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Top 7 Foods to Avoid with Diverticulitis Symptoms

August 25, 2023
5 minutes
Healthy Eating
Healthy habits
Diets and meal planning

Diverticulitis is a painful condition that can occur when small pouches, called diverticula, form in the lining of the colon. When inflamed, these become extremely painful and can cause diarrhea, constipation, and other problems with digestion. While your doctor may use medications during a flare to treat your condition, you can also regain control by adjusting your diet. This guide will look at some foods to avoid with diverticulitis so you can support healthy digestion.

Things not to eat with diverticulitis

The best diet for diverticulitis is somewhat personal, according to the Mayo Clinic, and you'll want to consult with your doctor before making drastic changes. You'll also want to ensure there's not something else going on with your health to cause your flare-ups. That said, some foods appear to make flare-ups and irritation more common. Changing your diet to eliminate these foods could help reduce inflammation and irritation, making you feel better.

First, aim to follow a generally healthy diet that's balanced between fruits, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Second, know that dietary treatment of diverticulitis is controversial. Some doctors believe avoiding certain foods helps, while others disagree. In addition, make sure you work with your doctor or a dietitian to safely adjust your diet. Finally, check out this list of the 7 foods to avoid with diverticulitis.

1. Seeds and nuts

Nuts and seeds have high amounts of fiber, which are a healthy part of a balanced diet, but this fiber content makes them hard to digest. They're also usually quite small, and that may allow them to get stuck in the diverticula, continuing the irritation so you can't heal. Substitute this source of fiber with whole fruits, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and whole grains.

2. Popcorn

Popcorn's high fiber content can make it difficult to digest during a flare. In addition, the kernel hull can get stuck in the diverticula, which can increase irritation and trigger a flare. The rough, hard pieces on popcorn can also damage the colon wall in people prone to this condition.

If you choose to eat popcorn and are concerned about diverticulitis, chew the food thoroughly to help your body digest it more quickly so you don't create irritation. You can also swap out the popcorn for other salty, crunchy snacks like pretzels.

3. Spicy foods

Spicy foods may irritate anyone's digestive system, healthy or not. If you're prone to diverticulitis, hot sauces, chilies, wasabi, and curry dishes are foods that could risk a flare. You can keep your foods flavorful without the heat using other spices.

Why are spicy foods a risk? Capsaicin can irritate the colon's lining, which causes inflammation and overall discomfort. This inflammation, in turn, can make the diverticulitis symptoms worse.

4. Fried foods

The fats and oils in fried food are challenging to digest. In addition, the crispy outside of most fried foods can irritate the intestinal lining. Both of these issues cause inflammation and discomfort in the abdomen, which can worsen diverticulitis symptoms.

The link between fried foods and diverticular diseases is well-established, Fatty foods can lead to constipation, and the Cleveland Clinic says constipation can strain the colon and increase the chances of developing the pockets that lead to diverticulitis. The fat in fried food can also block the pockets and allow them to get infected, which, again, is a risk for diverticulitis.

5. Red meat

Red meat's another high-fat food that people with diverticulitis may feel better if they avoid. It's harder to digest than poultry, which means it can add to inflammation of the digestive tract.

Interestingly, some medical research shows that red meat not only increases your risk of irritating diverticulitis symptoms but may also increase your risk of developing it in the first place. One Harvard study found that men who ate 13 servings of red meat a week for 26 years were more likely to have diverticulitis than those who ate less.

6. Dairy products

Dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, and milk, are problematic for people with diverticulitis for two reasons. First, if you have diverticulitis, you may also have lactose intolerance. This means that eating dairy may create bloating, diarrhea, and gas symptoms. Second, dairy products are high in fat. The fat worsens diverticulitis symptoms and makes these foods harder to digest.

Sometimes, eliminating dairy altogether is difficult. If you need dairy for your favorite recipes, choose low-fat options. Try to use moderation with dairy when you do consume it. Similarly, avoid dairy products that have lactose, such as milk and cottage cheese, if you find that lactose is a problem for you.

7. Refined grains and sugars

Refined sugars are highly inflammatory in general, and this means they can irritate diverticulitis problems. Some people find that they have increased problems with diarrhea, a common diverticulitis symptom, when they eat a high-sugar diet.

Grains are more complex. If you don't have a flare and want to avoid one, the high fiber in whole grains may help. Fiber keeps the digestive tract moving, preventing constipation. When you prevent constipation, you reduce the risk of developing diverticulitis. However, during a flare, the fiber can irritate the digestive system. When you're in an active flare, you may feel better if you eat refined grains for a short period of time while you heal. This is an area where you'll need to consult with your doctor for expert advice.

Best dietary changes to support your health

In addition to learning what foods you shouldn’t eat if you have diverticulitis, it's also a good idea to learn what foods you should eat. First, make sure you're getting plenty of water every day. Water softens stool and reduces the risk of constipation, which, in turn, can reduce the risk of developing diverticulitis.

Second, learn your triggers. If you know a food makes your diverticulitis symptoms flare, work to avoid it. If a certain "no" food is not a problem for you, and your doctor approves, then eat it without worry.

Finally, take some time to learn to cook. Also, pack your lunch instead of eating on the go. Homemade foods often contain fewer preservatives, unhealthy fats, and refined sugars than foods from a fast-food restaurant.

Diverticulitis is a tricky condition. While doctors know what causes the pain and discomfort, they aren't fully sure what dietary changes work best. If you're dealing with this condition, talk to your doctor about what not to eat for diverticulitis. In general, the food to avoid with diverticulitis is the food that makes you feel unwell. Once you've created a plan based on your personal triggers and your doctor's advice, use tools like Evidation to help you plan for healthy dietary choices and track your water intake. Keep track of your health, download the app today!

Healthy habits
Diets and meal planning
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