foods rich in fiber or low-fiber foods, but there are many other foods that can damage the colon if you are susceptible to diverticulitis.
One of the first things to avoid is FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Avoiding FODMAPs is typically a course of treatment for those who have irritable bowel syndrome, but it is also highly recommended for those who have diverticulitis. FODMAPs include many types of foods, but some of the most common types of FODMAPs include fruits like pears and apples, all dairy foods, including milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut, onions, garlic, beans, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
Foods high in sugar and fat should also generally be avoided. Most of these foods are common-sense bad foods for your diet, such as processed foods and fried foods, but it’s often a good reminder that these foods are not a good part of anyone’s diet, particularly when it comes to colon health. Other examples of these include sugary foods, refined grains, and full-fat dairy (however, dairy is a FODMAP, so you should be avoiding it anyway).
Diverticulosis Diet vs. Other Diets
A diverticulosis diet or diverticulitis diet is a diet that is very different when compared to other diets and is typically only prescribed for the short-term. This type of diet is usually a treatment for acute diverticular disease, especially when a patient has a flare-up. In this case, the doctor has decided it is best to go beyond telling the patient to eat foods that are high in fiber and low in fiber, prescribing a very short-term diet to help heal the diverticula in the large intestine. This diet is unable to be a permanent solution as it doesn’t offer the nutrients and minerals that the body needs otherwise. An example of a diverticulitis diet looks something like:
- no-pulp juices (such as apple juice)
- tea or coffee with no dairy
- ice chips
After you begin to feel a little better (maybe one to four days), the doctor will then recommend that you expand your diet, but only slightly, to include low-fiber foods along with the clear liquid diet. He or she may tell you to consume foods such as canned or cooked fruits without seeds or pulp, refined white bread, canned or cooked potatoes and vegetables, low-fiber cereal, white rice, pasta, and noodles, and some dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese.
A diverticulosis or diverticulitis diet differs from other diets in that many other diets are fabricated so patients are able to lose weight, yet stay healthy, but this diet is geared more to healing a diverticulitis flare-up. It is truly a diet of avoidance and food elimination. This diet should never be continued beyond several days to a week. It has few risks as a treatment option, but is not viable as a long-term diet. Your doctor is the best source of information for taking the next steps (such as eating high-fiber or low-fiber foods, or which foods to avoid).
If you need more information about diverticulitis, diverticulosis, special diets, or want to be seen by a physician, contact GI Associates & Endoscopy Center today. We offer three separate locations as well as pediatric services, allowing for GI care for the entire family.