Foods to Avoid with Diverticulitis

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Updated: April 2020

Diverticulitis causes severe abdominal discomfort and pain, and because it’s a digestive condition, many people first turn to diet changes to help regulate symptoms at home.

Because diverticulitis is a specific form of infection, there’s no long-term cure, but avoiding certain foods can be preventative and can also help ease symptoms when they occur.

collection of foods

What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is the infection or inflammation of small pouches that sometimes form on the walls of the digestive tract. Called, diverticula, these pouches can form anywhere along an intestine wall, but more often occur in the large intestine.

The general presence of diverticula is a condition called diverticulosis.

Diverticulosis is not uncommon. It occurs in about 1 in 10 adults over the age of 40, and in about half of those over the age of 60. Diverticula can form without ever becoming inflamed or infected, and cause no problems or discomfort.

During an attack of diverticulitis, the inflammation and swelling of diverticula causes bloating, pain, nausea, fever, and/or irregular bowel movements. These attacks are usually treated at home with rest, dietary changes, and antibiotics. Surgery is necessary only in rare, severe cases.

Foods to avoid with diverticulitis

It’s important to note that there is no universal, proven “diverticulitis diet.” The NIH actually states that you do not need to avoid certain foods with diverticulitis.

However, various studies have suggested that some dietary changes can reduce the frequency of diverticulitis attacks. Other studies have demonstrated that avoiding certain foods during a bout of diverticulitis can ease symptoms.

As always, talk to your doctor. If you suffer from diverticulitis, and experience frequent attacks, ask your GP or gastroenterologist about dietary and other lifestyle changes.

If you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis, consider limiting these foods, in general:

  1. Red meat
  2. Refined grains
  3. Fried food
  4. Dairy products, especially full-fat dairy — including milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese
  5. Fermented foods – including kimchi and sauerkraut
  6. Cabbage
  7. Brussel’s sprouts
  8. Onions
  9. Garlic
  10. Sugar and sweeteners

When suffering a painful attack of diverticulitis, get some rest, drink clear fluids, and especially avoid:

  • Certain fruits — apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, dried fruit
  • Beans and legumes
  • Veggies
  • Whole grains
apples avoid during diverticulitis

1. High-FODMAP foods

“FODMAP” is an acronym for “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols.” These are short-chain carbs (essentially sugars: glucose, sucrose, etc.) that are difficult for the human body to digest.

That means they generally pass all the way through the digestive system, where bacteria in the large intestine and colon try to break them down—causing problems in people with digestive sensitivities.

Studies have demonstrated that low-FODMAP diets can help prevent diverticulitis and ease symptoms.

Some of these foods, however, have other health benefits. Don’t exclude them completely, especially if you have other health conditions. The high-FODMAP items from the list of foods to avoid with diverticulitis are:

  • Certain fruits
  • Dairy
  • Fermented foods
  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel’s sprouts
  • Onions
  • Garlic
dairy avoid to reduce diverticulitis

2. Sugary and fatty foods

A general diet that’s high in sugar and fat, especially red meat, increases the risks of diverticulitis. In fact, one study demonstrated that maintaining a healthy diet overall can reduce diverticulitis attacks by half.

Your doctor will most likely agree that you can safely limit these foods:

  • Red meat
  • Refined grains
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Fried foods
fries avoid during diverticulitis

3. High-Fiber Foods

Fiber and diverticulitis is a tricky topic.

First, most doctors recommend adequate fiber to prevent the development of diverticula and the painful inflammation of diverticulitis. Slowly add high-fiber foods to your diet, if your fiber intake is low, or start with a fiber supplement.

Fiber adds bulk to stools, but also softens, to encourage regular bowel movements. Since constipation and straining during a bowel movement is one way that diverticula form, healthy, regular bowel movements are a good preventative measure.

Since soft stools reduce pressure on the digestive system, a high-fiber diet can also prevent diverticulitis if diverticula have already formed.

However, for some people, adding bulk to stools during a flare-up, increases the pain and discomfort of diverticulitis. During an active attack, stick to clear liquids and cut out high-fiber foods to give your system a break.

Avoid these high-fiber foods during an attack:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries
  • Veggies
strawberries avoid during diverticulitis

What about nuts and seeds?

If you’ve heard that you should avoid nuts, seeds, and popcorn, you got outdated advice. It was once believed that small, hard particles from these types of foods could get lodged in the diverticula, causing and exacerbating symptoms of diverticulitis.

New research, however, refutes this theory, and most doctors have moved away from this advice.

Other substances to avoid with diverticulitis

There is more to diverticulitis than just food. Genes and family medical history, for example, account for about half of a person’s likelihood of developing diverticulitis.

Other factors, however, are within our realm of control. Studies have linked smoking, inactivity, and obesity to an increased risk of developing diverticulitis.

woman smoking

Additionally, the study demonstrated a link between diverticulitis and:

  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Regular use of of non-aspirin, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Opiate analgesics

Finally, low vitamin D levels are also associated with higher risks of diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis: foods (and habits) to avoid

Remember, there’s no uniform, proven diverticulitis diet, or food omission plan, that is guaranteed to prevent or cure diverticulitis.

Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle, with adequate levels of fiber intake, is your best bet for avoiding it and preventing flare-ups. Additionally, avoiding high-fiber foods during and shortly after an attack can help ease symptoms.

If you’re at risk for developing diverticulitis, or you’ve already been diagnosed, start by limiting those foods that you know you’re overdoing. You don’t need a doctor’s appointment to verify that you can cut back on sugar, fried food, and red meat, for example.

There’s no cure (except for surgery, in extreme cases) for diverticulitis, but you can dramatically reduce it’s grip on your life by starting healthier habits now.

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