If you haven’t experienced diverticulitis, consider yourself lucky. If you have, you know that diverticular disease is a debilitating condition that’s extremely painful and it can impact your life for an extended period of time. The good news is that your diet can play a major role in preventing it. To get your diet on track and reduce your risk, let’s look at which diverticulitis foods to avoid and which foods to eat with diverticulitis.
What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is an inflammation caused by an infection in your lower intestine. An infection can randomly occur along the lining of your intestine where small pouches can develop. These pouches are called diverticula.
For many people, they may develop diverticula and never known it because they don’t experience any symptoms. For others, an infection can begin if the digestive tract eventually bulges through weak spots in your intestinal lining.
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
If an infection occurs, your body will let you know something is wrong with a variety of symptoms such as:
- abdominal pain on the lower left side
When severe symptoms of infection and inflammation occur quickly, it’s referred to as acute diverticulitis. If you’re one of the 200,000 people with diverticulitis who are hospitalized in the United States each year, you may think you’ve got a stomach bug or the flu when symptoms first start. The difference is that symptoms of diverticulitis tend to worsen quickly as does the pain.
If you’re vomiting, it may seem easier to stay home instead of trying to transport yourself to the doctor or ER, but it’s crucial to seek medical assistance. If the infection spreads and forms abscesses, it can lead to a fatal infection.
What causes diverticulitis?
The infection and inflammation in the digestive tract is caused by a tear in the diverticula, but there are other risk factors associated with diverticulitis. If you’re a chronic pain patient who takes pain killers (OTC or prescription strength), it’s important to be aware that some of your medications can cause diverticulitis. Other causes of diverticulitis include:
- Getting older
- Being overweight or obese (this can also make it more difficult to treat)
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Having a diet high in saturated fat and low in fiber
- Using some over-the-counter medications
- Using other medications like steroids and opiates
What are the best foods to eat with diverticulitis?
One powerful way for people with diverticulitis to recover and reduce the risk of future flare-ups is to focus on eating a diet high in fiber and avoid eating foods that are hard on your large intestine. Research has shown that a diet of healthy foods that are high in dietary fiber and low in fat is the best way to prevent and ease damage to your digestive system.
If you’ve been recently diagnosed and you’re still actively in pain from symptoms, chances are you don’t have much an appetite. The bloating, nausea and abdominal pain don’t subside right away even if you’re taking prescribed antibiotics.
Make sure you drink plenty of water – even if you can only take small sips – to stay hydrated. This is especially important if you’ve been vomiting. You doctor may recommend a more specific diet plan to help you through your recovery and then review which foods to eat with diverticulitis for long-term health.
Stage 1 foods: facing your initial recovery
Start your recovery process on a strict liquid diet. Be kind to your body by avoiding fiber. Even though some evidence shows that diverticulitis could flare up in the first place due to low fiber diets over long periods of time, it could cause flare ups as your colon recuperates.
Try liquids such as:
- Fruit juice (no pulp)
- Fruit juice popsicles
Stage 2 foods: as the pain subsides
As your diverticulitis symptoms diminish and your pain subsides, you should start feeling hungry again. This is likely to happen even if you’re still experiencing bloating and some abdominal cramping. It will take some time for your digestive tract to start operating normally again. The good news is you can start eating solid foods as long as they’re low in fiber. You still don’t want to disrupt your large intestine during its healing process.
Try foods such as:
- Canned or cooked fruits and vegetables
- White bread
- White rice
Stage 3: long-term foods
Once you have recuperated, you can help prevent a relapse and improve your diet overall by consuming a high-fiber diet. This will add bulk to your stool and add motility to your bowel movements.
Other benefits of a high fiber intake include helping to control blood pressure and blood glucose.
What are the recommended amounts of fiber?
Fiber is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, especially if you have diverticulitis. But how much is enough?
Women aged 19 and older:
Aim for 25 grams a day
Men aged 19 and older:
Aim for 38 grams of fiber a day
Eating a whole food plant based diet generally guarantees you can get enough fiber. High-fiber foods include:
- Whole fruits
- Whole vegetables, preferably raw
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice and pasta
- Whole grain cereal
- Nuts and seeds
What are the best foods to avoid with diverticulitis?
When you are on a diverticulitis diet, there are 3 general rules to follow regarding what to avoid:
- When in stage 1, don’t eat foods listed in stage 2 and 3.
- When in stage 2, don’t eat foods listed in stage 3.
- For long-term health, when you are feeling better, eat more foods listed in stage 3.
How can diverticulitis be treated?
Usually, diverticulitis can be treated with antibiotics, rest and a change in diet. Sometimes surgery may be required if the condition is recurring or if it doesn’t improve with antibiotics.
Remember: if left untreated or undiagnosed, serious complications from diverticulitis can arise including:
- intestinal blockages
- rupture of the liquid in each pouch, which requires immediate care
Sticking to a high fiber diet by eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones goes a long way to keep your digestive system happy and healthy long-term.
Diverticulitis is painful and unpleasant, but it is a treatable condition. Altering your diet as you recover will be important, as well as making sure you improve your eating habits to include more high-fiber foods, will help you feel better long-term.
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