- Severe belly pain, usually in the lower left side, that's sometimes aggravated by moving
- Fever and chills
- Bloating and gas
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lack of appetite
- Blood test
- Digital rectal exam
- CT scan
What causes diverticulitis?It's thought that lack of dietary fiber is a likely cause of diverticulitis. Without fiber to bulk up the stool, the colon has to work harder to move the stool forward. The additional pressure could cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon. These may invite bacteria and infection. Incidence of the disease is low in Asia and Africa, where diets tend to be higher in fiber, which certainly supports this hypothesis.
Is meat part of the problem?There's now evidence that high consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk for diverticulitis. Some blame a molecule in red meat called
Of meat and menA recent study analyzed data from 46,461 men to test the association between meat consumption and the risk for diverticulitis. Data were gathered on consumption of:
- Red meat, in total
- Red meat, processed—smoked, cured, salted, or chemically preserved e.g., bacon, sausage, deli meats
- Red meat, unprocessed
- Men with the highest total red meat consumption had the highest risk for diverticulitis
- Relative risk for diverticulitis increased by 18 percent for each serving of red meat per week, but showed no additional risk from more than 6 servings per week
- Substituting poultry or fish for one serving of unprocessed red meat per day reduced the relative risk by 20 percent
- There was no increased diverticulitis risk associated with fish or poultry consumption
- Interestingly, increased consumption of unprocessed red meat increased the risk
TakeawayIt seems clear that red meat is a risk factor for diverticulitis, and that substituting another protein—like fish with healthy omega-3 EFAs or plant proteins packed with fiber—in some meals is good for your gut, and helps avoid problems like heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. I enjoy all meat, but only unprocessed, fresh, local, humanely raised, grass fed, and organic. It's a great source of protein and lots of other nutrients. Plus can we say "delicious?" My opinion? It's fine for you to enjoy unprocessed red meat 2–3 times a week. (Stick to a single serving at a time—2-3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.) But, it’s great for you to raise your fiber intake. Countless studies show that eating fiber-rich foods can help prevent or control diverticular symptoms. I recommend:
- Women younger than 51—25 grams of fiber daily
- Women 51 and older—21 grams daily
- Men younger than 51—38 grams of fiber daily
- Men 51 and older—30 grams daily
- 100% whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals
- Beans (kidney beans and black beans, for example)
- Fresh fruits (apples, pears, prunes)
- Vegetables (squash, potatoes, peas, spinach)
- Micha, Renata et al. “Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” Circulation. Published May 17, 2010. Last accessed March 4, 2017.
- Garcia, Jennifer. "Red Meat Intake Linked to Diverticulitis Risk" Medscape. Published January 10, 2017. Last accessed March 4, 2017.
- "Diverticulitis - Topic Overview" WebMD. Reviewed May 8, 2016. Last accessed March 4, 2017.
- O’Connor, Anahad. "Meat Is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk, W.H.O. Report Finds" New York Times. Published October 26, 2015. Last accessed March 4, 2017.
- "Eating processed meats, but not unprocessed red meats, may raise risk of heart disease and diabetes" Harvard. Published May 17, 2010. Last accessed March 4, 2017.