When to Eat A High or Low Fiber Diet for Diverticular Disease

May 28, 2024


At the Alabama Rectal and Colon Institute, there are many things we look for when performing routine colonoscopies, and one of the things we may find are diverticula. These are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of your digestive system. When diverticula are present but you have no associated problems, your diagnosis will be diverticulosis. This form of diverticular disease can exist without you even knowing about it. 

However, when diverticula become inflamed or infected, it can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramping, pain, or tenderness; as well as swelling, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. This is called diverticulitis.

With each of these conditions, there are specific foods to eat and avoid as part of the treatment plan.

Recommended Diet for Diverticulosis

The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) says that the exact cause of diverticulosis is not clear, but we do know that it’s a common condition.The most widely accepted theory is that low amounts of fiber in your diet can cause stool to become relatively dry, forcing the colon to create high pressure to move the stool along. This high pressure can cause the weakest point of the colon wall to bulge out.

For someone who has diverticulosis (but not yet diverticulitis), a diet rich in fiber can help keep stools soft and prevent inflammation. A high-fiber diet gives bulk to the stool, allowing it to pass quickly and easily. This helps prevent constipation and decreases pressure in the colon to help stop diverticulitis from developing.

High-fiber foods include:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Bran, whole wheat bread, and whole grain cereals such as oatmeal
  • Brown and wild rice
  • Fruits such as apples, bananas, and pears
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, corn, and squash
  • Whole wheat pasta

If your diet is not currently high in fiber, you should add fiber gradually. This helps avoid bloating and abdominal discomfort. The target is to eat 25 to 35 grams of fiber and drink at least eight cups of fluid daily to help soften your stool. Exercise also promotes bowel movement and helps prevent constipation.

Recommended Diet for Diverticulitis

When diverticulitis develops, it is often painful and persistent. Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting; fever; abdominal tenderness; constipation; or less commonly, diarrhea.

Mild cases of diverticulitis are usually treated with antibiotics and a low-fiber diet. Treatment may start with a period of rest where you eat nothing, move to clear liquids, and then start a low-fiber diet until your condition improves.

Dietary changes can help the colon heal. Examples of items allowed on a clear liquid diet include:

  • Broth
  • Fruit juices without pulp, such as apple juice
  • Ice chips
  • Popsicles without bits of fruit or pulp
  • Gelatin
  • Water
  • Tea or coffee without cream

As you start feeling better, we may recommend that you slowly add low-fiber foods, such as:

  • Canned or cooked fruits without skin or seeds
  • Canned or cooked vegetables such as green beans, carrots, and potatoes (without the skin)
  • Eggs, fish, and poultry
  • Refined white bread
  • Fruit and vegetable juice with no pulp
  • Low-fiber cereals
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • White rice, pasta, and noodles

You should feel better within two or three days of changing your diet and taking antibiotics. Continuing a clear liquid diet for more than a few days can lead to weakness and other complications since it doesn't provide enough of the nutrients your body needs. It is important to transition back to a normal diet as soon as you can tolerate it. 

Make Colorectal Screening a Priority at Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute

In addition to screening for colorectal cancer, colonoscopies can also screen for diverticular disease. Following a high-fiber diet will help manage the condition of diverticulosis, in which diverticula are present but not causing problems. If diverticulitis does occur, a low-fiber diet will be our recommendation to help your colon rest and heal. Come see our doctors for help with either of these conditions!

Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute specializes in treating diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus. We are  experts in performing colonoscopies, anorectal surgery, and minimally invasive colon surgery. Our three doctors are known regionally for their expertise in these areas. Visit our website for more information, give us a call to make an appointment at 205-458-5000, or email us at [email protected].  

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