Diverticulitis Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid and Sample Menu
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Diverticulitis is the inflammation of small pouches or pockets called diverticula that form along your digestive tract, especially in the large intestine.
The presence of these diverticula is called diverticulosis.
While these pouches are generally harmless, they can become infected or inflamed, resulting in diverticulitis.
When this happens, you can relieve your diverticulitis symptoms by eating certain food and avoiding others.
This article explains what to eat and avoid with diverticulitis and diverticulosis and provides a 3-day sample diverticulitis diet menu.
What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is the inflammation of the diverticula — or small pouches — located along your digestive tract.
If you have these pouches, it’s called diverticulosis.
These diverticula can become inflamed or infected if stool or partially digested food blocks them, leading to the build-up of bacteria (1).
This inflammation can cause severe left lower stomach pain, the most common symptom of diverticulitis.
In Asian people, however, the pain is more often located on the right side (2).
If this pain is severe enough and you develop complications, you may require hospitalization.
Other symptoms of diverticulitis include (2):
- low-grade fever
You may also notice blood in your stools, but the stomach pain associated with diverticulitis does not usually occur with the bleeding.
Several risk factors can contribute to the development of diverticulitis.
These factors include (2):
- increasing age
- excess body weight
- low fiber intake
- high red meat intake
- physical inactivity
Genetic factors and the use of certain medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also increase the risk of diverticulitis (2).
Diet is an important component of diverticulitis treatment and can also help reduce the risk of future episodes.
Diverticulitis occurs when pouches that line the intestines — called diverticula — become infected or inflamed.
The diet recommendations for diverticulitis depend on its severity.
If you’re experiencing diverticulitis with complications, your doctor may restrict you from consuming food or beverages by mouth (NPO).
This provides your bowels with rest until you’re medically stable.
If you have no complications, your doctor will likely start you on clear liquids for hydration and then advance your diet to a low-fiber or bland diet until you start to feel better.
A clear liquid diet consists exclusively of translucent liquids such as tea, coffee, clear soda, broths, and some nutrition supplements like Ensure Clear.
However, you may wish to avoid caffeinated beverages as they may worsen your symptoms.
A low-fiber diet can reduce the frequency and volume of your stools, helping to reduce inflammation of your large intestine so that it can heal.
It’s recommended to follow a low-fiber diet — which restricts fiber to 10 grams per day — until you start to feel better, which may take two to three days (3).
Additionally, you should include protein with each meal to promote intestinal healing.
Foods to avoid
Limit high-fiber and high-fat foods that can slow digestion.
Examples of foods to avoid with diverticulitis include:
- Grains: cereals, popcorn, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread, pasta, and tortillas
- Seeds and nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, walnuts, etc.
- Legumes: beans, peas, and lentils
- Protein: fried meat and processed meats, such as bologna, salami, sausage, bacon, and hot dogs
- Dairy: whole milk, cream, sour cream, and yogurt with added fruit, nuts, and granola
- Vegetables: raw or undercooked vegetables, including beets, broccoli, corn, cucumbers, peas, potato skins, spinach, and tomatoes
- Fruits: raw or dried fruit, canned fruit with mandarin oranges or pineapple, prune juice, and fruit skin
Avoiding alcohol is also helpful during a diverticulitis flare-up as it may worsen your symptoms.
The caffeine from coffee and tea can also worsen symptoms in some people.
Foods to eat
Consume low-fiber foods that are easy to digest.
These foods include:
- Grains: cream of wheat, white rice, enriched white bread, crackers, pasta, white flour, corn tortillas
- Protein: fish, pork, chicken, eggs, tofu
- Dairy: low-fat milk, cheddar or parmesan cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt without nuts, fruit, or granola
- Vegetables: cooked carrots or green beans, potatoes without skin, strained vegetable juice
- Fruits: fruit juice, canned peaches, pears, applesauce, very ripe bananas
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may have to follow a clear liquid diet followed by a diet low in fat and fiber until you begin to feel better.
