Constipation is one of the most common, yet overlooked, health complaints worldwide. From children and healthy adults to seniors, anyone can experience this problem. In fact, it's estimated that up to 80 percent of people worldwide suffer from constipation. Sometimes, a natural stool softener is all it takes to stay regular and keep your digestive system running smoothly.
Some fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, sorbitol, sennoside A and other natural compounds that may help relieve constipation. Add these foods to your daily meals to stay regular and keep your digestive system running smoothly.
What Is Constipation?
From infrequent bowel movements to difficulty defecating, constipation has various symptoms that can affect your quality of life. After all, who wants to feel bloated and full most of the time? Sufferers usually have small, hard stools and experience stomach pain, cramps, nausea and poor appetite.
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There's no standard definition of constipation. In general, this condition is diagnosed in people who aren't able to defecate without medication, have fewer than three bowel movements a week and find it difficult to pass stools. According to the Journal of Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing, constipation is not a disease, but a symptom. It may be caused by digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, as well as more serious diseases like multiple sclerosis and diabetes.
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Your lifestyle habits play a role too. People who don't get enough fiber and water in their diet are more likely to experience constipation. As Reader's Digest notes, almost 40 percent of individuals become constipated when they travel; even the slightest change in your routine can affect digestive function. Luckily, there are plenty of home remedies for constipation, from high-fiber foods to psyllium husk, castor oil and herbal teas.
Eat Smart for Constipation Relief
Laxatives are among the most widely used medications for constipation relief. The problem is that these drugs may cause addiction and worsen your symptoms in the long run. If overused, they may cause severe pain and cramps, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, electrolyte imbalances, diarrhea, nausea and other adverse reactions.
Before popping pills, consider using a natural stool softener and tweak your diet. Psyllium husk, for example, is a common ingredient in commercial stool softeners. However, you can purchase it individually and mix it with water, fruit juice, almond milk and other liquids. This soluble fiber acts as a mild bulk-forming laxative that absorbs fluids in the digestive tract and expands, stimulating bowel movements.
According to a 2015 review published in Nutrition Today, psyllium softens hard stools and makes them easier to pass. At the same time, it improves loose stool consistency in diarrhea. This natural remedy has also been shown to increase satiety and contribute to gradual, sustained weight loss. In addition to psyllium, your diet should include veggies, fresh fruits, oat bran, flaxseed, nuts, prunes, figs and other high-fiber foods to help with constipation.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
Snack on Prunes
With their naturally sweet flavor, prunes are a healthier alternative to candy and other sugar-laden treats. Plus, they're loaded with fiber and may provide constipation relief. One cup of dried plums has 418 calories and delivers nearly half of the recommended daily intake of fiber.
These fruits are quite high in carbs and sugars, so they may not be the best choice if you're on a diet. However, you don't have to eat a whole cup to reap the benefits. Most times, five or six prunes will do the trick. A 2014 review published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics suggests that prunes are more effective at improving stool frequency and constituency than psyllium husk. These beneficial effects may be due to their high content of fiber, phenolic compounds and sorbitol.
Fill Up on Leafy Greens
Leafy greens not only keep you lean and fill you up quickly, but also promote digestive health. Spinach, watercress, lettuce, kale and other veggies are high in fiber and water, increasing stool weight and bowel movement frequency. A bunch of spinach, for instance, has only 78.2 calories and 7.5 grams of fiber. It's also a good source of folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium and manganese.
Read more: 10 Sneaky Ways to Eat More Vegetables
Vegetables add bulk to your stool and make it easier to pass. These foods appear to decrease the prevalence of constipation by accelerating colon transit and balancing the gut flora. Some fruits, such as kiwi and Japanese apricot, are equally effective.
Rhubarb Keeps You Regular
Rhubarb is popular among dieters due to its low-carb content. This tart, pink vegetable can be used in pies, cakes, jam, ice cream and other desserts. It's naturally sweet and has only 25.6 calories and 5.5 grams of carbs per cup.
