What to Eat When You Have Diverticulitis

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The goal of a diverticulitis diet is to avoid foods that could further irritate the pouches (diverticula) in your large intestine. If you have these pouches, your doctor will say you have diverticulosis. If they subsequently become inflamed, it's referred to as having diverticulitis. The term diverticular disease is also sometimes used when talking about the conditions.

If you develop diverticulitis, changing how you eat can help control symptoms and may help prevent complications from the condition, such as bleeding and bowel obstructions.

The general guidelines of a diverticulitis diet are a good place to begin, but you should also start paying attention to how what you eat makes you feel. You may notice connections between your bowel symptoms and certain foods—information you and your doctor or nutritionist can use to individually tailor your eating plan.

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Benefits

While each person's body is different and more research is needed to understand this relationship between diet and diverticular disease, doctors often recommend diet changes to help manage diverticulitis—even to reduce a person's chance of developing diverticula in the first place.

In large part, that is because adjustments to your lifestyle (including what you eat) are among the only factors you can control when it comes to diverticular disease.

The diverticulitis diet's benefits center on reducing (or at least not adding to) inflammation and maintaining healthy bowel movements. Following this diet doesn't guarantee that you'll avoid attacks altogether—especially if you make other lifestyle choices that spur inflammation. Still, its potential makes it a change worth making.

The tricky part is consistently eating in a way that helps manage your condition while still maintaining adequate nutrition and eating enough calories each day.

Promoting Bowel Health

Doctors aren't exactly sure why people develop pouches in the walls of their intestines. One popular theory is that a low-fiber diet makes it harder to pass stool, which puts a lot of pressure on the bowel. Diverticula may form if the walls of the intestine are weakened.

Research has shown that people who don’t eat much fiber (such as those who follow a Western diet) are more likely to have the condition than people who eat a high-fiber diet. Fiber helps prevent constipation, which may be a risk factor for diverticular disease.

This has guided recommendations for increasing fiber intake as a way to potentially prevent existing diverticular disease from getting worse. Promoting bowel regularity may prevent symptoms and help your gut heal from acute diverticulitis episodes.

Insoluble fiber, in particular, has been shown to be especially beneficial for people with diverticular disease.

The average adult eating a 2,000-calorie diet needs at least 28 grams of fiber each day. 

Reducing Inflammation

A primary goal of the diverticulitis diet is preventing inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract and treating symptoms of inflammation if they do occur. Eliminating or limiting certain foods may relieve some of your symptoms, but doctors don’t believe it prevents the condition from getting worse.

How It Works

There are no hard-and-fast rules for this diet—just guidelines as to what is likely to help improve your symptoms and what may worsen them. You will need to listen to your body and work with your healthcare team to firm up what the diverticulitis diet looks like for you. You might find you feel better if you only eat a limit amount of a particular food or avoid certain types of food altogether.

Duration

When you first set out to eat more fiber or begin taking a fiber supplement, your doctor will probably suggest you start slow. Adding a little fiber to your diet at a time and gradually working up to a higher daily intake will help prevent gas and bloating. 

Once you feel you have settled into your new high-fiber diet, how long you maintain it will depend on your symptoms, whether your diverticular disease progresses, any other health conditions you have, and additional treatments you decide to try.

You may find that the effectiveness of diet-related changes waxes and wanes over time. Age-related changes, for example, can affect your digestive health. As such, you may need to revisit a diverticulitis diet, or modify it, over time.

What to Eat

Since what affects someone's diverticulitis can be, to an extent, personal, there is no scripted plan that is sure to help you. There are basics that can guide recommendations, but some of this may prove to be trial and error.

If your doctor suggests you eat a high-fiber diet to help support your digestive system, some options to try include:

  • Brown rice
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oats, rye, and barley
  • Apples, bananas, and pears
  • Psyllium husks or supplements 
  • Low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Broccoli, carrots, other root vegetables
  • Whole grains

You may also want to add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, including avocado and olive oil.

In the past, people with diverticulosis were advised to avoid foods like nuts, seeds, and popcorn. The recommendation was based on the idea that small foods would get caught in the diverticula, it would lead to diverticulitis. However, more recent research indicates these foods don’t specifically cause inflammation of the pouches. That's good news, as they are very good sources of fiber.

Generally speaking, you may benefit from avoiding or limiting foods such as:

  • Bran
  • Red meat
  • Fried foods
  • Trans fats
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Fermented foods
  • Garlic and onions
  • Crunchy nut butters
  • Beans, legumes
  • Soy
  • Brussels sprouts and cabbage

Spices such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic have anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, ginger is a popular remedy for soothing stomach upsets. However, spices can be irritating to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. If you're recovering from an acute episode of diverticulitis, or you feel worse after eating heavily seasoned or spicy food, you may want to limit or avoid these ingredients.

