Foods to Avoid If You Have Diverticulosis
The colon (otherwise known as the large intestine) is a long tube-like structure that stores and eliminates waste material left over after the digestion of food in the small intestine. Pressure within the colon can rise and make little bulging pockets in the colon wall. These little sacs are called diverticula, and if you have one of these and it gets infected, you have diverticulosis.
What to know about diverticulosis
Diverticula is common in the Western world, and what does that mean? We’re all at risk. There aren’t many cases in Asia and Africa. They must be doing something right. However, people who do have diverticula get worse with age. They are uncommon in people under 40, but 74% of people over 80 have them.
Diverticula may produce no symptoms at all, but some common ones include abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea. Some people have both diverticula and IBS or other abnormalities in the functioning of the muscles of the sigmoid colon (the bottom portion of the colon).
Bleeding may also occur in the colon, which can then cause infection in and around the diverticulum. This is then known as diverticulitis. This may cause abdominal tenderness, pain, colonic obstruction and fever.
The muscular walls of the colon grow thicker with age, though no one is really sure why. The accumulation of waste materials, which may harden due to dehydration or high quantities of animal fibre in the stools, is thought to increase the amount of pressure on the colon walls, making them thicker over time.
Indeed, it is thought that a lack of fibre in the diet may be one of the causes of diverticula.
Which foods are prohibited for diverticulosis sufferers?
In the past, it was thought that people with diverticular disease should avoid foods like nuts, corn, popcorn and seeds, as they were thought to be difficult to digest.
However, recent research has shown that there is no real evidence to back up these ideas – in fact, nuts and seeds do contain fibre and they may be very helpful for people suffering from these sorts of problems.
Tips, advice, and remedies for diverticulosis
Don’t underestimate the power of Aloe vera for soothing your colon and making going to the toilet easier. Try it as a juice, or harvest your own and blend it with lemon, orange or another citrus juice and a sweetener.
Try drinking chamomile tea when your tummy is upset. It’s also great for the inflammation in and around the diverticula.
A high fibre diet is crucial to keep stools soft and bulky. This reduces the pressure on the colon, and can ease pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. It also stops hard stools from becoming lodged within the pouches or sacs.
A high fibre diet may prevent more diverticula from forming, too, so what better way to hit two birds with one stone.
Adults need around 18g of fibre every day, and this should come from a wide variety of different foods where possible. You might get wind or bloating when you suddenly increase the amount of fibre you eat, so slowly does it! Always make sure you drink enough water to keep your colon hydrated as dry fibre isn’t good for it.
High fibre foods include:
- whole grains, fruit and vegetables. Some vegetables contain more fibre than others. Avoid potatoes, for example, which can get sticky and stick around in the colon! Eat plenty of green vegetables, which contain a great, soft type of fibre that’s very colon-friendly. Celery is also a nice one to add in.
- wholemeal and whole-wheat bread and flour. Loaves that are naturally dark in colour are the best. Try the ones with seeds or oats on top. There are many different types of bread available. Sprouted bread is a great choice, for example. White bread is best avoided.
- wholegrain breakfast cereals, like muesli. Head down to your local health food shop and check out their selection of non-sweetened mueslis. There are some lovely options on the market now. Add almond milk or organic cow’s milk and a little yogurt and some fruit.
- brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but all the goodness really is removed from white rice and regular pasta when they are processed.
- wheat bran and germ can be an nice addition to your diet. Follow the instructions on the packet.
- beans, pulses and legumes are all chock full of amino acids and make a great addition to any dish as a low fat alternative.
- flax and chia. These foods have a special type of quality to their fibre, which can gently increase regularity and sooth inflamed digestive tracts.
Images courtesy of Hey Paul Studios, Orin Zebest, Memi Beltrame and woodleywonderwork.