Though diverticulitis can develop due to a wide range of health concerns, most doctors agree food plays a large role in the severity, number of flare-ups, and ultimate treatment of this inflammatory digestive tract condition. Though the edible culprits vary from person to person, evidence suggests some foods are particularly irritating to those with a tendency toward diverticulitis flare-ups. Beginning an elimination diet to determine which of the following foods causes symptoms can go a long way toward minimizing or even preventing diverticulitis episodes.
High Fiber Foods
In general, fiber in the diet is helpful for people with diverticulitis. However, if the individual is experiencing a flare-up, it may be necessary to restrict high-fiber foods for a period; fiber bulks up the stool, which can cause painful contractions in the bowel. During a flare-up, it may be best to limit the intake of beans, whole grain, and fruits and vegetables, and focus more on foods with fewer than 2 grams of fiber per serving. Fiber can usually be reintroduced to the diet once the symptoms have eased.
Research has found eating too much red meat can cause symptoms of diverticulitis to flare up more often. So, it’s a good idea to limit beef, pork, and lamb, and other red meats. These should be limited all the time to avoid exacerbating symptoms, and not just as a measure to ease discomfort once it’s started. As an alternative, patients can eat white meat — fish or poultry, or plant-based forms of protein.
Some Dairy Products
Although dairy itself is not necessarily off the menu for people with diverticulitis, products with a high-fat content can trigger diverticulitis symptoms and are best avoided. Instead, swap in reduced-fat options, which these days are available in cheeses, milk, yogurt, and more.
Cooking food by shallow or deep frying increases the overall fat content. Unfortunately, other fatty foods beyond dairy can cause flare-ups of diverticulitis. For this reason, any food that has been through a deep fat fryer or even fried on the stove at home is a poor option for people with diverticulitis. People with diverticulitis should try to eat foods prepared using methods that do not require oil or grease. Steaming, baking, and grilling are all good alternatives. If fried food can’t be avoided altogether, limiting the amount of oil used during cooking is a good precautionary measure.
Refined grains have been modified to remove the bran and germ of the grain through processing, resulting in products such as white flour and pasta. This reduces the fiber content and removes some of the nutritional value. Foods made from refined grains convert to sugars very quickly in the body, which can irritate the bowels of people with diverticulitis. Instead, try to eat wholegrain alternatives such as brown bread, rice, and pasta. The exception to this, of course, is during flare-ups if a doctor recommends limiting fiber-rich foods.
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans are infamous for creating gas during digestion. They contain oligosaccharides, which the body finds very difficult to break down, leading to extra gas building up. This can cause pain and discomfort for those with diverticulitis. Unfortunately, all beans have this effect, so there is no direct substitute. For protein, try white meat like chicken and fish.
Cabbage contains sugars that are hard for the body to digest. As a result, they can cause gas to build up during digestion. For people with diverticulitis, this can lead to pain, cramping, and discomfort. However, green vegetables should not be cut out of the diet completely, because they have many health benefits. Green beans, or French beans, are a good alternative vegetable that is easier to digest.
Fructose is a sugar present in fruits that is difficult for humans to digest. It ferments in the gut, which can lead to gas and those other painful symptoms experienced by individuals with diverticulitis. Fruits high in fructose include apples, pears, and plums. However, many fruits have lower fructose content, including bananas, oranges, strawberries, and blueberries.
Hot and spicy food can cause inflammation in the digestive system which can make diverticulitis symptoms worse. Individuals with diverticulitis may wish to try cutting out foods that contain hot chilies altogether or try reducing the spice level of their food until symptoms decrease. If spice causes a problem, there are plenty of delicious seasonings that don’t cause irritation, such as herbs or lemon juice.
Broccoli is another healthy vegetable that can cause a build-up of gas during digestion. For this reason, it’s probably best avoided by people with diverticulitis, who often report that eating broccoli uncooked worsens the effect. Plenty of vegetables are easier on digestion and less likely to cause problems. Sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, and eggplant are all good options.