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Diverticulitis is an inflammation of the diverticula which are abnormal protrusions of tissue that can occur anywhere along the digestive tract. It can be a short-term or acute issue, meaning it flares up suddenly and then goes away quickly. However, it can also become a chronic issue over time if not managed well. 

Therefore, following a carefully-selected diverticulitis diet is one important way to manage this disease. This article will share 7 foods to avoid with diverticulitis for optimal digestive health, as well as other useful tips to help you manage this condition. 

Understanding Diverticulitis

Diverticula can develop in weak areas of the digestive tract. These small pouches usually form because of increased pressure and cause a small protrusion. If a diverticula tears or becomes inflamed, it then becomes diverticulitis. Common symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Irregular bowel movements

Symptoms of diverticulitis vary in severity and can easily be confused with other digestive issues which makes it very important to gain an accurate diagnosis from a skilled medical professional.

The most common treatment for diverticulitis is dietary management. You may also need to receive IV fluids or antibiotics in some situations. If the condition becomes severe, your doctor may recommend surgery

7 Foods to Avoid with a Diverticulitis Diet

Eating the right foods is important when following a diverticulitis diet but it is also crucial to make sure you’re not eating the wrong foods. Below, we’ve listed important foods to avoid when you are dealing with a diverticulitis flare-up. 

  1. Whole Grains 

Whole grains are commonly thought of as a healthy food because they are rich in fiber and other nutrients but the high fiber content can be irritating for someone who is experiencing a flare-up. Because fiber stimulates digestion it causes contractions of the colon, which can be painful and irritating to the digestive tract.

It is important to note that high-fiber foods like whole grains can be beneficial as part of a diverticulosis diet (when the diverticula is not inflamed) because they help prevent constipation and maintain regular bowel movements. 

  1. Red Meat 

Red meat is typically not recommended for people with diverticulitis. Why red meat causes issues for people with diverticulitis is not entirely clear, but some experts believe it may be related to certain inflammatory chemicals that are released when you eat red meat, such as C-reactive protein and ferritin. 

  1. Cereals and Refined Carbohydrates

Cereals are usually high in sugar and refined carbohydrates which can make diverticulitis flare-ups worse. Some cereals may be okay to eat if they are low in fiber content. Refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation in the gut and imbalance gut bacteria which increases your risk of digestive disorders, such as diverticulitis. 

  1. Dairy Products 

It is common for people with diverticulitis to also have lactose intolerance which can cause digestive discomfort and inflammation. Symptoms from lactose intolerance such as bloating, diarrhea and gas can make a diverticulitis flare-up even more uncomfortable. Also, dairy is high in fat which is not good for people with diverticulitis to have since it’s harder for your body to digest and causes additional inflammation. 

  1. Fried Foods

Fried foods are saturated in fatty oils which can increase gas and bloating and also contribute to inflammation in the digestive tract. This makes active diverticulitis flare-ups worse and increases your likelihood of experiencing one in the first place. 

  1. Legumes

Legumes such as beans and lentils are high in fiber and may cause discomfort if you’re experiencing a diverticulitis flare-up. If you are going to eat legumes, then cooking them properly by soaking them first and ensuring that they are cooked all the way through can help make them easier to digest. 

  1. Spicy foods

Spicy foods can be problematic for people with diverticulitis. They are generally known for causing discomfort in the abdomen. 

It is important to keep in mind that every person’s disease will manifest a little differently and some research varies concerning diet and diverticulitis. Talk with your doctor about what foods you should eat more of and which ones you should avoid. They can recommend a unique eating plan based on your specific situation and the latest research. 

Avoid High FODMAP Foods in a Diverticulitis Diet

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with diverticulitis, you may hear your doctor talk about FODMAP foods. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, but all you really need to know is that they are a specific type of carbohydrate that can be problematic for people with digestive issues such as diverticulitis. 

High FODMAP foods should be avoided by individuals with diverticulitis. Examples include:

  • Dairy products
  • Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi
  • Legumes such as beans and lentils
  • Foods high in trans fat
  • Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and Brussels sprouts
  • Onions and garlic

Importance of a Healthy Diet for Diverticulitis

Eating a healthy diet is essential in managing symptoms of diverticulitis and maintaining overall digestive health. Your dietary choices can also have an impact on how frequently you experience diverticulitis flare-ups. Making sure you’re getting enough key nutrients in your diet, such as vitamins, minerals and fiber can help with managing diverticulitis and maintaining overall gut health. 

Dietary recommendations can vary depending on your unique diagnosis and health. For this reason, you should always follow expert advice from your healthcare team including dietitians and gastroenterologists to ensure proper disease management. 

Clear Liquid Diet

A clear liquid diet is sometimes recommended during a diverticulitis flare-up since it can give the digestive tract some time to heal and recover. This diet involves avoiding solid foods and only consuming clear liquids such as water, juice and broth. Clear liquid diets include foods that are gentle on the digestive tract and easy to digest, helping to manage symptoms like nausea and discomfort. 

High Fiber vs. Low Fiber: Which Is Better for a Diverticulitis Diet?

Fiber helps prevent constipation and ensure digestive health. However, it is a tricky subject in the context of diverticulitis. Typically, it is recommended to eat a high-fiber diet if you have diverticulosis and are prone to flare-ups. Eating fiber regularly can help to ensure healthy digestive function to prevent a flare-up. 

However, during a flare-up, it would be recommended that you avoid fiber since it can increase your digestion and cause additional pain and discomfort. Each individual will tolerate fiber differently, so it is important to follow your doctor’s unique recommendations. 

Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet

A high-fiber diet can be beneficial since it helps to ensure regular bowel movements. Healthy digestion prevents diverticulitis flare-ups. So, if you have diverticulosis and you are not currently experiencing a diverticulitis flare-up, then a high-fiber diet can be a helpful way to manage your disease. 

Foods that are high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It is important to eat a wide variety of fiber-rich foods to ensure that you’re getting a well-rounded fiber intake since not all sources of fiber are created equal. 

If you don’t already eat a high-fiber diet and you are going to transition, make this change slowly. Start by incorporating fiber-rich snacks throughout the day and pay attention to how your body tolerates fiber before eating high volumes of it. 

Low-Fiber Diet During Flare-Ups

Although eating more fiber is beneficial to prevent flare-ups, you’ll actually want to cut down your fiber intake when you are in the midst of a flare-up. This is because you want to give your digestive tract time to rest and heal and cutting down on fiber will help to reduce digestive activity, easing symptoms to reduce inflammation. 

Final Thoughts

Diet recommendations for diverticulitis can vary, depending on your unique situation. Whether you’re at risk of a diverticulitis flare-up or actually in the midst of one makes a big difference in terms of what type of foods you should be eating. For this reason, it is important to talk with your doctor about what types of foods are best for you to eat and always stay up to date on the latest research about diet and diverticulitis. 
Working with skilled healthcare providers like those at UCF Health can help you best manage your disease, ensuring that your treatment recommendations are based on years of expertise and the most recent data.