Half of all Americans over the age of 60 have diverticulosis, a condition in which weak spots on your colon form pouches, or diverticula, says the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Straining to pass hard stool and inadequate fiber intake are associated with this disease. Diverticulitis develops when the diverticula become inflamed, causing lower left abdominal pain, bloating and constipation. A temporary low-fiber diet is an integral part of the treatment for diverticulitis.
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During severe acute diverticulitis, you are at risk for gastrointestinal bleeding, perforation, blockages and infection, states the NDDIC. These symptoms can progress to serious illness if left untreated. Treatment includes resolving infection and inflammation, and allowing the colon to rest. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), a low-fiber diet will lessen the frequency and volume of stools, to reduce irritation to the colon and help it heal.
During a severe episode of diverticulitis, your doctor may order a nothing-by-mouth (NPO) diet to allow your bowels to rest until bleeding and inflammation resolve. After that, a temporary fiber-free, clear liquid diet will provide limited nutrition as you recover. Consume clear juice and soda, broth, black coffee, tea, popsicles and water, advises the ADA. Clear liquid protein supplements are encouraged. At home, follow a low-fiber diet, and drink plenty of fluids. Ask to speak to a registered dietitian before you are discharged from the hospital.
A low-fiber diet consists of soft foods, as outlined by the ADA. Eat canned and well-cooked vegetables or mashed potatoes. Consume canned and well-cooked fruits or juice without pulp. Smooth nut butters, eggs, fish, meat, soy milk and tofu provide protein for healing. If you are not lactose-intolerant, enjoy milk, yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese. Choose refined, white flour breads and pastas, as well as cream of wheat or rice. Avoid beans, raw or dried fruits and vegetables, fruit and vegetable skins, cooked greens and whole grain products.
Once pain and inflammation have subsided, the ADA advises that a gradual progression to a high-fiber diet will prevent subsequent attacks of diverticulitis. Consume six to 10 grams more than the standard daily recommendation of 20 to 35 grams of fiber. Increase the amount of fiber you eat slowly, over a few weeks, until you reach your goal. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily, to help your body process fiber without discomfort. Participate in regular physical activity. Your goal is to have soft, formed stools with regular frequency, without constipation.
The ADA suggests the addition of probiotic and prebiotic food sources to your diet, to help prevent diverticulitis. Consume yogurt, kefir and other fermented foods that contain probiotics. Prebiotic foods include bananas, onions, artichokes, wheat and whole grains. Traditionally, experts have recommended restricting nuts and seeds, based on the theory that these foods could potentially become lodged in the diverticula, and cause infection or inflammation. According to the NDDIC and the ADA, this practice is not supported by current research.