Tag Archives: diverticulitis

Cashews and Popcorn and Watermelon (Oh My!)

Remember the early 1980s Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Doug and Wendy Whiner?  No matter what the situation, they whined endlessly about it, alienating everyone around them.  See for yourself here and here.

While the sketches had different subjects, there was always one common thread:  the story would come around to food, at which point the Whiners would interject that they couldn’t eat the food in question because “We’ve got di-ver-ti-cu-liiiiii-tis.”  It was always the biggest laugh in the sketch.

Well, boys and girls, The Curmudgeon has had diverticulitis for more than eight years.  Oh, technically, he has diverticulosis, not diverticulitis.  The difference between –osis and –itis is that diverticulosis is bumps on your colon and diverticulitis is when those bumps get infected.  It’s not as bad as it sounds:  the symptoms are relatively easy to recognize, typically very mild, and easy to treat if addressed promptly.  Fail to address it promptly, though, and things can get very serious, and potentially deadly, very suddenly, but that’s really unlikely.

The conventional wisdom has long been that there are two keys to avoiding episodes of diverticulitis:  eat a high-fiber diet and avoid certain foods:  seeds and nuts.  That means no berries, no peanuts, no popcorn.  No burgers on sesame seed buns, peanut butter’s fine but smooth and never chunky, and no rocky road or pralines and cream ice cream.

seeds and nutsFor The Curmudgeon, eliminating these foods from his diet didn’t pose much of a problem.  Except for blueberries and dried cranberries, he was never much of a berry person; he liked corn but has never been much of a popcorn eater; and while he enjoyed salted cashews and occasional pistachios, they’re both so high in fat and calories that he only occasionally ate them because if he’s going to splurge on that many calories he’d much rather have chocolate ice cream.

The dictum to avoid seeds and nuts has never been based on hard science; instead, it was a rule based entirely on anecdotal evidence.  Family doctors tell their patients to ban those foods from their diets because whenever they see patients who are having diverticulitis episodes, they’ve inevitably been eating seeds or nuts recently.  Gastroenterologists, on the other hand, tell their patients that they can eat anything they want, that they’ve never seen any evidence linking those foods to diverticulitis.

Both arguments are pretty flawed.  Family doctors may ask their patients about eating seeds and nuts, but they could theoretically draw similar conclusions if their questions were about bananas, apples, or french fries.  Gastroenterologists, meanwhile, were basing their advice on the absence of research, yet they knew they could theoretically be wrong.  Because people hear first from their family doctor not to eat the forbidden foods, by the time they reach the gastroenterologist they’re typically committed to the new diet on an emotional level and afraid to go back.

The Curmudgeon is a bit, shall we say, zealous about seeking assistance if he thinks he might be experiencing an episode of diverticulitis because while he adheres slavishly to the rules about banned foods and has a diet high in fiber even though he dislikes almost every food that’s high in fiber, the radiation treatment he underwent more than six years ago pretty much fried his colon and led to the removal of nearly a foot of that colon a year later.  The next time they have to operate on that colon, he knows, well, he never says it out loud, but he knows – and that’s always been incentive enough to follow these two simple rules.  That, plus knowing that his colon’s remaining useful life already is probably nowhere near the life expectancy of the rest of his body.

Recently he had that feeling that he might be having an episode, and after a visit to the family doctor, blood work, urinalysis, a CAT scan, a prostate exam (note to male readers:  fantasize all you want about having a young and beautiful doctor, but it quickly loses its appeal when you’re undergoing that particular examination), and numerous other pokings and proddings didn’t turn up anything but did rule out diverticulitis, he visited his gastroenterologist.  Doctor and patient planned a course of action – oh joy, another colonoscopy – and as The Curmudgeon was getting dressed, the doctor idly asked him if he ate seeds and nuts.  No, The Curmudgeon replied, explaining that they had discussed this years ago but because the family doctor got to The Curmudgeon first he was loath to break those rules even though the specialists say you can.

The gastroenterologist smiled and explained that for the first time, there’s now research – conclusive, scientific proof, not anecdotal evidence, he insisted – showing that there’s no causal link between seeds and nuts and diverticulitis and he therefore should feel free to indulge if he so desired.  Go home and look it up if you don’t believe me, he said, still smiling.

So The Curmudgeon did, and there it was, in black and white:  no link.  Eat the forbidden foods to your heart’s content.

This was one of those head and heart situations:  The Curmudgeon’s head said “No need to deny yourself for no reason at all, go ahead, indulge” while his heart said “No confirmed episodes since the surgery; why would you even consider stopping what’s served you so well?”

It took about a week, but the head finally prevailed, and the following weekend he ventured out and purchased a small bag of salted cashews.

And they were good.

Really good.

Really, really good.

And while he’s never been much of a peanut person, he next tried some honey-roasted peanuts.

And darned if they weren’t pretty good, too.

And then he thought:  corn’s not in season but canned corn is always available and he hasn’t had his own, homemade corn fritters for eight years.  He’s even made them for others but never had so much as a single bite himself.  He tried alternatives, teaching himself to make apple fritters and then green pepper, onion, and dill fritters.  They were good, but they weren’t corn fritters.

So there it is, on his shopping list for his next visit to the supermarket:  canned creamed corn, for corn fritters.

And then he thought about the spring, when the weather gets a little warmer, and he can go to Ocean City and buy a tub of Johnson’s caramel popcorn – the only popcorn he ever found worth eating.

watermelonAnd then, when the weather’s a little warmer still:  watermelon, the single biggest loss he suffered from the diverticulitis diet.  Even the so-called seedless watermelon has those little white seeds, and about twice a season The Curmudgeon buys some so-called “seedless watermelon” – he’s complained about that term in this space before – and painstakingly picks over a big chunk and tries to remove all those seeds and takes two or three bites before throwing the rest away because the risk didn’t seem worth the reward.

And when he picks up that watermelon at the big farmer’s market about fifteen minutes from where he lives, he also can pick up some corn on the cob, still wet from the fields where it was picked that morning.

Cashews and popcorn and cranberries and corn fritters and watermelon…

Oh my!