Diverticulitis Diet
Healing Foods for Diverticular Disease

Which foods to include in your diverticulitis diet depends very much on whether you're having a flare up or you're trying to prevent one.



As discussed in the previous page on Diverticulitis Symptoms, diverticular disease can manifests itself in two ways:

- Diverticulosis is the presence of pouches or saclike protrusions (called diverticula) mainly in the sigmoid colon, and you may not even be aware they're there.

- Diverticulitis is when these pouches become inflamed and painful and that's when most people become aware of their presence.

It should be fairly easy to work out which foods to include in your diverticulitis diet once you realize what the underlying cause of diverticula formation is: constipation.

The same thing that cures and prevents constipation is also considered the key to combating this digestive disorder: high-fibre foods.

In fact, lack of fibre in the diet can cause a lot of straining during bowel movements, which, in turn, tends to expand the tiny diverticula along the muscle walls of the colon, causing discomfort.

Diverticulitis Diet: How It Changed

For nearly fifty years, doctors treated diverticular disease with a low-fibre diet. Their theory was that "roughage irritates the gut".

Ironically, this misguided practice was a cause, not a cure for the problem, says the man who helped change it all, Neil S. Painter, a surgeon at Manor House Hospital in London.

Dr. Painter released his landmark study in a 1971 issue of the British Medical Journal showing that diverticulosis was caused by a fibre-deficient diet.

Knowing that such patients ate only half as much fibre as people with healthy colons, he persuaded 70 diverticulosis sufferers to go on a high-fibre diet.

It was a near total success. After a twenty-two-month follow-up period, he found that the diet had alleviated or abolished the symptoms (pain, nausea, flatulence, distension, constipation, etc.) associated with diverticular disease - in 89% of them! Bowel habits were normalized; all but a few gave up laxatives.

What did they eat? One-hundred percent whole-wheat bread, cereals high in bran, plenty of fruits and vegetables.

They also added "miller's bran" (unprocessed wheat bran) to every meal and gradually upped the dose until they passed one or two soft stools a day without straining. This bran has about five times the fibre of ordinary whole wheat, says Dr. Painter.

How Much Bran?

How much bran they needed was determined by trial and error. Dr. Painter pointed out there was no single correct "dose" of bran to help such bowel problems.

It varied greatly, ranging from a mere one dessert spoon daily (3 grams) to three tablespoons three times a day (12 to 14 grams)!

"Most required two teaspoons of bran three times a day, to render the stools soft and easy to pass" he said.

Dr. Painter's advice: Start with two teaspoons of unprocessed bran three times a day. After two weeks increase (or decrease) this dose if necessary and until you can move your bowels once or twice a day without straining.

Since the bran is difficult to eat dry, Dr. Painter's subjects sprinkled it on cereal, mixed it with porridge, added it to soup or took it with milk or water. A few patients were able to overcome their symptoms simply by eating processed bran cereals, such as All-Bran, instead of miller's bran.

Dr. Painter explains that a deficiency of dietary fibre alters the consistency of the stool so that the sigmoid part of the colon has to generate more pressure to more vigorously propel the stools. This causes the herniation of the walls of the colon, characteristic of diverticular disease.

The Diverticulitis Diet - The Basics

If you're recovering from a flare up of diverticulitis, begin with a soft-fibre diet. Cook vegetables until fairly soft, eat cooked fruits, use easy-to-digest grains like oatmeal, and make vegetables soups with tofu.

Once you're feeling well, gradually increase the high-fibre foods in your diet. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. If that is not sufficient to give you regular bowel movements, introduce bran in your diverticulitis diet, a little at a time.

Meat, poultry, and dairy products contain zero fibre and need to be eaten in moderation.

Psyllium seeds are a good fibre supplement choice because they're non-irritating.

It may take you some time to get accustomed to a high-fiber, low-fat diet, but it'll be worth the effort.

The benefits reach even further than your digestive tract, lowering your risk factors for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

How much fibre do you need in your Diverticulitis Diet?

Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fibre per day. Here's an example of how you can achieve that amount of fibre:

  • 2 cups of fruit,
  • 2 1/2 cups of vegetables,
  • three 1 ounce/30 g. servings of whole grains,
  • 1 cup of legumes (beans and peas)

A Word of Caution

Be certain to drink plenty of water and other healthy drinks, such as herbal teas, broth and live juices. Liquid is very important in keeping the pouch-like areas clean of toxic wastes, preventing inflammation.

Also, when you increase fibre you need to increase fluid intake as well. Fibre absorbs the fluid and as a result, it bulks up and soften stools. Without enough water, fibre can cause constipation!

Read more on the High Fiber Diet Plan.

What About Peeps and Seeds in the Diverticulitis Diet?

For years, doctors suspected that nuts and seeds could lodge in the pouches and actually promote inflammation and infection.

So for a long time, experts cautioned people with diverticulosis against eating nuts and foods with seeds and hull, such as tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and popcorn, and many still do.

But in actuality, such pips and seeds are not much of a worry, many experts now say, and have reversed their ban on them.

So do keep off them while the inflammation is active, because they could further irritate your already inflamed colon, but you can eat them regularly after that.

That said, each person reacts differently to foods. If you experience bloating or pain after eating certain foods, including nuts, be sure to chew them thoroughly before swallowing. It that doesn't help, avoid them altogether.

What if you Can't Tolerate Wheat?