If you do try adding herbs and spices to your meals, start with small amounts and increase according to your personal tastes and tolerance.

If a food is negatively affecting you, let your doctor know. They can help you figure out the best way to reduce or cut it out while still getting adequate nutrition.

Trying an Elimination Diet

Your doctor may suggest that you undertake an elimination diet if you have symptoms when you are first diagnosed with diverticular disease. With this, you gradually reduce a certain food or group of foods until you are no longer eating it at all. Then, you give your body time to adjust to the change and keep track of how you feel (usually over the course of a few weeks). Eventually, you reintroduce the food and, likewise, take note of how/if it's affecting your symptoms.

During/After a Flare-Up

If you’re having or recovering from a diverticulitis flare, you may need to give your bowel time to rest. Many nutritious, high-fiber foods you enjoy when you’re feeling well—and that are typically beneficial for your condition—may be difficult to digest while you’re healing.

Your doctor might suggest you follow a low-fiber or low-residue diet, or even a liquid diet, until you feel better. The same can be said if you are experiencing complications from diverticulitis, such as narrowing of the bowel (stricture) or pockets of infection (abscess).

Foods included in this temporary healing diet include:

  • Eggs
  • Broth
  • Gelatin 
  • Ice pops 
  • White rice
  • Applesauce
  • White bread
  • Cottage cheese
  • Potatoes (no skin)
  • Lean ground meat 
  • Fruit juice (no pulp)
  • Well-cooked vegetables

Gradually, you'll be able to foods back until you've returned to your regular way of eating for diverticulitis management.

Smart Picks

Fruit: Fresh fruits like apples are most nutritious and have the most fiber when eaten with the skin. Bananas are another good source of fruit fiber. They also have a lot of potassium and can be especially helpful if you’re recovering from a stomach upset. However, if you’re having symptoms of diverticulitis, look for lower-fiber options like applesauce.

Dairy: If you tolerate dairy, add low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt to your diet. Even if you aren’t lactose intolerant, full-fat dairy may be harder to digest if you have a gastrointestinal disorder. When you're experiencing a flare of acute symptoms, especially if you have diarrhea, you may prefer to avoid dairy until you’re feeling better. Lower-lactose dairy products such as cottage cheese may be tolerable.

Grains: Whole grains are one of the best sources of dietary fiber. Choosing whole-grain bread, crackers, pasta, and brown rice can be a nutritious, tasty, and versatile way to add fiber to your diet. However, when you aren't feeling well, stick to low-fiber foods such as refined white bread, white rice, and crackers. These choices can help you stay nourished until your symptoms improve.

Protein: Lean ground meat and eggs are a great protein source when you're having symptoms and when you're feeling well. You can also experiment with higher fat sources of protein like nuts and nut butters. While many people don’t have any trouble with these foods, others decide they aren’t the best choice during a flare of symptoms. 

Vegetables: When you’re not having symptoms and are eating a high-fiber diet, raw vegetables (especially root and cruciferous veggies) are nutritional powerhouses worth reaching for. However, if you're having pain or other symptoms, you may want to avoid these vegetables as well as others that are high in fiber. For example, a baked sweet potato with the skin may be too hard to digest. Instead, try peeling and mashing up a white potato. 

Beverages: Not only will proper hydration help prevent constipation, but your body needs it to make use of the extra fiber you’re consuming. Drink plenty of water as you follow your diverticulitis diet, and pay attention to whether or not other beverages—coffee, tea, wine—cause or worsen your symptoms. Some people avoid certain drinks when recovering from a flare, while others find they need to do so outright.

Evolving Your Diverticulitis Diet

Talk to your doctor about periodically trying to add new foods (or some you used to enjoy) into your diet. Having a compliant and nutritious meal plan is important for managing your diverticulitis, but so is having one you can stick with. With time, there may be an opportunity to add greater variety without impacting your symptoms.

Recommended Timing

When planning meals, you’ll need to think about how you feel as well as the reality of your day-to-day schedule. Some people who have digestive disorders feel better if they eat smaller portions more frequently rather than sitting down to three square meals a day.

You may want to experiment with eating different amounts or types of food at different times of the day. You may also find certain combinations of food work well for you, while others do not.

As you're planning meals and snacks, don’t forget to factor in fluids. You may want to keep a water bottle handy so you routinely sip throughout the day.

Cooking Tips

Many foods are easier to digest if you cook them and, in the case of produce, remove their skins. For example, when peeled and cooked, carrots, potatoes, and apples work well. Eggs can be poached instead of fried and lean, ground meat that’s cooked until it’s tender can be another protein option.

Modifications 

While making changes to your diet may help manage diverticulitis, these changes can also affect other aspects of your health. If you have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, you may need to modify your diverticulitis diet. 

