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What to eat (and avoid) when you have diverticulitis
Diet plays a big role in managing diverticulosis. Here are the foods you should eat to help treat a diverticulitis flare-up — and prevent future ones.
If you’re older than 60, there’s a 50% chance you’ve developed small pockets (called diverticula) in the lining of your large intestine. This condition is called diverticulosis. Usually, these pockets don’t cause any problems. But when they do, it can be serious.
When these pouches become inflamed or infected, it’s called diverticulitis. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea and fever. And you may need antibiotics or even surgery.
Diverticula usually form at weak points in your colon. When pressure builds in the large intestine, these spots can give way, forming pockets. That’s one reason diverticulosis is more common with age. Around 70% of people over the age of 80 have it, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
“Eating a low-fiber diet can also lead to diverticulosis or diverticulitis,” says David Nazarian, MD, an internal medicine physician with My Concierge MD in Beverly Hills, California.
Your doctor might also prescribe medication to treat diverticulitis symptoms. Download our free prescription discount app to see how much you could save at the pharmacy.
Diet plays a major role in managing diverticulosis. But if you’re suffering from a flare-up, don’t load up on fiber just yet. It could actually worsen your symptoms. (Confusing, we know.) We’ll walk you through exactly what you should eat — and when — to best manage this condition.
What to eat while you’re having a diverticulitis flare-up
If you have an active flare-up, you should eat foods that won’t take a ton of effort to digest. Though it might sound backward, a low-fiber diet is exactly what your body needs during this time.
“Certain foods such as nuts, corn or seeds can worsen diverticulitis, as they get stuck in the diverticula,” Dr. Nazarian says. Avoid these foods during an active infection.
You should also avoid foods that are high in fat. They take longer to digest, says Roxana Ehsani, a registered dietitian. She’s a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Miami.
At the start of a flare-up, your doctor will likely want you to stick to clear liquids for a few days, until your symptoms start to improve. “It’s important to not aggravate the flare-up more,” Ehsani says.
Clear liquid options include:
- Plain water, or water with honey
- Electrolyte drinks
- Flavored water
- Ice pops without fruit chunks or pulp
- Broths, such as chicken, beef, vegetable or bone broth
- Clear protein drinks
- Flavored gelatin
- Herbal teas or coffee without cream
- No-pulp juices, such as apple or cranberry
What to eat while you heal from diverticulitis
When you’re told you can eat solid foods again, you’ll still want to go easy on fiber-rich picks. Easy-to-digest foods will help you continue to heal. Plus, they’ll give you the nutrients your body is craving.
Here are 7 of the best low-fiber foods to eat after a diverticulitis flare-up.
Once the inflammation subsides and your symptoms begin to improve, grab some crackers. This will help you slowly work yourself up to a low-fiber diet.
“Plain crackers, such as saltines, are low in dietary fiber, and they’re fat-free and easy to digest,” Ehsani says. “This makes them perfect for when you begin introducing foods back into your diet.”
If you’re sick of crackers, you can also prepare some rice. But make sure you avoid brown rice for now. “White rice is easy for most people to digest and tolerate. It’s also naturally low in dietary fiber,” Ehsani says.
Craving something sweet? Canned or cooked fruits without the skin or seeds are great options. “After a flare-up, it may be hard for people to digest fresh fruits. That’s especially true of fruits that are high in fiber, such as berries,” Ehsani says.
Not only is it a good source of calcium — it’s also easy to digest. “Look for a yogurt with live active cultures,” Ehsani says. “They contain good bacteria, which helps balance out your gut flora.”
She notes that you should stick to nonfat or low-fat yogurt at this time to make digestion easier.
After diverticulitis flares, make yourself a plate of pasta. “Pasta is easy to digest and is a good choice for a low-fiber food,” Dr. Nazarian says.
Although they’re nutritious, you should steer clear of bran and granola-like cereals for now. Instead, go for processed picks while you heal. Think: Cheerios, Corn Flakes or puffed rice.
Your diet was likely lacking protein during your flare-up, and eggs will help you get plenty of it. “Eggs are a great source of protein, and they’re easily digested,” Dr. Nazarian says. And they won’t irritate your diverticula.
Once your recovery is further along, you can start to work more fat into your diet. Avocados are a standout choice.
“Avocados contain healthy fats, which promote overall health,” Ehsani says. These fats support heart health and can even help your body absorb vitamins from other foods. Avocados also contain a few grams of fiber, a perfect amount during this stage.
Medications to treat diverticulitis
While eating the right foods is important for treating diverticulitis, you might also need medications.
“Most cases of diverticulitis are treated with metronidazole (Flagyl®), trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim®), ciprofloxacin (Cipro®), or amoxicillin and clavulanic acid (Augmentin®),” Dr. Nazarian says.
If you have abdominal pain and think you might have diverticulitis, reach out to your primary care doctor. They can refer you to a gastroenterologist. And if you need help affording your medications, download the Optum Perks free discount card to save up to 80% on your next trip to the pharmacy.
How to manage diverticulosis
So the pain, nausea and cramping from the flare-up are gone. Now it’s time to go into prevention mode.
Once the flare-up is resolved, you’ll want to slowly increase your fiber intake, Ehsani says. “A high-fiber diet promotes healthful bacteria in the gut and promotes soft, bulky stools that pass more easily,” she says.
So what exactly is a high-fiber diet? It’s an overall healthy eating pattern rich in:
- Whole fruits, such as apples, pears and bananas
- Vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots and squash
- Beans and lentils, such as black beans, kidney beans and split peas
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and whole-wheat breads and pasta
It’s much like the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet. (Follow our step-by-step DASH diet guide to get started.)
But you shouldn’t ramp up your fiber intake all at once, Ehsani warns. Increase it over the course of a few weeks, and drink plenty of water. That will give your body time to adjust.
Before you know it, you’ll be packing your plate with plant-forward dishes. And you’ll be doing so much good for your gut (and overall) health.
Diverticulosis overview: National Library of Medicine
Diverticular disease facts: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases