A good diverticulosis diet is one that is rich in fiber and provides plenty of fluids. Specifically, an individual can benefit from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Water can be consumed as a drink or in foods to maintain proper hydration and regular bowel movements. Switching to such a diet should happen gradually to avoid problems such as bloating, and even healthy foods need to be monitored for added preservatives or chemicals that can negatively affect colon health.
Diverticulosis, or diverticular disease, is a condition in which an area of the digestive tract (usually the colon) contains bulging sacs, or diverticula. Many people have this condition without knowing it. They often discover it only after a routine colonoscopy, or when it advances into diverticulitis, the inflammation or irritation of diverticula.
General Dietary Guidelines
Diverticula can become irritated when too much pressure is exerted on them. They also can become infected if there is an overabundance of bad bacteria in the colon. This means that, typically, getting constipated or having irregular bowel movements can aggravate the condition. Fluids and fiber are the body’s two main tools for propelling waste through the colon and out of the body, so when a person has diverticulosis, the general rules of thumb are to eat foods with high fiber content and to keep water intake high.
Whole grains are the complete fruits of cereal grasses such as oats. As whole seeds, they contain three parts. These are the bran (outer skin), the germ (embryo that can sprout) and the endosperm (the food supply for the germ). The bran has a very high fiber content, so eating whole grains and whole grain products is part of a diverticulosis diet.
One of the most common whole grains consumed in the United States is oats. Another is wheat. Oatmeal, whole grain breads and whole grain pasta are three readily available foods to try. People also can eat wild or brown rice, but these options provide only about 25 to 50 percent of the fiber found in oats and wheat. Some of the best high-fiber whole grains are barley, aramanth, rye and triticle.
Store-bought cereals can also provide fiber, although not all are made with whole grains. Shoppers should look out for those that include at least 4 grams per cup, if not more. Some people find that high fiber cereals have a strange taste, but a growing array of choices means that there is probably one for nearly every palate. Eaters may also want to mix it with their normal cereal until they get used to the flavor.
Fruits such as apples, kiwis, grapes, berries (especially raspberries) or cherries are typically a great source of fiber. Others fiber-rich fruits include bananas, avocados, oranges, prunes, and raisins. As an added benefit, many fruits are extremely high in antioxidants, substances that protect cells by fighting off the damage caused by free radicals.
A diverticulosis diet also should include high-fiber vegetables. High-fiber options include artichokes, peas, broccoli and brussel sprouts. A person also can get fiber from potatoes with skin, corn and carrots.
Legumes include plants whose seeds split into separate halves. An excellent fiber source, most beans fall into this category. They can be substituted for meat at least one night a week for dinner. Lima beans, kidney beans and pinto beans are good in chili, stew, wraps and tacos, or in a bean salad. Garbanzo beans are a great addition to salads and are the main ingredient in hummus, a spread often used with pita chips or bread.
Fiber increases stool bulk in part because it can absorb water. Failure to replace the water absorbed by the fiber can cause constipation, which is the opposite of what a person with diverticulosis wants. The often repeated recommendation to avoid constipation and stay healthy is to drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day, but experts point out that this is not a hard and fast rule.
People have very different physiologies, and they also engage in different levels of activity. In addition, some foods have extremely high water contents. Lettuce and watermelon are perhaps the best examples. This means that two people can have very different water needs, and that it isn’t necessary to drink all the water that a person has to have. The more contemporary recommendation is to pay close attention to thirst and to drink whenever it feels necessary, watching that the amount of water intake is high enough to produce very light yellow to clear urine.
The move to a diverticulosis diet should happen gradually. This gives the body time to adjust to the new foods. Avoid consuming too much fiber too fast, as this can result in painful gas and bloating. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) suggests individuals consume anywhere from 20 to 35 grams (0.70 to 1.24 ounces) of fiber every day.
Although eating a diveriticulosis diet needn’t require completely cutting out processed foods, they should be eaten only in moderation. They are less nutritious than whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and they usually exchange fiber for fat or sugar. That can lead to problems such as weight gain or diabetes. Even when eating a balance of diverticulosis-safe foods, be mindful of preservatives and chemicals added during the growth or manufacturing stages, as these substances can disturb healthy bacteria in the colon and cause other problems such as cancer.
