7 Foods To Eat And 7 To Avoid For Diverticulitis

Medical terms can be very similar. Take diverticulosis and diverticulitis, for example. While these two conditions are related, they aren't the same thing. As WebMD explains, diverticulosis is when pockets form in weak areas of your digestive tract (usually the colon). Diverticulitis, on the other hand, is when at least one of those pockets becomes inflamed and sometimes infected, usually due to a tear (via the Mayo Clinic).

So, if a person has diverticulosis, they could develop diverticulitis, which can result in tenderness and/or pain in one's abdomen. Diverticulitis can cause constipation or diarrhea. Other potential symptoms of diverticulitis include fever, nausea, and vomiting. Additionally, it's possible to develop complications due to diverticulitis like a bowel blockage or abscesses where there's pus in at least one of the pockets. And if a pocket breaks, that can be a medical emergency.

Of course, it's only natural to want to avoid such problems, and since diverticulitis involves the digestive tract, adjusting one's diet would seem like a good place to start. But according to the Mayo Clinic, there's no one food plan or diet for avoiding diverticulitis-related health issues. After all, everyone is different, and a trigger food for one person might not affect someone else in the same way. However, there are foods that tend to be recommended as either good or bad for diverticulitis. With that said, you should always talk with your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet.

Try: Fruit juices without pulp

Diverticulitis can have flare-ups, during which time a healthcare professional might put their patient on a special diet (via University of California San Francisco Health). Typically, this diet has two parts. First, the patient is on a clear liquid diet. Then under a medical professional's supervision, the patient will begin eating low-fiber foods before ideally returning to eating normally.

Now, exactly what foods a healthcare professional might advise for the liquid diet can vary, but fruit juices that don't have pulp commonly make the list, per UCSF Health. These can include apple and grape juice. Also, Healthline notes that white cranberry juice is a good option. And while orange juice should be avoided, another citrus fruit drink, lemonade, is alright as long as it's pulp free. In addition, popsicles made from fruit juice are fine if, again, there isn't pulp or bits of fruit in them.

Avoid: Onions

While FODMAP might look like the name of navigational app, it's actually an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (via Medical News Today). Quite a mouthful, but what it boils down to is that foods ranked as high FODMAP could cause digestive system problems. And there is a theory that high FODMAP foods plus a high-fiber diet could add to diverticulitis-related problems, per the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Now, if you guessed that onions are a high FODMAP food, and so could be problematic for someone with diverticulitis, then according to IBS Diets, you're right. Notably, onions have the "O" in FODMAP: oligosaccharides, which as registered dietitian nutritionists Lyssie Lakatos and Tammy Lakatos Shames told Eat This, Not That! are "fermentable carbs [that] are poorly absorbed in the small intestine." And if you think you only have to worry about the large onion bulbs, think again. The IBS Diets site also lists small, pickled onions and onion powder as high FODMAP foods. You also need to watch out for gravy if it's made using onions.

Okay, but are all onions potentially off the menu for someone with diverticulitis? Well, the IBS Diets site does say that the green part of scallions (a.k.a. spring onions) is a low FODMAP food, but the white part of spring onions is a high FODMAP food. Nevertheless, you should always check with a medical professional before adding or removing any foods from your diet.

Try: Gelatin

On TV shows and in the movies, when a patient at a hospital wants to complain about the food, they'll sometimes bring up how they're sick of eating Jell-O. However, if you have diverticulitis and your healthcare professional wants to put you on a clear liquid diet, they might recommend gelatin as a good food option, via Healthline.

Before we go any further, it's important to understand the relationship between gelatin and collagen. As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains, collagen comes from different parts of animals, including their tendons, skin, cartilage, bones, and muscles. Manufacturers take the collagen from various parts of animals and use it to make the protein gelatin, per WebMD. And research involving rats found that gelatin can help keep the walls of the intestines stronger, making them less likely to become damaged. What's more, an amino acid in gelatin might help with a condition called leaky gut. And as its name indicates, leaky gut is when the intestinal lining develops holes and cracks that can lead to inflammation and other health concerns (via Harvard Health Publishing).

