Diverticulitis is a medical condition that causes inflamed pouches in the intestine. For some people, diet can affect the symptoms of diverticulitis.
Doctors and dietitians no longer recommend specific diets for diverticulitis. That said, some people find that eating and avoiding certain foods can help ease their symptoms.
Diverticulitis is a condition that affects the digestive tract. It causes inflamed pouches in the lining of the intestine. These pouches are called diverticula.
Diverticula develop when weak spots in the intestinal wall give way under pressure, causing sections to bulge out.
When diverticula develop, the person has diverticulosis. When the diverticula become inflamed or infected, this is called diverticulitis.
Diverticulosis becomes more common as you age, occurring in around 58% of Americans over age 60. Fewer than 5% of people with diverticulosis will develop diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis may lead to health problems or complications, including:
- severe abdominal pain
- bloody bowel movements
- an abscess, or an inflamed pocket of tissue
Diverticulitis is a painful condition caused by inflammation in pouches in the intestine. It’s most common in older adults.
Doctors used to recommend a low fiber, clear liquid diet during diverticulitis flares.
However, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), experts no longer believe that you have to avoid certain foods when you have diverticulosis or diverticulitis.
That said, some studies say that avoiding some foods and eating others can help. Also, it depends on the individual, and some people find that avoiding certain food helps.
During a diverticulitis flare, your doctor might recommend a clear liquid or low fiber diet until the symptoms ease up.
When you have diverticulosis, or have had diverticulitis in the past, the diet recommendations are different compared with during a flare.
Some foods can increase or reduce the risk of flares from occurring.
The following sections look at the research behind different foods you might want to avoid with diverticulosis or diverticulitis.
High FODMAP foods
Following a low FODMAP diet has benefits for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and it might also help some people with diverticulitis.
FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate. It stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.
Some research suggests that a low FODMAP diet could prevent high pressure in the colon, which, in theory, could help people avoid or correct diverticulitis.
In this diet, people avoid foods that are high in FODMAPS. Examples of foods to avoid include:
- certain fruits, such as apples, pears, and plums
- dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt, and ice cream
- fermented foods, such as sauerkraut or kimchi
- Brussels sprouts
- onions and garlic
Red and processed meat
On the other hand, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is associated with a decreased risk.
Foods high in sugar and fat
A standard Western diet high in fat and sugar and low in fiber may be linked with an increased incidence of diverticulitis.
Research suggests that avoiding the following foods may help prevent diverticulitis or reduce its symptoms:
- red meat
- refined grains
- full fat dairy
- fried foods
Other foods and drinks
Doctors used to recommend avoiding nuts, popcorn, and most seeds, the theory being that the tiny particles from these foods might get lodged in the pouches and cause infection.
Some older research has also suggested that people with diverticulitis should avoid alcohol.
According to some research, avoiding red meat and foods high in FODMAPs, sugar, and fat can help prevent diverticulitis flares.
In the past, doctors recommended that people with diverticulitis follow a low fiber diet, or a clear liquid diet. More recently, most doctors have moved away from this advice.
In fact, the NIDDK actually recommends eating high fiber foods to help prevent diverticulitis.
The researchers say that this is because fiber can improve colon health by allowing better movement and stool bulk, helping to promote healthy bacteria in the gut, and helping limit body weight gain over time.
High fiber foods include:
- beans and legumes, such as navy beans, chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans
- whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, amaranth, spelt, and bulgur
Each individual is different. Fiber adds bulk to the stool and may increase colon contractions, which can be painful during a flare-up. Your doctor might recommend avoiding fiber during an acute flare.
When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid constipation.
When you’re not currently having a flare-up, a high fiber diet can reduce the risk of diverticulitis flares and help keep the gut healthy.
In some cases, your doctor might suggest certain dietary changes to make the condition easier to tolerate and less likely to worsen over time.
If you’re having an acute attack of diverticulitis, your doctor may suggest either a low fiber diet or a clear liquid diet to help relieve your symptoms.
Once symptoms improve, they may then recommend sticking with a low fiber diet until the symptoms disappear, then building up to a high fiber diet to prevent future flares.
Low fiber foods
Low fiber foods to consider eating if you have symptoms of diverticulitis include:
- white rice, white bread, or white pasta, but avoid foods that contain gluten if you’re intolerant
- dry, low fiber cereals
- processed fruits, such as applesauce or canned peaches
- cooked animal proteins, such as fish, poultry, or eggs
- olive oil or other oils
- yellow squash, zucchini, or pumpkin: peeled, seeds removed, and cooked
- cooked spinach, beets, carrots, or asparagus
- potatoes with no skin
- fruit and vegetable juices
Clear liquid diet
A clear liquid diet is a more restrictive approach to relieving diverticulitis symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe it for a short period of time.
A clear liquid diet usually consists of:
- ice chips
- ice pops with frozen fruit purée or pieces of finely chopped fruit
- soup broth or stock
- gelatin, such as Jell-O
- tea or coffee without any creams, flavors, or sweeteners
- clear electrolyte drinks
Other dietary considerations
Whether on a clear liquid diet or not, it’s generally helpful to drink at least 8 cups of fluid daily. This helps keep you hydrated and supports your gastrointestinal health.
Be sure to talk with your doctor before making any dramatic dietary changes.
If you’re doing a clear liquid diet, after your condition improves, your doctor may recommend slowly adding low fiber foods back into your diet, building up to a high fiber diet.
During a diverticulitis flare, a low fiber or clear liquid diet can help ease the symptoms for some people.
Even though doctors may recommend avoiding high fiber foods during a diverticulitis flare, research has shown that regularly consuming a high fiber diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains may reduce the risk for acute diverticulitis.
Since fiber 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, which helps prevent the formation of diverticula, as well as the development of diverticulitis.
A high fiber diet is often one of the first things a doctor will recommend if you have diverticulosis or you’ve recovered from diverticulitis.
If you’re not already consuming high fiber foods, be sure to start slow when adding them to your diet.
One older study found that those who consumed at least 25 grams of fiber per day had a 41% lower risk for developing diverticular disease, compared with those who only consumed 14 grams.
For people without diverticular issues, eating a diet that’s rich in fiber helps promote a healthy digestive system.
Research also shows that gut bacteria play a role in diverticular disease. Though more research is needed, future studies are likely to support the modulation of gut bacteria through a high fiber diet and probiotic supplementation.
Research says that eating a high fiber diet can help prevent diverticulitis flares.
If you’ve been given a diagnosis of diverticulitis, talk with your doctor about your food needs and food restrictions. It’s important to discuss how food may heal or aggravate your condition.
If you need additional guidance, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian. Seek out a healthcare professional who has experience working with people who have diverticulitis if you can.
In addition, stay in communication with your doctor about your condition. While diverticulitis may remain dormant for long periods of time, keep in mind that it’s a chronic, lifelong condition.
If you suspect diverticulitis, talk to a doctor for treatment and for advice about food needs and restrictions.
In general, if you have diverticulosis but you’re not having a diverticulitis episode, a diet high in fiber will help prevent future flare-ups.
Depending on the severity of an acute diverticulitis flare-up, a diet low in fiber or a clear liquid diet may be beneficial to reduce symptoms.
If you start to notice your symptoms increasing, have a plan of action ready from your doctor that can reduce pain and discomfort and help you manage your condition.