For years, patients with diverticular disease (which causes pouches, or diverticula, to form in the colon) have shunned nuts, corn, and popcorn, fearing these foods could aggravate their condition. These foods, physicians advised, leave residue that can lodge in the diverticula and cause infection, which in extreme cases can cause bleeding and require surgery. However, a new study dispels this long-held opinion and finds that nuts, corn, and popcorn might actually contribute to colon health.
Lisa L. Strate, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Washington School of Medicine, and colleagues used the Health Professionals Follow-up Study's survey data that tracked 47,228 male dentists, veterinarians, pharmacists, optometrists, osteopathic physicians, and podiatrists' medical and diet behaviors from 1986 to 2004. Researchers identified 801 cases of diverticulitis and 383 cases of diverticular bleeding for 730,446 person-years of followup. Twenty-seven percent of participants ate nuts at least twice a week, and 15 percent ate corn or popcorn that often.
Consuming nuts, corn, and popcorn was not associated with diverticular disease. In fact, researchers found that these foods were inversely associated with the risk for diverticular disease. The authors suggest that clinicians' advice to avoid these foods is based on the belief that because nuts, corn, and popcorn are not fully digested, particles can lodge in diverticula and injure the colon. Nuts may offer protective benefits for patients with diverticular bleeding because nuts contain anti-inflammatory agents, such as vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids.
The authors recommend that clinicians reconsider the recommendation that patients with diverticular disease avoid consuming these foods. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS14062). See "Nuts, corn, and popcorn consumption and the incidence of diverticular disease," by Dr. Strate, Yan L. Liu, M.S., Sapna Syngal, M.D., M.P.H., and others in the August 27, 2008, Journal of the American Medical Association 300(8), pp. 907-914.