What Is a Liquid Diet for Diverticulosis?
When you’re suffering from inflamed diverticula, you may want to switch to a clear liquid diet until symptoms clear up. Having only liquids in your system allows the diverticula to become less inflamed. Acceptable liquids include:
- Clear broths, such as beef, chicken, vegetable or fish
- Fruit juices without pulp, including apple juice, grape juice or lemonade
- Water and ice
- Popsicles with no bits of fruit or fruit pulp
- Gelatin, either commercial or homemade, with no fruit added
- Coffee and tea, without cream or milk
What Are the Next Steps After a Liquid Diet?
When you’re starting to feel better after your diverticulosis flare-up, you may want to add low-fiber foods to your diet. A low-fiber diet reduces the amount of residue your body creates, giving your diverticula a chance to ease back into dealing with stool again. Some great low-fiber foods to try include:
- Milk, yogurt and cheese
- Cooked or canned fruits without the skins or seeds
- Processed white bread
- Cooked or canned veggies such as carrots, skinless potatoes and green beans
- Fish, poultry and eggs
- Low-fiber cereals
- Fruit or vegetable juice that has no pulp
- White rice and pasta
When you’re feeling good on a low-fiber diet, you can resume a healthy, high-fiber diet with plenty of liquids to keep stool moving through your system, keeping your diverticula healthy. You should definitely not stay on the low-fiber diet; doing so can aggravate your diverticulosis and cause flare-ups again.
How To Treat Diverticulosis With Diet Alone?
Diverticulosis is very treatable with diet alone. To put it simply, eat lots of low-fat, fiber-rich foods and drink plenty of fluids. You want to avoid eating too much fat, because it can slow your digestive system.
If you struggle with constipation, which can cause diverticula to form, your doctor may recommend a dietary supplement called psyllium or another called methylcellulose, both of which help bulk up your stool and keep your bowels moving. When you’re constipated and have to strain to have a bowel movement, that can cause diverticula to form and cause inflammation in any diverticula you may already have.
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
If you’re a woman under 51 years of age, you should eat at least 25 grams of fiber every day. If you’re 51 or older, you want to aim for 21 grams. If you’re a man under 51 years old, you need to consume 38 grams of fiber each day. Once you’re 51 or older, you should consume 30 grams.
Don’t eat too much fiber — that can cause its own set of problems, including cramping, bloating and gas. Keep your fiber consumption under 70 grams daily to avoid these issues.
What Diet Is Best for Diverticulosis?
The best diet for diverticulosis is one that is low in fat and high in fiber, with sufficient fluid consumption.
What Foods Are Low-Fat?
The easiest way to eat low-fat foods is to eat foods in their purest forms, either raw or lightly cooked with broth instead of oil or butter. Avoid red meat and pork due to their innate fat content. Lean meats such as chicken and fish may become mainstays in your diet.
Skip most foods that come in boxes, and be wary of foods that come in cans. These processed foods can have high fat, as well as high sugar or salt content, which also aren’t good for you.
What Foods Are High in Fiber?
High-fiber foods not only help keep your stool moving but also help lower your cholesterol, improve your body weight, control your blood sugar and aid in preventing colon cancer. Some excellent high-fiber foods to eat include fruits such as:
Many vegetables are also great sources of fiber:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
Also be sure to incorporate certain beans, nuts, and grains:
- Kidney beans
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Which Foods Are High in Water Content?
Keep in mind that you can get water from fruits and vegetables. Some of the best sources of water in foods include tasty fruits and vegetables:
Your water can also come from dairy sources like low-fat milk and yogurt, or from drinking coconut water and fruit or vegetable juices. Soups also add water to your diet.
Some experts tout drinking eight glasses of water per day. Other experts say to take your body weight in pounds, divide it by 2, and make that your target number of ounces of water to drink daily. Under this guideline, someone who weighs 200 pounds would need to consume 100 ounces of water every day.