If you have recently been diagnosed with diverticular disease, you may have already experienced some of the painful side effects of this condition. If you are looking for a way to prevent future flare-ups of this disease, your diet is a good place to start. Eating a healthy high-fiber diet is important, but you also need to avoid certain foods to help ensure that you don't make the disease any worse.
Diverticulosis vs. Diverticulitis
The terms "diverticulosis" and "diverticulitis" are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are different conditions. Diverticulosis occurs when small pouches, called diverticula, form along the intestinal wall. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House, 10 percent of adults over 40 and 50 percent over the age of 60 have diverticulosis. When the diverticula become infected and inflamed, the condition is called diverticulitis. Many people with diverticulosis have no symptoms, but those who develop diverticulitis can experience such symptoms as significant abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills.
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A low-fiber diet can cause you problems if you have diverticulosis. Foods made from refined grains, such as white breads, buns, bagels and white rice, lack the fiber needed to move them through your digestive system. The slow movement can cause constipation, creating excess pressure on the intestinal wall, which leads to the formation of diverticula and diverticulosis. Increase your fiber intake by eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Fatty Foods and Red Meat
Fatty foods, such as anything fried, can also cause constipation, worsening diverticular disease. In addition, high-fat foods can be problematic because the fat can block the diverticula and lead to diverticulitis. Along with fried foods, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends avoiding red meat if you have diverticular disease.
Resting the Bowel
Diverticulitis is an acute condition and requires a little bit more intervention. During an episode of diverticulitis, your doctor may recommend that you rest your bowel by following a clear liquid diet or a low-fiber diet. While following a low-fiber diet, avoid fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dried beans and legumes. After your colon has had a chance to recover, your doctor will gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet.
What About Nuts and Seeds?
Doctors have traditionally recommended that patients with diverticular disease avoid nuts, seeds and popcorn. Some physicians even suggested staying away from fruits and vegetables with seeds, such as strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and cucumbers. Experts thought that these foods could get caught in the diverticula, causing an infection and inflammation. However, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, there is no scientific evidence to back up this recommendation so it is not necessary to avoid nuts and seeds.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.