If you have diverticulitis, the most serious form of diverticulosis, eating the right foods can help you feel better faster.
What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulosis is a condition in which small pouches—also known as diverticula—bulge out from the colon (the lower part of the large intestine). It's believed to be caused by habitually consuming a low-fiber diet, coupled with a genetic predisposition to the disease. Your risk of developing diverticulosis increases with age, with about half of all people over age 60 having some form of it.
Luckily, many people with diverticulosis don't suffer symptoms. However, diverticulitis, a flare up of diverticulosis, is much more serious and requires medical treatment. While you can't make diverticula go away once they're formed, you can take certain precautions, like following a diverticulitis diet, to prevent a flare or keep it from getting worse.
What to eat during a diverticulitis flare
While high-fiber foods should be a part of your diet, one exception is to avoid them during a diverticulitis flare. If you begin to experience symptoms like abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and chills, you are likely experiencing a diverticulitis flare. Make an appointment to see your doctor, who will likely prescribe antibiotics and a clear liquid diet.
A clear liquid diet is very restricted and designed to give your digestive system a rest. Think: water, ice chips, fruit juices (no pulp), ice pops (no pulp or fruit), gelatin, tea and coffee (without milk or cream).
When the symptoms of the flare begin to subside, you should talk to your doctor to see if you're ready to start reintroducing some low-fiber foods. Start with foods like canned or cooked fruits (without skin), canned or cooked soft vegetables like potatoes (without the skin), eggs, fish and poultry, white bread, low-fiber cereals, milk, yogurt, cheese, rice and pasta.
You should not progress yourself through this diet without your doctor's guidance. After the inflammation is completely gone and you are cleared by your doctor, you should start eating high-fiber foods again. And always be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
The myth about nuts and seeds
Many people with diverticulosis think they can't eat nuts and seeds because they might cause diverticulitis flares, but that is a myth. Tamara Duker Freuman, M.S., R.D., a New York City-based registered dietitian specializing in gastrointestinal disorders, says, "this is an old wives' tale...and the evidence really does not support this common practice."
If certain foods high in roughage (insoluble fiber) give you twinges of discomfort—like corn, salads, nuts, very seedy foods—then you may find foods rich in soluble fiber to be more comfortable. Try foods like oatmeal, squashes, carrots, beets, mango, papaya and melon to boost your soluble fiber intake. Also, if the texture of some foods that have seeds and skin is troublesome, you can modify it. Freuman's recommendations: "Try a pureed lentil or split pea soup, berries in a smoothie or ground flaxseeds in yogurt instead of whole flaxseeds." Nut butters can also be a good substitute for anyone who has a problem with the texture of hard, crunchy nuts. Eating more soluble fiber and changing up the texture of some foods can help people with diverticulosis to enjoy an unrestricted, healthy diet.
What to eat to prevent a flare
You can help prevent a diverticulitis flare by following a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. This can help prevent the formation of more diverticula because your stool will be softer and more bulky. People with diverticulosis should aim to get 25 grams of fiber per day for adult women and 38 grams of fiber per day for adult men. High-fiber foods include beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Sprinkle beans on your salad, snack on fruits and vegetables, and try making most—if not all—of your grains whole grains. If you're having trouble getting enough fiber just from foods, you can talk to your doctor about trying a fiber supplement, like psyllium fiber.