Diverticulosis can lead to a painful infection in your large intestine. With this condition, prevention is the best medicine, and that starts with a healthy diet. If you’re wondering whether you can still eat pizza and your favorite treats with diverticulosis, the answer can vary depending on the severity of your condition.
Here’s what you should know about diverticulosis and the best food choices to manage it.
What Is Diverticulosis?
Diverticulosis is a common condition that affects your large intestine. It occurs when small pouches form in your intestine and push outward, like tiny balloons, at weak spots in your colon.
Even though about 58% of people over the age of 60 have this condition, most people never experience symptoms. Your doctor might discover it during a routine colonoscopy screening. If you do have symptoms, they might include:
- Changes in your bowel patterns.
- Constipation or diarrhea.
- Cramps or lower belly pain.
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Who Is at Risk For Diverticulitis?
Only about 5% of people with diverticulosis develop diverticulitis — a bacterial infection in their diverticula. It’s not clear what causes diverticulitis, but experts believe these factors play a role:
- Your genes.
- Being overweight.
- Taking certain medicines like NSAID pain relievers or steroids.
- A poor diet.
Call your doctor immediately if you have the following symptoms of diverticulitis:
- Pain and cramping on the lower left side of your belly (most common, but not always).
- Nausea or vomiting.
- A change in bowel habits like constipation or diarrhea.
Occasionally, bacteria develop in those pouches (known as diverticula) and sometimes grow in the wall of the colon that could cause an infection called diverticulitis, which can cause serious symptoms and may lead to infection complications without treatment. Compared to diverticulosis, diverticulitis causes fever and severe belly pain and tenderness, and is usually more severe.
A Healthy Diverticulosis Diet
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to manage diverticulosis, so it doesn’t turn into diverticulitis. Pizza and hamburgers are not entirely off-limits, but you should focus on eating healthier foods most of the time. If you have diverticulosis, it’s OK to have pizza occasionally, as long as it doesn’t cause any symptoms.
Research shows that people who eat a Western-style diet (pizza, fast food, and sweets) tend to have more bouts of diverticulitis. However, those who eat more fiber foods experience fewer problems from diverticulosis. Most doctors recommend adding more fiber because it can help your gastrointestinal tract to work better.
The following foods are good sources of fiber:
- Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Nuts, including peanuts.
- Seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, flax, or chia.
- Beans such as kidney, black, or pinto beans, or chickpeas.
- Whole grain products like oats, barley, whole wheat bread, and brown rice.
Try to add several servings of higher-fiber foods at each meal. You can also ask your doctor or dietitian about using a fiber supplement.
To maintain good health, keep track of your food intake. Avoid these foods if you have symptoms after eating them:
- Seeds like sesame, poppy, chia, sunflower, or pumpkin.
- Fruits and vegetables with seeds, like raspberries or cucumbers.
In the past, doctors thought these foods might get stuck in the diverticula and cause an infection. But they’ve since learned that’s not the case. Still, everyone is different, so avoid them if they trigger symptoms for you.
Please seek medical attention if you are concerned about an attack of diverticulitis.
What Can I Eat When I Have a Diverticulitis Attack?
With a diverticulitis attack, you should avoid solid foods and stick to a clear liquid diet. That gives your intestines a chance to rest and heal.
If you have diverticulitis once, you may experience it again in the future, so prevention is key. Make sure you’re eating well most of the time, and reserve that pizza for a special treat.
For more information on different digestive disorders, visit our website.
American Gastroenterological Association. Diverticulitis. LINK
National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diverticular Disease. LINK
Nutrients. Role of Dietary Habits in the Prevention of Diverticular Disease Complications: A Systematic Review. LINK
About Digestive Disorders
The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Find a GI doctor near you.