Although your healthcare professional might recommend gelatin, not all gelatins might be good for someone with diverticulitis. For instance, some gelatins have fruit bits in them, and fruit chunks and pulp aren't advisable during the clear liquid phase of the diverticulitis diet, according to Healthline

Avoid: Red meat

If you ask someone to name a red meat, they'll probably say "beef." However, as the Cleveland Clinic points out, veal, lamb, and pork are also all considered red meats. And, yes, there's evidence that they all could be bad for diverticulitis.

According to the Colorectal Clinic of Tampa, there's data supporting that both red and processed meats not only could make diverticulitis symptoms worse, but they also might up one's chances of developing diverticulitis in the first place. One example is a study from Harvard, involving 46,000 men ranging in age from 40 to 75. The research looked at data regarding these men's diets and health that spanned more than 26 years and found that the men who ate on average 13 servings of red meat a week were more likely to eventually have diverticulitis compared to the other men in the study. Researchers also found that when the men in this study changed one of their daily red meat servings for either fish or poultry, their odds of developing diverticulitis dropped by 20%. 

That said, according to Northwest Surgical Specialists, LLP, red meat might be acceptable for some diverticulitis patients depending on its consistency and how it's prepared. So, again, talk with your healthcare professional about red meat and your diverticulitis.

Try: Water

While water can help with diverticulitis, that doesn't mean upping your water intake alone is a cure-all for this condition (via MedicineNet). Remember, the severity of diverticulitis can vary, meaning more than one lifestyle change and/or treatment might be necessary to help get it under control. But with that said, people are often put on a liquid diet to help their body begin healing from diverticulitis.

Now, we can't discuss water, diverticulitis, and digestion without talking about constipation. As the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) explains, there are medical experts who believe that not consuming enough fiber on a regular basis can lead to constipation and increase the chances of diverticulosis. This is because being constipated makes bowel movements more difficult, which might up the chances of pockets forming in areas of the digestive tract. And once those pockets form, a person could develop diverticulitis. In fact, MedicineNet states that "constipation is a major cause of diverticulitis." 

Drinking water can help with bowel movements, in turn lowering the chances of inflammation in the intestines, per MedicineNet. But let's be honest, keeping up with your daily water intake can be difficult. So, Self recommends some simple tricks to help you incorporate drinking water into your daily routine. For example, if you're cooking or microwaving a meal or snack, drink water while you wait.

Avoid: Milk and cream

While irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diverticulitis are different conditions, according to Healthline, the same diet might be beneficial for both. But to truly understand this, we need to discuss the differences between high and low FODMAP foods. Certain compounds (whose names create the acronym FODMAP) are found in higher or lower amounts in different foods and beverage. If you have diverticulitis or IBS, your healthcare professional might recommend a low FODMAP foods diet.

Of course, properly following this diet means avoiding high FODMAP foods, and as University Hospitals explains, that can mean cutting out soy milk and cow's milk. Some diverticulitis patients experience more pain and nausea when they consume milk (per Intermountain Healthcare). In fact, Health notes that high-fat dairy items like cream and whole milk can be bad diet choices if you have diverticulitis. And Board Certified Gastroenterologist Dr. Anu Sampat advises that if you're on the clear liquid stage of a diverticulitis diet, you shouldn't put cream in your tea or coffee.

Now, to be fair, the Northwest Surgical Specialists, LLP state on their website that certain dairy products can be alright for patients in the low-fiber stage of their diverticulitis diet. And if you're experiencing pain and nausea because of diverticulitis, it could also be because of caffeine (via Intermountain Healthcare). It may all depend on your specific case of diverticulitis.

Try: Chicken broth

There might not be a book series called "Chicken Broth for the Soul," but this simplified version of chicken soup could be beneficial if you have diverticulitis. As Dr. Kathryn A. Boling, primary care provider with Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville in Maryland, told SingleCare, going on a clear liquid diet that might include chicken broth can take some pressure your bowels, allowing them to heal.

