Regular bowel movements, or the removal of waste from the human body, are a part of proper digestion. Constipation, that is, infrequent or difficult bowel movements, is a common complaint, and it may call for treatment in the form of a laxative to loosen stools. Besides over-the-counter options, many foods have a natural laxative effect.
Fiber has a laxative effect on most individuals. Plant-based foods often naturally contain substantial amounts of fiber. Black, pinto and baked beans all serve up around 15 grams of fiber per 1-cup serving, which accounts for nearly half of a person’s recommended daily intake, according to the experts at the Mayo Clinic. Other high-fiber foods possessing a laxative effect are artichokes, oatmeal, many whole-grain breakfast cereals, prunes, peas and raspberries, to name a few. Regular black coffee, derived from coffee beans, contains soluble fiber that may soften stool, according to "Scientific American" contributor Coco Ballantyne. Yogurt isn’t plant derived, but naturally features live “good” bacterial cultures that promote digestion and regularity.
While doctors and dietitians agree that daily dietary fiber is an important component of promoting a healthy digestive system, there is some disagreement over the actual definition of fiber. While “dietary fiber” was once an umbrella term used to describe any consumable indigestible plant-based material, some experts feel there is a difference between added fiber and naturally occurring fiber. According to the authors of the textbook "Nutrition: Concepts & Controversies," the National Institute of Sciences' Institute of Medicine is seeking to define natural fiber as “nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants.” This is clearly sets a boundary between foods that contain fiber and those that have fiber added to them during processing.
The FDA recommends that consuming roughly 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber – equivalent to 1 ounce – daily. This amount allows the digestive system to work properly and prevents constipation. To get the recommended amount of fiber, choose fiber-containing fruits and vegetables to fill half or your meal plate, according the FDA’s “My Plate” food template.
A Word of Caution
Some health and natural food stores carry brands that tout themselves as being “100 percent” natural and contain elements of fiber-containing foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate these supplements. Doctors advise eating fiber-containing foods instead, since food provides vitamin and macronutrient content.
- Mayo Clinic.com: Fiber Content of Food
- Dr. Dahlman Online: Bowel Movement Overview
- FDA: My Plate Template
- "Scientific American": Need Fiber? Have Some Coffee; Coco Ballantyne; March 2007
- "Nutrition: Concepts & Controversies, 7th Ed."; Frances Sizer, et al.; 1997