Constipation affects 15 percent of Americans, reports the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Acute constipation happens only on occasion, but chronic constipation is an uncomfortable condition in which you routinely experience problems with your bowel movements -- you may either have too few in a week or pass hard, dry stools. While diet plays a big role in constipation, other factors may contribute. You may have a medical or lifestyle issue that is causing your chronic constipation, so consult your doctor.
If you’re chronically constipated, you may be eating too many low-fiber processed foods. You need 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, but most Americans get an average of 15 grams, reports the NDDIC. Foods that have had most of the fiber stripped out include many refined grains, such as sugary cereals; white bread, rice and pasta; and other foods made from white flour, like doughnuts and pastries. To boost your fiber intake, replace refined grains with foods made from whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, brown rice and bran.
Not Enough Fluids
Dehydration is another common cause of chronic constipation. You may be drinking too little overall, or your beverage of choice may be coffee, tea or cola, whose caffeine content can actually dehydrate you. In addition, when you increase the fiber in your diet, you need to boost your fluids to avoid constipation. The National Institutes of Health recommends drinking six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water or other fluids such as broth, milk or juice each day.
Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet
Sometimes starting a low-carb diet can cause constipation if you’re too heavily focused on high protein intake. Animal sources of protein like meat, fish, cheese, dairy and eggs supply protein and fat but no fiber, and they can be binding if you don’t complement them with healthy carbs. You can still get plenty of fiber on a low-carb regimen. The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests choosing beans, vegetables, nuts, berries, dried plums and oats, all of which have ample insoluble fiber, the kind that promotes healthy bowel movements.
An inability to produce enough of the enzyme that digests the protein in milk and other dairy products, lactose intolerance can have manifestations in the digestive tract, usually in the form of diarrhea, gas or bloating. However, children who have an actual allergy to cow’s milk may experience persistent constipation. Research published in 2012 in the “Iranian Journal of Pediatrics” found that 80 percent of the chronically constipated children in the study -- who were treated unsuccessfully with laxatives -- tested positive for a cow’s milk allergy. The research team called for more investigation but suggested a cow’s milk elimination diet for children with long-term constipation who do not respond to other interventions.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Constipation
- MedlinePlus: Water in Diet
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Don't Forget the Fiber in Your Low-Carb Diet
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Lactose Intolerance
- Iranian Journal of Pediatrics: The Role of Cow's Milk Allergy in Pediatric Chronic Constipation: A Randomized Clinical Trial