Of course, consuming chicken broth is also good for avoiding dehydration (via WebMD). And don't forget that dehydration not only can cause constipation, but is usually the culprit behind chronic constipation, per WebMD. This is because when you don't take in enough water, your intestines try to make up for it by taking more water than normal from your waste materials. This, in turn, can lead to hard stools and more difficult bowel movements. And as Johns Hopkins Medicine explains, constipation can put a strain on your colon, which might cause pockets.

While there are still gaps in our knowledge as to the causes of diverticulitis-related infections, once those pockets form, there is potential for diverticulitis to develop. Furthermore, as WebMD points out, chicken meat has carnosine, a compound that could help fight inflammation — which per Mayo Clinic is a hallmark of diverticulitis. However, if you are on a clear liquid diet, you shouldn't add bits of chicken to your chicken broth.

Avoid: Whole grain foods

According to MedlinePlus, someone recovering from a serious diverticulitis flare-up might need to avoid (at least initially) foods made from whole grains. But before we go any further, let's make sure we're all on the same page as to what is a whole-grain food. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) explains, grain products come from foods like barley, wheat, oats, cornmeal, and rice. But while refined grains have parts of the grains' kernels removed, whole grains are just that — the whole grain. What's more, products like whole-grain breads are high in fiber (via MedlinePlus). But wait, isn't fiber good for you?

Yes, the right amount of fiber in one's diet can be very beneficial, especially for the digestive system. But when you're recovering from diverticulitis, you should be careful about your fiber intake. A healthcare professional will usually ease you back into eating fiber by having you eat low-fiber foods to start. High-fiber whole wheat and whole rye breads could be rough on your colon as it recovers. 

Try: Eggs

When a person is recovering from diverticulitis, it's very common for them to go on a special diet that is low in fiber, which takes pressure off the colon so it can heal. According to Saint Luke's Health System, eggs are a good option if you want to keep the fiber in your diet low.

As the USDA explains, a Grade A, large, white egg contains no fiber. But it is a good source of protein (10.7 grams) and contains 19 amino acids. And this is crucial for good health since our bodies use amino acids for a number of functions, including repairing tissues (via MedlinePlus). Remember, according to the Mayo Clinic, diverticulitis-related inflammation and/or infection happen when a pocket in the digestive system tears. But beyond helping our body's tissues heal, amino acids also help us break our food down.

In addition to being a potentially good option for someone recovering from diverticulitis, eggs might help reduce the chances of developing this condition in the first place. Keep in mind that obesity could be a risk factor for not just diverticulitis but also diverticular bleeding, per Gastroenterology. And while many factors can contribute to obesity, protein-rich eggs can be a good addition to a weight management meal plan (via Medical News Today).

Avoid: Broccoli

Even if you're on a low-fiber diet because of diverticulitis, that doesn't necessarily mean your healthcare professional will advise you to stop eating all vegetables. For example, Northwest Surgical Specialists, LLP do allow certain vegetables like white potatoes (as long as they're peeled and well cooked) on their low-fiber diverticulitis diet. However, they also recommend avoiding all raw vegetables, as well as certain canned and frozen ones. And broccoli is the first vegetable they list to avoid.

So, why is broccoli, a vegetable that's usually praised for its possible health benefits, potentially bad for diverticulitis patients? Well, according to the USDA, 100 grams of raw broccoli contain 2.4 grams of insoluble fiber. While soluble fiber dissolves in water, insoluble fiber doesn't, per GoodRx. In fact, GoodRx describes insoluble fiber as being the "more fibrous" of the two types. So, if a diet's goal is to keep fiber intake low in order to give your body a chance to heal from diverticulitis, then foods like broccoli could be too rough for your system to handle. In addition, broccoli is a high FODMAP food (via Healthline), and avoiding high FODMAP foods might also be beneficial for someone with diverticulitis (via Healthline).

Try: Vegetable juice

While raw vegetables aren't recommended for diverticulitis patients as they give their bodies a chance to heal, Dakota Dietitians advises that strained vegetable juice is good choice for a low-fiber diverticulitis diet. In fact, it's possible to find vegetable juice that contains no fiber.

