Regular, daily bowel movements are a sign that your digestive system is in good working order. According to Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., CCN and author of "Digestive Wellness," 12 to 24 hours is the optimum bowel transit time, which describes the time it takes between eating a food and eliminating it as waste. Foods high in dietary fiber are the best foods for elimination. They aid the digestive process by adding bulk to stools so you can pass them more easily, while foods low in fiber contribute to constipation and other digestive ills.
What Is Fiber?
Only plant foods supply fiber. Fiber is the component of plants that gives them structure, similar to a human or animal body's skeleton. Although both types of dietary fiber, insoluble and soluble, assist with bowel transit time and speed the movement of food through your digestive system, insoluble fiber is particularly effective at this task. Because of the high protein and fat content in the standard American diet, many people get only 10 to 15 grams of dietary fiber a day, far less than the 25 to 38 grams recommended by the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. A low-fiber diet can lead to constipation and even more serious health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and colon cancer.
Insoluble Fiber Foods
Whole grains contain a wealth of insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water and passes through the digestive system intact. In "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods," Michael Murray, N.D., and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., recommend whole wheat, or wheat that has not had the bran removed in refining, as the single best source of this type of dietary fiber. Whole wheat contains cellulose, a class of insoluble fiber that is especially effective at increasing stool size and weight, leading to regular bowel movements. One slice contains 2 grams of fiber. Look for the words "whole wheat" or "whole grain" as the first ingredient on a food's label. If you are susceptible to wheat intolerance, other whole grains that are good sources of insoluble fiber are brown rice and oats.
Soluble Fiber Foods
Foods containing soluble fiber, or fiber that dissolves in water to form a gel, also assist with elimination. Psyllium seeds are an effective bulking agent, with 2 tablespoons providing 16 grams of fiber. Fruits and vegetables high in fiber content include apples with the skin, pears, asparagus, corn, figs and sweet potatoes. Beans and legumes are also excellent sources of this type of fiber, especially kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas and split peas. These high-fiber foods are also beneficial to weight loss and blood glucose control, as they keep you feeling full longer and slow the release of glucose into your bloodstream.
To get more fiber in your diet and aid elimination, add some high-fiber foods to every meal. For breakfast, enjoy cooked oatmeal with chopped apple and some ground flaxseed. At lunchtime, try whole-wheat pita bread with hummus and a side dish of tabbouleh, a salad made from bulgur. Chili made with kidney beans and served with brown rice, or split pea soup with whole-wheat bread, would be a nutritious, high-fiber dinner. Increase your fiber content slowly for best results, and make sure to drink plenty of water.
- "Digestive Wellness"; Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., CCN; 2005
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010; December 2010
- "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods"; Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D.; 2005
- AskDrSears.com; Fantastic Fiber; 2006