What is the diet for someone with diverticulitis?

William B. Salt II., MD

Clear liquids followed by low fiber diet with the acute attack, and then high fiber diet after recovery.

About one of every three Americans will develop small pouches (diverticula) of the colon (diverticulosis) by age 60. Most people with diverticulosis don't have any symptoms from the condition unless they develop one of two complications: either rectal bleeding or inflammation, called diverticulitis. The main symptom of diverticulitis is pain, usually located in the left lower abdomen.

During an acute attack of diverticulitis, diet is usually limited to clear liquids for the first 2 - 3 days to allow the colon to heal: water, ice chips, broth, soda pop, clear fruit juices without pulp, gelatin, and coffee or tea without cream.

Then low-fiber foods are gradually added as tolerated, avoiding the high fiber foods discussed in the next section. Once the acute attack of diverticulitis has resolved, the paradoxical recommendation is that eating a high fiber diet may lower risk of recurrent attacks of diverticulitis.

Doctors used to advise people with diverticulosis to avoid nuts, seeds, corn, and popcorn, since it was thought that they could get stuck in the diverticula and cause diverticulitis. However, there is no scientific evidence that this is true. Furthermore, a study published in the August 27, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association led by researcher Lisa L. Strate, MD, found that these fiber-containing foods may actually lower the risk of developing diverticulitis.

I advise patients with diverticulosis that there is not only no evidence of harm from eating these fiber-containing foods, there is scientific evidence of benefit of ingesting these foods and dietary fiber. Still, some believe that nuts, seeds, corn, and popcorn trigger their attacks of diverticulitis, so they should avoid them and try to get enough dietary fiber from other sources.

Introduce fiber into the diet slowly and gradually increase the amount, so the digestive tract can adjust. The goal is at least 25 grams of fiber each day for a woman and at least 38 grams of fiber each day for a man. High fiber foods include whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (lentils and beans).

Consider taking a psyllium fiber supplement, such as Konsyl, Metamucil, or generic equivalent, taken with a full glass of water or fluid. As a gastroenterologist, I personally take 30 grams of a psyllium supplement every day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.