First of all, you need to make sure whether you really don't tolerate wheat bran or whether it's just the adding of the fibre to your diet that causes you to have problems. If you're not used to it, this in itself can create a lot of digestive discomfort (i.e. bloating, cramping, pain, etc.).

Start with a small amount of wheat bran. If after 2 weeks you're still having problems, wheat bran might not be for you.

Recent studies indicate that rice bran may be even more effective than wheat bran in relieving constipation. So follow the same advice that Dr. Painter gave to his patients but using rice bran instead.

Another alternative is to supplement your diet with a bulk product and/or a stool softener that contains methylcellulose or psyllium, since these don't promote as much gas formation in the colon as other sources of fibre, especially wheat bran.

And I've found that adding Linwoods flaxseed to my diet has made a huge difference to my intestinal transit! See what works for you.

Other Suggestions for your Diverticulitis Diet

  • Supplement with acidophilus and bifidobacteria - Friendly flora can help fight the infection while it's active and protect you from future infection. Take 1 capsule two to three times daily for prevention; 2 capsules three times daily during flare-ups.
  • Take Aloe Vera - Aloe Vera contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids, and has been used by many cultures to heal the digestive tract. Its anti-inflammatory properties are soothing to mucous membranes and it has been shown to reduce pain.It also stimulates the immune system, increasing white blood cell activity and formation of T-cells, and contains enzymes that help break down dead cells and toxins. It also reduces bleeding time, which is important with ruptured diverticula, so it's a must in the diverticulitis diet.
  • Take slippery elm bark - The inner bark of this tree has demulcent properties, that is it forms a soothing film over mucous membranes, relieving pain and inflammation. It contains mucilage, a type of fibre which has a high nutritional value and helps draw out impurities and promote healing. Drink as a tea, chew on the bark or take in capsules. To make a tea, simmer 1 teaspoon of slippery elm bark in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes and strain. You can drink freely as it can be used in large amounts without harm. Or take 2 to 4 capsules three times a day.

Healing Foods to Include in your
Diverticulitis Diet

  • Apples - Consuming soluble and insoluble fibre (a 10 ounce/284 g. apple can have 6 g. of fibre), which keeps the digestive system working well, may prevent both constipation and its sequel, diverticulitis.
  • Chamomile - Both chamomile and peppermint have an anti-inflammatory effect on the intestine. The salicylates (aspirin-like compounds) contained in chamomile have a specific effect on diverticulitis as well as colon trouble in general. Loaded with the COX-2 inhibitor apigenin and several other anti-inflammatory and calming compounds, chamomile may also ease the pain of an attack, ideal to add to your diverticulitis diet.
  • Flaxseed - Ground or crashed flaxseed is a safe and gentle laxative for chronic constipation, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Flaxseed is very high in fibre, the key to a healthy colon. Equally important, it's a good vegetarian source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Beans - Beans are the best foods to keep your intestine working regularly. If they give you a lot of gas, it might be due to the fact you're not used to them. As you gradually include them into your diverticulitis diet, your body adapts to them and creates more digestive enzymes able to deal with them. Before concluding that beans are not for you, give them some time or try different types of beans, as you might respond differently to different varieties.
  • Peppermint - With more than a dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, painkillers and sedatives and half a dozen carminatives - that is, encourage elimination of gas from the digestive system, relieving spasms - peppermint is one of the best herbal teas to include in the diverticulitis diet.
  • Prunes - Prunes have lots of fibre and are considered the most effective food remedy for constipation. They also contain dihydroxyphenil isatin, which stimulates the contractions in your intestines that you need for regular bowel movements. Prunes also contain a natural sugar called sorbitol which, like fibre, soaks up large amounts of water in your digestive tract to keep things moving.
  • Thyme - A rich source of fibre, plus dozens of analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic compounds, thyme seems like a good choice for your diverticulitis diet. Try using it to season sauces, soups and salads.
  • Turmeric - It's the main ingredient in curries, but it also has powerful anti-inflammatory compounds.
  • Don't forget the bran!


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RELATED PAGES:

Diverticulitis Symptoms and Causes of Diverticular Disease

Foods That Relieve Constipation and Constipation Prevention - Discussing the importance of fiber and water in the diet.

High Fiber Diet Plan - Explaining how fiber works to keep you regular.

Benefits of Fiber and High Fiber Foods in Your Diet - Increasing fiber in your diet can help preventing and treating many conditions.

Best Fiber Supplement - Why is Lepicol the best fiber supplement?

Best Foods for Constipation (Part 1) - Discussing apples, beans, berries, flaxseed and dried fruits.

Best Foods for Constipation (Part 2) - Discussing dark leafy greens, ginger, honey, rhubarb, squash and coffee.

Prune Juice for Constipation and Other Health Benefits




References:

Carper, J., (1993) Food Your Miracle Medicine: How Food Can Prevent and Treat Over 100 Symptoms and Problems, New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Lipski, E., Ph.D., CCN, (2005) Digestive Wellness, Fourth Edition: Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion, New York: McGraw-Hill.

NEIL S. PAINTER, DENIS P. BURKITT, British Medical journal, 1971, 2, 450-454 Diverticular Disease of the Colon: A Deficiency Disease of Western Civilization

Wait, M., (2007) Food Cures: Breakthrough Nutritional Prescriptions for Everything from Colds to Cancer, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.



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