Diverticular disease is common in Western societies and is believed to be primarily due to the relatively low-fiber diets the people eat. Diets low in fiber can lead to chronic constipation, which is thought to increase pressure in the colon and cause little pouches, called diverticula, to form. The presence of these diverticula results in the condition called diverticulosis. Should bacteria or other matter become trapped in the diverticula, a painful infection called diverticulitis can occur. Diet is believed to play an important role in both the treatment and prevention of diverticulosis and diverticulitis.
If you have diverticulosis, you might experience cramping pain in the lower left abdomen, bloating and constipation. Many people with this condition, however, have no symptoms at all. It is thought that including adequate fiber in your diet might help prevent diverticula from forming. A good goal is 20 to 35 g of dietary fiber every day. Eating fiber adds bulk to stools, pushing them through your colon more quickly. This prevents constipation and the resulting increase in colon pressure, which might deter the formation of diverticula. Fiber also helps thicken stools, keeping the food particles bound together and making them less likely to become trapped in any existing diverticula. Preventing food particles from becoming trapped in diverticula can keep diverticulosis from developing into diverticulitis.
It's easy to obtain adequate fiber if you incorporate several high-fiber foods into your diet every day. The best dietary sources of fiber include whole-grain bread and pasta, brown rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts -- including peanuts and tree nuts -- seeds and beans. Flaxseeds are a great source of fiber and can be added to many foods and baked goods. Whenever you eat grains, strive to make the majority of them whole grains. Look for the words "100% whole wheat" on food labels to ensure you are getting as much fiber as possible.
Diverticulosis and Eating Nuts and Seeds
Historically, doctors advised their patients with diverticulosis to avoid certain foods -- including nuts, seeds, popcorn, and corn -- out of the concern these foods would become trapped in the diverticula and cause diverticulitis. But this recommendation is not widely supported by current research. Since nuts and seeds are rich sources of fiber, it is now believed they might actually play a role in the prevention of both diverticulosis and diverticulitis. To be safe and avoid the possibility of nuts and seeds becoming trapped in diverticula, it is best to chew these foods thoroughly, into the consistency of peanut butter, to minimize the risk of small particles entering your colon.
Nuts and seeds should, however, be avoided if you currently have diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is an acute state of inflammation and infection in your colon caused by bacteria or other irritants trapped in the diverticula. Symptoms often include severe pain and cramping in the lower left side of your abdomen, as well as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, fever and chills. If you have symptoms of diverticulitis, it is important to be evaluated by a medical doctor because treatment for this condition typically consists of antibiotics and bowel rest, which usually means consuming only water and other clear liquids. During the acute stage of diverticulitis, the main focus is on allowing your colon to rest and heal. The best way to do this is to avoid foods that add bulk to your stools, which are primarily those foods high in fiber. Consuming foods that are high in fiber during this acute inflammatory stage may aggravate symptoms, slow healing and lead to further complications. Once the inflammation begins to resolve, your diet is usually slowly advanced to a low-fiber diet, followed by the gradual reintroduction of high-fiber foods to prevent recurrent bouts of diverticulitis.
Foods that contain low amounts of fiber and may be consumed while your colon is healing include white or refined grains, such as white bread and white rice; soft or well-cooked fruits and vegetables without the skin or seeds; meats; eggs; and dairy products. This low-fiber diet is considered "transitional," followed only until your symptoms resolve. Once you are no longer experiencing symptoms of diverticulitis, you may begin to gradually add fiber back into your diet. It is important to do so slowly, though, or gas, bloating and discomfort may result. Be sure to drink adequate amounts of fluid, at least 6 to 8 oz. of water daily, to prevent discomfort and constipation.