According to the Mayo Clinic, vegetable juice is packed with nutrients like vitamins and minerals while at the same time having lower amounts of fiber. The USDA states that 100 grams of shelf-stable tomato juice from concentrate contains no fiber. On the other hand, a Roma tomato that's 100 grams has 1 gram of dietary fiber (via USDA). And 100 grams of grape tomatoes has 2.1 grams of dietary fiber (per USDA).

Although vegetable juices contain low or no fiber, you still should read the Nutrition Facts Label before making any specific brand of them a part of your diverticulitis diet. For example, the above 100 grams of tomato juice has nutrients like 198 mg of potassium, 19 mg of phosphorus, and 10.4 mg of magnesium, but it also has 236 mg of sodium, per the USDA. And other juices on the market can have additional ingredients that a medical expert might advise against. So, don't be afraid to get detailed with your healthcare professional about what foods you're planning to eat and drink as you recover from diverticulitis.

Avoid: Fatty foods

Although diverticulosis and diverticulitis are different, they both are aspects of diverticular disease, via the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. And while we are still learning about these health issues, we do know that if you have a family history of diverticular disease, you're more likely to develop it. So, being careful about what you eat and drink can not only help you heal from diverticulitis, but also help you avoid developing it in the first place.

Case in point, there is a potential connection between fatty foods like fried foods and diverticular disease, according to Livestrong. Simply put, fatty foods can result in constipation. And some medical experts believe that constipation can strain the colon, which could increase the chances of it developing pockets (diverticulosis), via Cleveland Clinic. Once there are pockets, there is potential for diverticulitis. Additionally, foods that are high in fat could block those pockets. And if you guessed that could lead to diverticulitis, then you'd be absolutely correct.

While there are definite downsides when it comes to fatty foods and your health, there is a chance that you might not need to eliminate them entirely if you have diverticulitis. For example, Stanford Hospital & Clinics recommends cutting down on greasy, fried foods only if a diverticulitis patient is experiencing symptoms like gas, cramping, bloating, and/or diarrhea. So, again, speaking with a medical professional about what foods are best for you to eliminate is important.

Try: White bread

It's rare that white bread makes a healthy foods list. After all, as Stacey Pence, registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Insider, the refined flour used to make white bread is milled, which results in it having fewer nutrients than whole wheat bread. But when it comes to diverticulitis, white bread has a major advantage: lower fiber content. Yes, something that's usually praised can be a disadvantage for someone on a diverticulitis diet. As Insider explains, 100% whole wheat bread can have four times more dietary fiber per serving when compared to white bread. In fact, Pence notes to Insider that "Eating 100% whole wheat bread is a healthier option for most people — unless you are having a flare-up of a GI condition, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, gastroparesis, and diverticulitis, or are suffering from diarrhea, then you may need to follow a lower fiber diet and choose more refined grains." And Drugs.com lists white bread as a potentially good low-fiber food that might help while a diverticulitis patient is experiencing symptoms.

Avoid: Alcohol

Let's address the elephant in the room. There is some debate about alcohol and diverticulitis. On the one hand, the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons explains that drinking alcohol to excess could make an individual as much as three times more likely to develop diverticulitis. And the Western Sussex Hospitals list alcohol under "Foods to Try With Caution" for their recommended diet for lowering the chances of developing diverticulitis in the first place.

However, as The Healthy explains, there are gaps in our knowledge regarding the relationship between alcohol and diverticulitis. With that said, some experts believe that alcohol affects the colon, making it more likely to develop both diverticulosis and diverticulitis. In fact, the Hawai'i Journal of Medicine & Public Health published a meta-analysis that notes how research shows a potential connection between developing diverticulosis and consuming alcohol, and that alcohol might interfere with how quickly material moves through the colon. And yet this same review couldn't verify that alcohol ratcheted up the odds of one developing diverticulosis or diverticular bleeding — the researchers ultimately concluded that more trials are needed. So, if you have diverticulitis or have a family history of diverticulitis, you might want to speak with a medical professional about alcohol consumption and your chances of developing this condition.