This plant doesn't contain a lot of fiber, but it's rich in sennoside A, a compound used in OTC laxatives. It's more commonly known as senna. According to a 2014 review featured in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, sennoside A reduces the secretion of a protein that regulates stool water content, which helps stimulate bowel movements.
Get creative with rhubarb and try new recipes. Rhubarb peach cobbler, custard pie, jam bars, rhubarb parfait and shortcakes are just a few examples. These savory desserts will delight your taste buds without adding inches to your waist.
Experiment With Chia Seeds
Rich in fiber, chia seeds are among the best foods to help with constipation. After ingestion, they absorb up to 15 times their weight in water, forming a gel-like substance in your digestive tract. This helps soften the stool and stimulates bowel movements.
These tiny seeds boast 137 calories, 4.4 grams of protein and 10.6 grams of fiber per ounce. That's about 42 percent of the daily recommended intake of fiber. You'll also get 30 percent of the RDA of manganese, 18 percent of the RDA of calcium and 27 percent of the RDA of phosphorus, plus large doses of omega-3s and antioxidants.
Chia seeds are higher in fiber than flaxseed, quinoa, prunes, dried figs and other foods that soften stool. They also contain more protein than popular grains like barley and oats. With its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, laxative and immune-boosting properties, this superfood lives up to the claims.
Sprinkle Flaxseed Over Your Meals
Flaxseed is best known for its high content of omega-3s, which support cardiovascular health. What you may not know is that it also helps with constipation and may improve digestive function. One ounce provides more than a third of the recommended daily fiber intake and over 6 grams of omega fatty acids.
Rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, this seed absorbs water in the digestive tract and triggers bowel movements. In a 2018 clinical trial published in Nutrition & Metabolism, flaxseed was shown to relieve chronic constipation, decrease body weight and improve blood lipids in diabetic patients. Subjects experienced these benefits after eating as little as 10 grams of flaxseed daily for 12 weeks.
There are countless ways to incorporate this food into your diet. Sprinkle flaxseed over salads and cooked meals, mix it in smoothies and protein shakes or add it to homemade protein bars and granola. Experiment with healthy recipes like chia flax pudding, flaxseed hummus, energy bites, whole-grain breakfast cookies and more. You can even add it to burgers, flourless pizza crust, waffles and pancakes.
- Medicine: Chronic Constipation: A Review of Literature
- Nursing Center: Prevalence of Constipation in the General Adult Population
- Reader's Digest: 7 Smart Tricks to Avoid Travel Constipation
- Medical News Today: Does Castor Oil Help Constipation?
- Mayo Clinic: Over-the-Counter Laxatives for Constipation: Use With Caution
- Nutrition Today: Evidence-Based Approach to Fiber Supplements and Clinically Meaningful Health Benefits
- SELFNutritionData: Uncooked Dried Plums
- Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: Systematic Review: The Effect of Prunes on Gastrointestinal Function
- SELFNutritionData: Raw Spinach
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: Correlation Between Diet Habits and Constipation Among Elderly in Beijing Region
- SELFNutritionData: Raw Rhubarb
- PubChem: Sennoside A
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology: Rheinanthrone, a Metabolite of Sennoside A, Triggers Macrophage Activation to Decrease Aquaporin-3 Expression in the Colon, Causing the Laxative Effect of Rhubarb Extract
- Berkeley Wellness: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia: Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
- SELFNutritionData: Dried Chia Seeds
- Journal of Chromatography: Phytochemical Profile and Nutraceutical Potential of Chia Seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) by Ultra-High Performance Liquid Chromatography
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: Nutritional and Therapeutic Perspectives of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.)
- SELFNutritionData: Flaxseed
- Nutrition and Metabolism: A Randomized Trial of the Effects of Flaxseed to Manage Constipation, Weight, Glycemia, and Lipids in Constipated Patients With Type 2 Diabetes
- Cleveland Clinic: Constipation
- Food Network: 45 Fresh and Beautiful Rhubarb Recipes
- Yuri Elkaim: 17 Recipes That Will Make You Want to Eat More Flaxseed
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.