Constipation accounts for over 8 million annual U.S. healthcare provider visits, according to a January 2012 article in “JAMA.” If you suffer from this condition, which is characterized by infrequent or hard stools, changing your diet may help. Drinking more fluids and adding more fiber-rich foods into your diet can soften your stools and help promote regular, pain-free bowel movements.
Eat more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables as a way to soften stool. Plants contain varying amounts of different types of fiber, categorized as soluble and insoluble, and both help ease constipation. However, soluble fiber excels at softening stool, according to a February 2004 article in “Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.” Soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a gel, increasing the water content of stool and making it more formed, soft and easier to pass. The flesh of fruits and root vegetables is a good source of this fiber, including foods such as potatoes, carrots, beets, pears, oranges, apples, plums, apricots and dried fruits.
Try dried fruit. Prunes are well known for their laxative properties, but other dried fruits can also help to soften stool. Dried apricots, cherries, peaches, pears and plums are not only high in soluble fiber, but sources of polyols -- a form of poorly digested carbohydrates also known as sugar alcohols. While polyols aid in softening stool, these substances have a laxative effect and can cause unwanted side effects, including gas, bloating and diarrhea. Some people don’t tolerate foods with polyols and need to limit them to avoid these side effects. If you want to add more dried fruit as a way to soften your stool, gradually increase your daily amounts until you achieve the desired effects.
Eat beans, peas, whole grains and seeds regularly. Other sources of soluble fiber include beans and peas, such as pinto beans or black-eyed peas, and whole grains such as oat bran, oatmeal and barley. Seeds are also a good source of soluble fiber. Pumpkin or squash seeds can be consumed as a snack, sprinkled on salads or mixed in oatmeal. Chia seeds can be sprinkled in yogurt or added to smoothies, and ground flaxseed can be added to baked goods or mixed in oatmeal.
Eat any fiber-rich foods and drink more water. Even if a food is a good source of insoluble fiber, but not soluble fiber, it may help soften stool. Insoluble fiber, found in bran, whole grains, seeds, and the stalks and skins of fruits and vegetables, adds bulk to the intestinal contents and moves food more quickly through the bowel. With a faster transit time, less water is pulled from the intestinal contents and the stool stays soft. It’s also important to drink plenty of water or other fluids, as dehydration may lead to hard stools.