Constipation is one of the most common digestive problems in the United States, affecting approximately 42 million people, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. The NDDIC also notes that the most common cause of constipation is a diet too low in fiber. If you’re constipated, adding some high-fiber foods and eliminating low-fiber foods from your diet may be enough to remedy the problem.
Eat More of This
When it comes to treating constipation with diet, fiber is king. Fiber acts as a natural laxative by softening the stool and increasing its size so that it is easier to pass. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. The typical American consumes about 15 grams daily. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and bread, seeds, nuts and oatmeal. Ground flaxseed is also a good source of fiber, containing 2 grams of fiber per tablespoon. You can sprinkle flaxseed on salads or mix it into your oatmeal for an added boost of fiber.
Eat Less of This
Processed foods that are high in fat and sugar, including white breads, potato chips, cakes, cookies, ice cream, cheese and meats, may make constipation worse because they are low in fiber and can become trapped in the digestive system. These foods are also typically high in fat, which can slow the progression of waste material through your digestive tract. These types of low-nutrient, low-fiber foods can also cause constipation in those without a previous problem. Avoid these foods, as well as fast foods like cheeseburgers, french fries and chicken nuggets.
When you’re constipated, what you drink, or what you don’t drink, is just as important as what you eat. Water lubricates the digestive tract and increases the effectiveness of fiber. The exact amount of water you need depends on your age, sex, weight and activity level, but experts generally recommend at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Although caffeinated beverages, like coffee, soda and black tea, can stimulate the muscles in the colon, producing a bowel movement, you should limit or avoid caffeinated beverages if you are constipated. Caffeine can cause dehydration, which can make constipation worse.
In addition to changing what you eat, it’s helpful to change your lifestyle and eating habits. Medline Plus notes that you can train your bowels to become more regular by going to the bathroom at the same time every day and allowing yourself an adequate amount of time in the bathroom to have a bowel movement. When you feel the urge to defecate, go right away. Don’t try to hold your bowel movement in or wait until later. Eating small meals regularly throughout the day may also help reduce constipation.
Increase fiber intake gradually over the course of a few weeks. Increasing your intake too rapidly can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating and abdominal cramps. Drinking extra water as you increase your fiber intake can help diminish these unwanted symptoms.
- Medline Plus: Constipation
- University of Washington Women's Health: Constipation
- NHS Choices: Constipation - Prevention
- Children's Healthcare of Atlanta: Foods to Treat Constipation
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Seeds, Flaxseed
- Cleveland Clinic: Constipation