3-day sample diverticulitis diet menu
Here is a three-day sample diverticulitis diet menu that is low in fiber and provides protein with each meal:
- Breakfast: cream of wheat and scrambled eggs
- Lunch: tuna sandwich on white bread
- Snack: whey protein supplement and very ripe banana (2 grams of fiber)
- Dinner: pork chop, white rice, and cooked carrots
Day 2 (vegan)
- Breakfast: tofu scramble and white toast
- Lunch: vegan tomato basil soup with French baguette
- Snack: vegan protein powder and very ripe banana
- Dinner: sweet potato quinoa salad without beans
- Breakfast: puff cereal and canned pears
- Lunch: chicken noodle soup
- Snack: low-fat cottage cheese with canned peaches
- Dinner: chicken breast, white rice, and canned green beans
Aim to consume around 10 grams of fiber or less each day and include protein with each meal during a flare-up to promote intestinal healing.
How to reduce diverticulitis flare-ups
It’s estimated that 20–50% of people will develop recurrent diverticulitis episodes (4).
Fortunately, by following a high-fiber diet and staying active, you can reduce this risk or lessen the complications that may result from future diverticulitis episodes.
High-fiber diet for diverticulosis
While a low-fiber diet can help during recovery from diverticulitis, eating a high-fiber diet after recovery can help prevent future episodes (5).
Research also suggests that a high-fiber diet can reduce the risk of hospitalization due to diverticulitis (6).
The best sources of fiber include:
- fruits, all types, especially those with skins
- vegetables, especially raw
- whole grains, including popcorn, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread
- nuts and seeds
- legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils
Historically it was thought that nuts, seeds, and popcorn should be avoided because they may become lodged in the diverticula and lead to diverticulitis.
However, eating these items has not been associated with an increased risk of diverticulitis, and you should instead eat them for their fiber content (7).
For instance, an observational study of more than 50,000 women found that a higher intake of fiber from fruits and whole grains was associated with a reduced risk of diverticulitis (8).
The study found that the risk for developing diverticulitis was reduced by 5% for every serving of fruit the women consumed.
Another observational study involving more than 46,000 men found similar results, demonstrating that a diet high in fiber was associated with a decreased risk of diverticulitis (9).
Conversely, the same study found that the Western pattern diet — which is high in red meat, refined grains, and added sugars — was associated with an increased risk of diverticulitis.
These foods don’t necessarily trigger diverticulitis but consuming too much of them — especially in the absence of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — can increase your risk of developing diverticulitis.
A diet high in fiber can help reduce the risk of diverticulitis because it increases stool bulk and decreases pressure on your large intestine.
Fiber also stimulates the growth of good bacteria in your gut, which reduces inflammation and promotes intestinal health (10).
Aim to consume 25–35 grams of fiber per day and drink plenty of fluids.
If you don’t currently follow a high-fiber diet, slowly increase the amount of fiber you eat to avoid stomach discomfort and constipation.
Like a high-fiber diet, exercise has also been associated with a reduced risk of diverticulitis or hospitalization due to the condition.
For example, an observational study of more than 47,000 men found that those who engaged in vigorous physical activity were less likely to experience diverticulitis and bleeding than those who engaged in moderately intense physical activity (11).
Based on this study, the American Gastroenterological Association Institute guidelines recommend regular vigorous physical activity to reduce the risk of diverticulitis (12).
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 75–150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise (13).
Here are some examples of vigorous-intensity exercise:
- playing basketball
- playing soccer
Vigorous exercise may decrease the risk of diverticulitis due to its positive effects on the gastrointestinal tract and by reducing inflammation.
Still, while vigorous physical activity may offer the greatest benefits, exercise or activity of any intensity can be beneficial.
When your diverticulitis symptoms are in remission, follow a high-fiber diet and engage in regular exercise — with high-intensity being the most beneficial — to reduce your risk of future flare-ups.
The bottom line
Diverticulitis is the inflammation of the diverticula, which are small pouches that can form along your digestive tract.
If you have diverticulitis but no complications, your doctor will likely recommend a clear liquid diet for hydration and then advance your diet to a low-fiber diet until you start to feel better.
After you recover from diverticulitis, consume a high-fiber diet and engage in vigorous exercise to reduce the risk of future episodes or complications from the condition.