Diverticular disease (Diverticulosis) and Diet

Originally Published: May 1, 1998 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 30, 2004
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Dear Alice,

We need information on good diets for people with diverticular disease. Food recommendations, books to read, etc. Thank You

Dear Reader,

Diverticula are small, abnormal pouches in the lining of the intestine that extend into the muscle tissue surrounding the intestine. Several of these pouches together constitute diverticular disease, a.k.a. diverticulosis. If these pouches become infected or inflamed, this will, in turn, lead to diverticulitis, with symptoms that can include cramps, gas, bloating, upset stomach, and alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation. About half of all Americans age 60 to 80 years, and almost everyone over the age of 80, have diverticulosis, probably because the intestinal lining gradually weakens with age. In most cases, this disease is dormant, meaning that it is not active and the pockets do not become infected.

The main cause of diverticulosis appears to be a low fiber diet. The average person in the United States consumes 13 to 15 grams of fiber daily. Insufficient fiber can be detrimental by increasing pressure on the colon. This may cause weak spots in the colon, allowing the tissue to bulge out and become diverticula. A high fiber diet can help relieve symptoms for most people with diverticulosis. Registered dietitians and the Committee on Dietary Allowances recommend 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Foods high in fiber include:

  • 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals
  • fruits (i.e., apples, peaches, pears)
  • vegetables (i.e., spinach, carrots, squash, broccoli)
  • legumes (dried beans and peas)

It's recommended that people with diverticulosis increase their fiber intake slowly to ensure time for their gastrointestinal (GI) tract to adapt. If someone becomes too enthusiastic about fiber intake (too much too fast), it may lead to abdominal discomfort, gas, and diarrhea. Also drinking lots of water keeps stools soft. Avoid straining when moving bowels. If a person can't "go" after a few minutes, don't force it! This should help prevent diverticula from developing, as well. By the way, if someone has infected diverticula (diverticulitis), antibiotics can be administered, and until the infection has cleared, fiber intake needs to be reduced.

For more information, read James Scala's book, The New Eating Right for a Bad Gut: The Complete Nutritional Guide to Ileitis, Colitis, Crohn's Disease, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or visit the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders web site.