Diverticulitis is a serious medical condition that is characterized by inflamed pouches in the lining of your large intestine. These pouches are called diverticula. They develop when weak spots in the intestinal wall give way under pressure. This causes the intestine to protrude through the colonic wall structure. In most cases, the pouches are located in the lower intestine, or the colon.
Diverticula often exist within the body without causing any additional problems, and become more common as you age. In fact, the pouches or bulges are rather common after age 40.
However, on occasion, diverticula can become inflamed or infected, or they may tear. The inflammation can lead to a more chronic and serious condition known as diverticulitis. Once diverticulitis begins, it may cause serious health problems, including:
- severe abdominal pain
- bloody bowel movements
Some people with diverticulitis will benefit greatly from prescription medication use, particularly antibiotics. More serious cases, however, may require surgery. In almost all cases, your doctor will suggest you adopt certain lifestyle changes to make the condition easier to tolerate and less likely to worsen over time.
A high-fiber diet is one of the first things a doctor will recommend. That’s because fiber, which is found naturally in healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can soften your body’s waste material. Softer stool passes through your intestines and colon more quickly and easily. This, in turn, reduces the pressure in your digestive system.
Fiber-rich foods include:
- beans, such as navy beans and kidney beans
- whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and bulgur
- vegetables and vegetable juices
- hot cereals, such as oatmeal and amaranth
For decades, doctors recommended that people with diverticulitis avoid eating nuts, seeds, and popcorn. That’s because they believed the tiny particles from these foods might get lodged in the pouches and lead to an infection.
While some doctors still recommend this, most physicians have abandoned that advice because modern research has demonstrated no evidence linking those foods with increased problems.
While a diet high in fiber is a good general guideline, it’s not always the right choice. During a diverticulitis attack, your doctor might suggest a clear liquid diet until your condition improves.
Clear Liquid Diet
A clear liquid diet usually consists of:
- ice chips
- ice pops with frozen fruit puree or pieces of finely chopped fruit
- broth or stock
- tea or coffee without any creams, flavors, or sweeteners
After your condition improves, your doctor may recommend slowly adding low-fiber foods back into your diet. Once you no longer have symptoms you can resume your high-fiber diet.
Eating a diet that is rich in natural sources of fiber is beneficial for a normal digestive system, but it’s unclear if a high-fiber diet will reduce your risk of diverticulitis.
Find a Doctor
If you’ve been diagnosed with diverticulitis, make sure to discuss your food needs and restrictions with your doctor. If you have not yet had that discussion, make a list of food-related questions before your next appointment. It’s important you talk about the role food plays in both helping heal and possibly aggravating the condition.
If you need additional guidance, ask your doctor to refer you to a nutrition specialist. Specifically, seek out a healthcare professional that has experience working with people who have diverticulitis. They will be able to make specific recommendations, provide recipes, and help you find ways to enjoy the high-fiber foods your diet needs.
Stay in communication with your doctor about your condition. While diverticulitis may remain dormant for long periods of time, it’s a chronic, life-long condition. If you start to notice your symptoms increasing, make sure you have a plan of action from your doctor that can help reduce pain and discomfort and maximize your ability to go about your life.