What to eat with diverticulitis?

Originally Published: October 6, 2000 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 13, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I have diverticulitis. What can I eat, and what should I not eat? Thank you.

Dear Reader,

For those in need of a definition, diverticulosis is a condition that occurs when pouches or sacs (called diverticula) are formed in the intestines. When these sacs become inflamed, it is then termed diverticulitis. The development of this disease is attributed to increased pressure in the intestinal tract. This pressure may occur, but is not limited to, when a person is constipated. The incidence of diverticulitis is greater in middle-aged and elderly folks.

Epidemiological evidence suggests that diverticulosis occurs more often when people eat a highly refined, low-fiber diet. Generally, if you're diagnosed with diverticulosis, a high-fiber diet is key. Since fiber has the ability to absorb water and make stools bulky and soft, pressure on the intestinal tract decreases and waste products move along more quickly. High-fiber cereals or unprocessed wheat bran, as well as plenty of fruits and veggies, are often recommended to be included in an eating plan.

Some health care professionals used to think that particles from nuts, seeds, and hulls (like popcorn) could get trapped in the diverticula and cause diverticulitis. However, there is no scientific evidence to indicate that these foods actually cause inflammation, and they can even be part of a high-fiber diet. People with diverticulosis should avoid foods that seem to aggravate them individually — keeping a food journal may help to pinpoint any culprits.

During a bout of diverticulitis, when you may be experiencing inflammation, a LOW-fiber diet is advised until it subsides. It's a good idea to see your health care provider if you're experiencing any pain, bleeding, constipation, or bloating. Columbia students can visit Open Communicator or call x4-2284 to make an appointment with Primary Care Medical Services.

If you're currently eating a low-fiber diet, you can gradually increase the amount of fiber you consume. You'll need to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated fluids as well. By making these changes step-by-step, you'll be better able to tolerate each one well along the way.