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Can Eating Carbohydrates Cause Constipation?

by
author image Erica Kannall
Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.
Can Eating Carbohydrates Cause Constipation?
Close up of spaghetti and sauce on a plate with a fork. Photo Credit Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

What exactly counts as constipation varies from person to person, but generally it refers to having fewer than three bowel movements per week or experiencing difficulty or pain when having a bowel movement. As you continue to eat food, stool continues to accumulate in your large intestine. You may feel overly full and bloated as a result. Constipation may occur suddenly and infrequently throughout your life, or you may suffer with it chronically.

High Refined-Carbohydrate Intake

If you commonly eat a large number of refined, or processed, carbohydrates, you may develop constipation. When grains are processed, they're stripped of the bran and germ, which contain fiber and nutrients. As a result, foods made from refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, white rice, sugar, corn syrup and many snack foods, contribute a lot of carbohydrates but little dietary fiber. In your digestive tract, fiber helps to prevent constipation. ChooseMyPlate.gov suggests making at least half of the grains you consume in a day whole-grain foods.

Fiber to Prevent Constipation

Dietary fiber, an indigestible carbohydrate, adds bulk in your digestive tract. It also absorbs water and swells as it moves through your body. These qualities allow fiber to promote regular bowel movements and keep food passing through your digestive tract in a timely manner. According to the Institute of Medicine, men ages 50 and younger need at least 38 grams of fiber per day, men over 50 need 30 grams, women ages 50 and younger need at least 25 grams and women over 50 need 21 grams of fiber. In addition to whole grains, eat more legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds to increase your fiber intake.

Fiber Causing Constipation

Although fiber is beneficial for regular bowel movements, eating an extremely high-fiber diet may not provide the results you hope for. For fiber to work properly, you also need to consume an adequate amount of fluid. If there isn't enough fluid in your digestive tract for the fiber to absorb, fiber becomes dry and hard, making constipation worse. When increasing your fiber intake, be sure to drink plenty of water and noncaffeinated beverages throughout the day. According to the Institute of Medicine, most women need at least 73 ounces of water per day and most men need at least 100 ounces per day.

Other Causes of Constipation

A lack of complex carbohydrates or an abundance of simple carbohydrates aren't the only factors that influence constipation. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, constipation may also be caused by a lack of physical activity, certain medications, ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement and gastrointestinal tract problems. Increasing your daily activity level may help to get things moving inside your intestines. Also, check with your health care provider to see if any medications you take may contribute to constipation.

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