A good diverticulosis diet is one that is rich in fiber and provides plenty of fluids. Specifically, an individual can benefit from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Water can be consumed as a drink or in foods to maintain proper hydration and regular bowel movements. Switching to such a diet should happen gradually to avoid problems such as bloating, and even healthy foods need to be monitored for added preservatives or chemicals that can negatively affect colon health.
Diverticulosis, or diverticular disease, is a condition in which an area of the digestive tract (usually the colon) contains bulging sacs, or diverticula. Many people have this condition without knowing it. They often discover it only after a routine colonoscopy, or when it advances into diverticulitis, the inflammation or irritation of diverticula.
General Dietary Guidelines
Diverticula can become irritated when too much pressure is exerted on them. They also can become infected if there is an overabundance of bad bacteria in the colon. This means that, typically, getting constipated or having irregular bowel movements can aggravate the condition. Fluids and fiber are the body’s two main tools for propelling waste through the colon and out of the body, so when a person has diverticulosis, the general rules of thumb are to eat foods with high fiber content and to keep water intake high.
Whole grains are the complete fruits of cereal grasses such as oats. As whole seeds, they contain three parts. These are the bran (outer skin), the germ (embryo that can sprout) and the endosperm (the food supply for the germ). The bran has a very high fiber content, so eating whole grains and whole grain products is part of a diverticulosis diet.
One of the most common whole grains consumed in the United States is oats. Another is wheat. Oatmeal, whole grain breads and whole grain pasta are three readily available foods to try. People also can eat wild or brown rice, but these options provide only about 25 to 50 percent of the fiber found in oats and wheat. Some of the best high-fiber whole grains are barley, aramanth, rye and triticle.
Store-bought cereals can also provide fiber, although not all are made with whole grains. Shoppers should look out for those that include at least 4 grams per cup, if not more. Some people find that high fiber cereals have a strange taste, but a growing array of choices means that there is probably one for nearly every palate. Eaters may also want to mix it with their normal cereal until they get used to the flavor.
Fruits such as apples, kiwis, grapes, berries (especially raspberries) or cherries are typically a great source of fiber. Others fiber-rich fruits include bananas, avocados, oranges, prunes, and raisins. As an added benefit, many fruits are extremely high in antioxidants, substances that protect cells by fighting off the damage caused by free radicals.
A diverticulosis diet also should include high-fiber vegetables. High-fiber options include artichokes, peas, broccoli and brussel sprouts. A person also can get fiber from potatoes with skin, corn and carrots.
Legumes include plants whose seeds split into separate halves. An excellent fiber source, most beans fall into this category. They can be substituted for meat at least one night a week for dinner. Lima beans, kidney beans and pinto beans are good in chili, stew, wraps and tacos, or in a bean salad. Garbanzo beans are a great addition to salads and are the main ingredient in hummus, a spread often used with pita chips or bread.
Fiber increases stool bulk in part because it can absorb water. Failure to replace the water absorbed by the fiber can cause constipation, which is the opposite of what a person with diverticulosis wants. The often repeated recommendation to avoid constipation and stay healthy is to drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day, but experts point out that this is not a hard and fast rule.
People have very different physiologies, and they also engage in different levels of activity. In addition, some foods have extremely high water contents. Lettuce and watermelon are perhaps the best examples. This means that two people can have very different water needs, and that it isn’t necessary to drink all the water that a person has to have. The more contemporary recommendation is to pay close attention to thirst and to drink whenever it feels necessary, watching that the amount of water intake is high enough to produce very light yellow to clear urine.
The move to a diverticulosis diet should happen gradually. This gives the body time to adjust to the new foods. Avoid consuming too much fiber too fast, as this can result in painful gas and bloating. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) suggests individuals consume anywhere from 20 to 35 grams (0.70 to 1.24 ounces) of fiber every day.
Although eating a diveriticulosis diet needn’t require completely cutting out processed foods, they should be eaten only in moderation. They are less nutritious than whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and they usually exchange fiber for fat or sugar. That can lead to problems such as weight gain or diabetes. Even when eating a balance of diverticulosis-safe foods, be mindful of preservatives and chemicals added during the growth or manufacturing stages, as these substances can disturb healthy bacteria in the colon and cause other problems such as cancer.