The average American only eats about 15 grams of fiber each day -- less than half of the recommended daily intake for men and about 60 percent of the recommendation for women. Fiber helps keep your digestive system healthy, and several gastrointestinal problems, including diverticulosis, may be prevented by switching to a high-fiber diet. Talk to your doctor about diverticulosis and changing your diet.
Diverticulosis occurs when small pouches called diverticula develop in the colon. They bulge through weak spots in the intestinal lining and may cause abdominal cramps and discomfort in the lower abdominal area, or they may not cause any symptoms at all. Occasionally, a diverticulum may become inflamed, progressing to a condition called diverticulitis. Symptoms include abdominal pain, fever, chills, cramping and constipation. According to the National Institutes of Health, 10 to 25 percent of people with diverticulosis will develop diverticulitis.
Preventing Diverticulosis With Fiber
Diverticulosis is more common as people age. It affects about 1 in 10 Americans over age 40 and about 50 percent of those over age 60. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, lifelong vegetarians, who naturally have a higher fiber intake, are much less likely to develop diverticulosis. For that reason, it's thought that a high-fiber diet is protective against diverticulosis, although this hasn't been scientifically proven. The Stanford Health Care website explains that because fiber makes stool softer, bulkier and easier to pass, there is less pressure on the colon walls and diverticula are less likely to form.
How to Increase Your Fiber Intake
Stanford Health Care recommends eating 30 to 35 grams of fiber each day spread evenly throughout meals and snacks. Choose whole-grain foods over refined grains, which have had most of their fiber removed during processing. Examples of whole-grain foods include whole-wheat bread and pasta and brown rice. Read ingredient lists and look for whole grains, or the words "made with whole grains" or "100 percent whole-grain" on the package label. Eat five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. High-fiber options include leafy greens, artichokes, carrots, beans, beets, broccoli, berries and apples.
Meal Planning Made Easy
It's easy to include more fiber in your diet if you use the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Choose MyPlate healthy plate guide. At each meal, fill half your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables and one-quarter with grains, preferably whole grains. The other quarter of your plate can be a serving of lean protein. To increase your fiber intake, have one or two fiber-rich snacks each day, such as a piece of fruit or cut-up veggies with hummus.
Drink plenty of water when you increase your fiber intake to help fiber pass through the body. If you have diverticulitis already and you're experiencing a flare-up, you may need to eat a special liquid diet including water, broth, juices and ice pops until your symptoms subside. At that point, you can resume a low-fiber solid food diet and then progress to a diet higher in fiber.