For example, refined white bread is a staple of a low-fiber diet and can work well if you’re having a flare of inflammatory symptoms. However, if you have diabetes, you’ll need to be aware of the effect foods made with refined flour have on your blood sugar levels

Certain changes in your life may also require you to reevaluate your diet. If you are pregnant or nursing, for example, your nutritional needs will change. If you increase your level of physical activity or are recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, you may also have different dietary requirements. 

Before you increase your intake of dietary fiber or start taking a fiber supplement, talk to your doctor. If you have other health conditions or gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), eating more fiber can make your symptoms worse.

If you are managing another chronic health condition through diet, work with your healthcare team to make sure that your food choices help both that concern and your diverticulitis.

Even if you are otherwise healthy, you might experience gas, bloating, cramps, and other digestive symptoms when you make changes to your diet. The discomfort will usually get better as your body adjusts.

Considerations

You will need to work with your doctor to determine the best way for you to manage diverticulitis. Other members of your health care team, like a nutritionist, may also be helpful.

You will want to take lifestyle, economic, and cultural factors into account as you evaluate your options. If you have other health conditions, you and your doctor will find a way to make sure you are balancing all your health needs.

General Nutrition

A high-fiber diet is nutritious and tends to be filling. When you’re sticking to low-fiber foods to help manage symptoms, you may have a harder time feeling satisfied by a limited diet.

You'll also want to remember that white bread and crackers made with refined carbohydrates can be high in added sugar. Liquid-diet staples like gelatin and ice pops can also have a lot of sugar. Other than helping you stay hydrated, these products don't offer much nutrition.

Safety

Alternating between a high- and low-fiber diet to manage diverticular disease is generally considered to be safe. The amount of fiber most people eat from day to day will vary, even if they don’t have the gastrointestinal disease.

To avoid symptoms associated with adjusting your fiber intake, try not to make the change too abruptly. Gradually make changes to give your digestive system time to adjust.

Support and Community

You may find it helpful to talk with other people who have diverticulitis. Online or in-person support groups can provide a space to talk freely about your frustrations and challenges, as well as learn more about how other people help manage the condition through diet.

Talk to your doctor about local resources and ask about researching online groups or message boards. 

Cost

Nutritious high-fiber produce is generally affordable, especially when you buy fruit and veggies that are currently in season. Many items included in a diverticulitis diet, such as rice and pasta, can be purchased in bulk—often at lower, wholesale prices.

If changing your diet isn't enough and your doctor recommends nutritional supplements and probiotics, know that these can be expensive. Ask if they can be formally prescribed, as health insurance plans may be more likely to cover them.

Side Effects

If you’re eating a restricted diet while recovering from an episode of acute symptoms, you may not have as much energy as you usually do. You may also notice a change in your bowel habits as you make changes to your diet. When you start eating more fiber you may have mild stomach discomfort, like gas and bloating. If you suddenly cut back on fiber, you may get constipated. 

General Health

During periods when you are eating a limited diet to manage symptoms, you will need to make sure you are getting enough nutritious calories each day. If your symptoms make it difficult to eat, liquid nutritional supplements may be helpful.

Your doctor may also suggest you take a vitamin supplement if you are deficient or having a hard time absorbing nutrition from the food you eat. 

Diverticulosis Diet vs. Other Diets

The diet for diverticulitis is similar to several diets prescribed for bowel rest after surgery. These diets can also be used by people who have chronic inflammatory bowel disease, have an acute gastrointestinal illness, or are recovering from a medical emergency such as a bowel obstruction.

BRAT Diet

If you’ve ever had food poisoning or your child has come home with a viral stomach bug, you’re probably familiar with the BRAT diet. When your digestive system needs a rest, eating a diet of soft but nutritious food can mitigate symptoms like nausea and diarrhea while giving your body time to heal.

The BRAT diet generally consists of bananas, plain white rice, applesauce, and toast made with refined white bread. 

People who have diverticulosis may find the BRAT diet useful if they are experiencing a flare of diverticulitis or are resting after surgery, but the diet isn’t adequate to use for long term management of the condition. Eating a very restricted diet makes it difficult to get enough energy and balanced nutrition to support your overall health.

Low-FODMAP Diet

"FODMAPs" are the fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols present in varying amounts in the food you eat. Foods high in FODMAPs cause some people to experience cramps, gas, and bloating. Paying attention to how foods high-FODMAP foods affect your diverticulitis symptoms may be helpful.

A Word From Verywell 

If you have other health conditions or are not absorbing nutrients properly, your doctor might recommend adding supplements or medications such as antibiotics to your treatment plan. Remember that everyone’s body is different. The diet that works for you may not work for someone else with diverticulitis. Over time, you may have to modify your diet or make other changes to your lifestyle to ensure you can continue to manage your condition as well as your overall health and wellbeing. 

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