Diverticulitis occurs when pockets in the wall of the intestine (diverticula) become inflamed or infected. It is thought that these pouches appear as we grow older, and are probably the result of eating a diet low in fibre.
Low fibre diets can cause constipation, this increased pressure in the colon results in the formation of pouches; if pouches become infected it will cause diverticulitis.
Symptoms of diverticulitis
- Can be symptom-free
- Constipation/ diarrhoea
- Abdominal tenderness, usually in the left side
- Rectal bleeding
If you experience these symptoms it is recommended that you visit your doctor for advice and a proper diagnosis.
The treatment for diverticulitis mainly focuses on treating the infection and inflammation with antibiotics, resting the colon with a low residue diet, using a pain reliever, and sometimes medication to control muscle spasms.
Low residue diet
A low residue diet is recommended during the infection period, as this will decrease bowel volume, allowing the infection to heal.
An intake of less than 10 grams of fibre per day is normally recommended. If you are on a low-residue diet for an extended period of time, you should consider taking multi-vitamin and mineral supplement each day.
Allowed foods on a low fibre diet:
- White breads
- White rice, pasta, or noodles
- Low-fibre cereals, such as Cornflakes or Rice Crispies
- Canned or cooked fruits without skins, or seeds
- Canned or well-cooked vegetables without seeds, hulls or skins
- Fruit or vegetable juice, excluding prune juice
- Well cooked meat, poultry and fish
- Smooth peanut butter
- Milk, yoghurt or plain cheese
- Desserts without nuts or seeds
- Whole grains
- Raw and dried fruits
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage
- All nuts and seeds
High fibre diet
A diet high in fibre is most effect in managing diverticulosis, and also for reducing the effects of diverticulitis.
Once your symptoms improve gradually increase the amount of fibre in your diet again. Start by adding 5 to 15 grams of fibre each day to allow your digestive system to adjust.
Include plenty of:
- Fruits, vegetables, and pulses
- Wholemeal, wholewheat, wholegrain, or rye breads
- Whole grain crackers or crisp breads
- High fibre breakfast cereals such as porridge, Allbran, Weetabix, or muesli
- Brown rice, wholemeal spaghetti, and other wholemeal pasta
- Nuts and seeds
- Aim to drink at least 8-10 cups of fluid per day
You may also want to add additional bran to your diet, however if you find this unpalatable, a fibre supplement from your pharmacy may be appropriate.
To prevent attacks of diverticulitis
- Eat more fibre – aim for 18 and 30 grams each day
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Exercise regularly
A note on seeds
Until recently, many professionals suggested avoiding foods with small seeds because it was believed that particles could lodge in the diverticula and cause inflammation. This is, however, a controversial point and evidence does not support the recommendation.
Therefore the seeds in tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, strawberries and raspberries, as well as poppy seeds are generally considered harmless.
Please visit your doctor immediately if you notice a change in your bowel habits; change of symptoms may indicate a different gut problem.